A simple hand-held weaving machine is set to make a positive difference to donkeys and their owners in Kenya.
Most of the time, The Donkey Sanctuary’s team in Kenya helps donkeys and their owners through direct interventions such as veterinary treatments, harness training, and advice on feeding and stabling.
But sometimes, something less obvious can also make a difference to donkey welfare.
During a field trip with the sanctuary team in Kenya, the charity’s international harness sonsultant Chris Garrett met a group of women donkey owners who make sisal ropes to sell at market.
The women live in Makueni, about 150km from the charity’s Kenya 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.
Garrett had an idea for helping them. He had seen simple, manually operated rope-weaving machines in France, and while working in the Gambia he had copied and adapted the design, using pieces of wood and spokes from bicycle wheels.
These materials are available everywhere and Garrett was able to put together a similar machine, which was given to the women next time the Kenya team visited their community.
A vet reported that the women were “thrilled”, saying they would be able to weave ropes much faster and therefore make more money.
Sisal ropes, being a natural material, are excellent for use in donkey harness.
A few years ago Garrett 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 had been using before, which often caused wounds and sores.
If sisal ropes are readily available, it will be that much easier for people to make good harness for their donkeys, and repair it when it wears out.
At last report, the sisal ropes being made by the women in Makueni are being used to make 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 the charity’s team.