Sigoro Women Group is arguably the most progressive and life transforming social group in Baringo County, but alleged corruption may reverse the narrative.
The group is reportedly faced with rampant corruption and a failed leadership.
This has hurt management of shared natural resources.
Founded in the year 1982, the group was the brain child of Prisca Birir from Kitengon village within Sigoro in Koibatek Sub-county.
The woman who is now deceased was visionary and sensitized women to work hard and be self-reliant.
She even used clay to mould tea pots.
Apart from knitting baby sweaters, her group also majored in vegetable cultivation and basketry.
In the beginning, financial ignorance was a major setback to the stability of the group.
At some point, their savings account remained dormant for long.
The group ended up losing their savings.
The Ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services registered the group in the year 2003.
Through the help of one Loice Koech, now deceased, young members of the group learnt and perfected the long forgotten and neglected pot making craft.
‘’The late Loice Koech offered free training. Members used clay to make pots.
She was the only surviving teacher in the clay industry and we honor her even in death,’’ Elizabeth Kapkiyai, Secretary of the group told scholarmedia.africa.
At the height of batter trade in Koibatek, caravans often entered Baringo from all directions.
Their donkeys were laden with millet, tobacco and other products which they offered in exchange for the clay pots made by members of the group at the time.
“African communities from Uasin Gishu, Elgeiyo Marakwet, Kericho, Laikipia and even Nakuru often visited Koibatek after a week of trekking only with one mission in mind; to buy clay pots in Koibatek.
Some of them would spend the nights in our homes,’’ Tuyoi Sirma, a nonagenarian from Sigoro revealed.
Sirma added that men and women of child bearing age were not allowed near the Sacred Clay mines of Kapakai.
During that segment of oral history, Baringo and Kisumu enjoyed a monopoly in the clay industry.
They were the only makers and suppliers of the precious cooking pots.
Without a pot to boil herbs, medicine, men would not treat the sick and the brewery business would not evolve.
According to a recent research conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and the subsequent report in possession of the Women group, a soil sample from the clay mines of Koibatek emerged the best for use in the clay moulding industry.
When devolution came into effect following the promulgation of the new Constitution, more money trickled from Nairobi down into the villages.
Sigoro Women Group, through her well established networks became financially empowered and well positioned to explore new frontiers in the exploitation of modern technologies.
Through GIZ, a German service provider in the field of International Cooperation for sustainable development, the group learnt how to manufacture modern clay products and jiko liners that support the fight against Global warming.
The jiko liners use less firewood and thus save more trees.
GIZ also constructed a modern kiln for the women group.
“Baringo’s first Governor Benjamin Cheboi played a key role in ensuring that women groups are not only financially empowered, but are also given platforms to market and sell their products,” Christine Kiptum, the group chairlady said.
Kiptum revealed that through the sale of the jiko liners, the group shared Ksh 1.2 Million income through sales.
The jiko is purposely designed to save heat energy during food preparation.
‘’It was my first time in life to hold Ksh50,000 in my hands after the sale of the jiko liners. I was very excited. My family and I sat down to budget for the money,’’ Elima Koech, a group member said.
Koech added that for the first time since her marriage, she assisted her husband pay school fees for their children.
Sad enough, Elima is not sure if her positive contribution into the welfare of her family will ever be repeated again.
The women group may not again produce jiko liners because they are not able to access the clay, which is the raw material for their trade.
Since those olden days, clay products still hold a major potential in Baringo’s export sector.
It is still important to the local economy just as wood carving is important to the economy of the people of Ukambani.
Group members report that without the clay products, their group cannot survive and attain their mission of fighting poverty and promote forest conservation.
‘’We cannot access the clay without the risk of being charged with the crime of trespassing into a private property,’’ a member said.
Since time immemorial, Kapakai shrines in Sigoro is the only known region where clay used to make earthenware was found to be viable since the dawn of human civilization in Baringo.
The ancestral clay mines of Sigoro are located at the banks of Perkerra River.
It is said to be a sacred ground only fit to be visited by old women back in the day.
It was not very popular until recently when a report went round that Sigoro Women Group is minting Millions of money from the sale of clay jiko liners.
The women group is now at the brink of returning back into a life of empty pockets, disrupting the pace that members had set as a good example in the fight against poverty and climate change.
A local administrator who wished to remain anonymous was non–committal over the land in dispute, citing the fact that the issue is still pending in court.
The Scholar Media Africa did not manage to hear from the aggrieved land owner.
But according to the Lembus Council of Elders Chairman in charge of Environment Albert Chemitei, the land in contest is not only a cultural public ground, but riparian land that ought be protected by the law.
Chemitei faulted the political leadership of Baringo for not addressing problems which directly affect the citizenry, the environment and vulnerable groups.
“The clay mines are at public land but there is no accountability in the department of Lands, and the National Environmental Management Authority,’’ Chemitei said.
He pushed for the need to review and reclaim all riparian lands in Baringo and stop the cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.