Most of the time, our team in Kenya help donkeys and their owners through direct interventions such as veterinary treatments, harness training, and advice on feeding and stabling. But sometimes something a bit less obvious can also make a difference to donkey welfare.
During a field trip with our team in Kenya, our International Harness Consultant Chris Garrett met a group of women donkey owners who make sisal ropes to sell at market. The women are based in Makueni, about 150km from The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya’s base near Nairobi. They had a machine for extracting the sisal fibres, but were having to weave them into ropes by hand, which took a long time.
Chris had an idea for helping them - he’d seen simple, manually-operated rope weaving machines in France, and while working in the Gambia he’d copied and adapted the design, using pieces of wood and spokes from bicycle wheels. These materials are available everywhere and Chris was able to put together a similar machine, which was given to the women next time the Kenya team visited their community. Our vet Solomon, who was there when they handed over the machine, told me the women were “thrilled.”
“The machine was a miraculous thing for them,” he said. “They will be able to weave ropes much, much faster than they used to, and they’re expecting to make more money.”
But what’s this got to do with donkeys? Well, sisal ropes, being a natural material, are excellent for making donkey harness. A few years ago Chris designed a simple set of cart harness, made of ropes, and since then, he and the team have taught dozens of people in Kenya to produce it, replacing the makeshift harness they’d been using before, which often caused wounds and sores. If sisal ropes are readily available, it’s that much easier for people to make good harness for their donkeys, and repair it when it wears out.
I heard from Solomon again, a few weeks after he handed over the machine. He said the Makueni women are doing well with their machine and making lots of sisal ropes for sale. These ropes are being used as halters, and also for making breeching, belly bands and breast bands for pack saddles, which the donkey owners are padding with cotton rags after being shown how to do this by our team.
This kind of rope making machine is cheap and easy to make – there’s plenty of information on the Internet. Our team hope it will be reproduced by other groups, meaning more rope available to make good donkey harness.