Also known as Tanganyika, the Red Maasai is a native sheep breed traditionally reared by the Maasai community in East Africa. It is found in southern Kenya, northern Tanzania and some parts of Uganda, in arid and semi-arid regions along the Great Rift Valley.
The breed has a fat tail and dense hair covering its body instead of wool. Red is the most common color, but brown or dappled coats can also be seen. The sheep are relatively large in size, though quite stocky (the males are around 73 centimeters tall and can weigh up to 45 kilos, while the females are an average of 62 centimeters tall and 35 kilos). This hardy breed is able to survive various local parasites, like Haemonchus contortus, and long periods of drought. Raised in wild conditions, primarily for their meat, they represent an important source of food security for the local communities.
The Maasai wait for the sheep to reach at least 12 months of age before slaughtering them. The meat can be roasted or boiled and is eaten throughout the year, but particularly at special occasions like weddings and initiations. According to traditional belief, the rain god entrusted livestock to the Maasai when heaven and earth were divided, and the Red Maasai sheep was the first animal chosen by the community to be farmed.
Maasai land has long been subject to various pressures: often grabbed from herders and given to other groups or private investors. Grazing land has been reduced and the indigenous people have been forced to move, often violently. Recurring droughts, worsened by climate change, and the growing numbers of young people moving to the cities have compounded the problems. And since the 1970s, Kenyan agricultural policy has promoted crosses between the Red Maasai and Dorper and other imported sheep breeds, making it increasingly hard to find purebred Red Maasai sheep.
Saving this breed is essential to preserve a genetic resource and a resilient animal, able to survive disease and a rapidly changing climate.
The Presidium has been established thanks to a collaboration between Slow Food and IFAD. One of its objectives is to strengthen the Maasai community through training, technical assistance, experience exchanges and the creation of marketing channels, with a particular focus on including women and youth.
The Maasai communityThe Maasai community will also be involved in the national and international activities of the Terra Madre Indigenous network, a platform for sharing and exchanging experiences that helps indigenous peoples to work together and find solutions to common problems.
Southern Kenya, northern Kenya and some of Uganda, along the Great Rift Valley
40 Maasai farmers from two communities, one in Rosarian (Nakuru county) and one in Ol’Keri (Narok community)
Presidio supported by
IFAD – International Fund for Agricultural Development