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Chasing net zero at Bomanoma

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

With traditions that have endured for centuries, the Maasai have always been, amongst other things, environmentally low-impact. As traditions evolve, a Maasai woman is ensuring that climate-friendly practices, new and old, are retained.

by Thuku Kariuki, bird story agency

Times change. And so, too, has Selina Nkoile. Growing up, Nkoile lived in a traditional Masaai community. Today, her modern ranch is a testament to 21st Century lifestyles, its multi-coloured, connected dwellings brightening the bush in rural Kenya. One thing that has not changed, however, is her dedication to a climate-conscious lifestyle.

Traditional Masaai communities are extraordinarily environmentally-friendly. Buildings are biodegradable, built with daub (moistened, clay-ish soil) and interwoven branches or saplings. When communities move to follow their cattle, the homes erode and vanish. Dwellings in the homestead, or manyatta, contain sleeping areas, kitchens, and all the facilities the community needs. Grandmothers sleep next to their children and grandchildren. The homestead is designed to be efficient and is set up in a way that makes it easy to protect the family's cow herd from predators.

Nkoila’s homestead may look different to a traditional Maasai manyatta, but in essence, she has simply married the traditional with the modern; the ranch harnesses green energy and modern agricultural practices are employed in the gardens, all the while drawing from Kenya’s environment in a way that satisfies the needs of her family and her community.

Bomanoma a ranch in Narok, a rural area about 140 kilometres from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. Photo Courtesy : Bomanoma

It makes sense, then, that Nkoila and her husband Brian Ash named their home, Bomanoma. Described as "Africa's ultimate eco-lodge, organic farm, and digital nomad oasis" the ranch in Narok, a rural area about 140 kilometres from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, is open to tourists as well as to those who share the couple’s desire to live in harmony with nature while making the most of modern, sustainable practices. It’s a sprawling ranch, with numerous rooms for sleeping and relaxing, several for official business and a large area used for farming.

Ash, who hails from Colorado in the United States, first visited Kenya as a volunteer and later started a business in the East African country. He and Nkoila married in 2021 and the couple lives at Bomanoma with their first-born child, Zuri Naeku.

“Most of us were already reserved for marriage, including me before I went to school,” Nkoila said, describing her early childhood.

“So, when I went to school, I learned so much, and I got so many skills and experiences. I got exposed, so I was not only limited to my village, but also to the rest of the world. I could dream as big as I can. But most importantly, school taught me about my environment – it is where I planted my first tree.”

That early passion for her environment has been poured into the self-sustaining Bomanoma. The ranch feeds itself, emits little carbon and generates almost no noise. It is an oasis of model living for her community and others with similar ideas, whether that is net-zero lifestyle or simply, to plant trees.

It is also a source of inspiration.

"Bomanoma has been able to influence people," explained Nkoila.

Bomanoma a ranch in Narok, a rural area about 140 kilometres from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. Photo Courtesy : Bomanoma

"My neighbours, a few of them, will always come for the seedlings. I always encourage them. Whenever we have a three-day permaculture introductory course, I… always invite the locals.”

Their garden includes trees that can be used for building structures, for firewood, shade, and fruit as they mature. A “wild area” includes sage plants, the leaves of which have traditionally been used by the Maasai for deodorant and natural tissue paper. The ranch also grows cassava, kale, lettuce, parsley and pigeon peas. No harmful chemicals are used as Nkoila feels strongly about not disturbing the land’s biodiversity.

Water supply is a challenge; no water is pumped in by the government or other suppliers. The estate catches its own rainwater for drinking, washing and nourishing the garden and trees. A vertical system of elevated irrigation stations allows water to flow down to the crops and trees.

A water tank in Bomanoma a ranch in Narok, a rural area about 140 kilometres from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. Photo Courtesy : Bomanoma

Energy is produced by solar panels that power lights, small machines for cooking and laptop computers. It’s not entirely off the grid: in a nod to modernity and connection, Wi-Fi is available.

While hanging on to some Maasai traditions, Nkoila, ever practical, sees that some things must change.

“Long time ago we would keep hundreds of cows. But right now, hundreds of cows will only put pressure on (the) land and pressure on people looking for a place to take all these cows when it’s dry and they cannot get enough grass at home. So, even trying to reduce the number of animals, and using a sustainable management system, and seeing how to incorporate agriculture…it is really helpful,” she said.

As far as a net-zero lifestyle is concerned, however, Nkoila is happy to remain as traditional as ever.

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