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Pastoralists enter deal with local ranches to beat biting drought

By Nanjinia Wamuswa - Jun 12th 2022
A farmhand tends to a herd of cows at Ol Maisor Ranch in Laikipia County. [File, Standard]

Pastoralists in drought-stricken Laikipia County have entered into partnership with conservancies in the region to mitigate the harsh effects of the drought on their livestock.

In Sossian area of Kirima, pastoralists from various zones of Naibor, Arasoro, Louniek, Lera, Longewan, Logorate, Ndabas, PnD and Suguta have benefitted from the nearby Mugie Conservancy which is running various interventions to minimise the loss of livestock.

Margaret Njuguna, the Mugie Community and Tourism Officer, says pastoralists had lost thousands of livestock in the past to drought. This time, she explains they wanted to intervene and minimise such losses.

They came up with two programs dubbed the dry grazing program, one for bulls and the other for breeding herds or cows.

“We had a discussion with locals over dry season grazing and agreed that we provide water, salt licks, treatment and pasture in our preserved sections of the conservancies and locals pay some money for this care,” says Ms Njuguna.

For the conservancy to allow pastoralists to enter every morning, graze their bulls and leave with them in the evening, each pastoralist pays Sh300 per month. However, cows live within the conservancy at a cost of Sh700 per month. Ms Njuguna says cows, especially those pregnant or calving, need more protection and care.

“This is a shared responsibility where Mugie provides veterinary services, dipping, grass, water and mineral licks; and in return, pastoralists pay for the care,” she says.

Beneficiaries laud the program as it has reduced the hassle of finding pasture in the drought-ravaged area.

“I gave out 70 of my livestock and remained with 40. At least, they eased my burden. It is easier moving with 40 in search of water and pasture. If l had all of them, more would be dead by now,” says William Opanga.

Another pastoralist, Timothy Kipkupus from Keriwo in Pokot, says his cattle were staring at death, but dry the grazing program saved them.

Livestock grazing as officials look on at Borana Ranch Limited. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard] 

“I had tried selling my livestock to reduce losses as drought started becoming severe, without success. The few buyers that came around wanted to exploit us,” he says, adding that his livestock that were hosted inside the ranch grew big and added weight unlike the few he remained with.

The program is also a source of employment for locals.

“At Mugie, we asked the communities to provide us with one of their own to care for their livestock inside the conservancy. One person takes care of 100 animals and is paid by the conservancy,” says Ms Njuguna.

Borana is another conservancy working with nearby communities.

Ochen Maiyani, Community Liaison and Development officer at Borana says they collaborate with over six immediate communities and help in a livestock-to-market programme.

He says initially, Borana Ranch allowed pastoralists to enter and graze their livestock, but they often clashed among themselves.

“After failing to manage on their own, elders approached the conservancy to help them manage the community livestock just the way the ranch is managing their own livestock in a very professional manner,” he explains.

Everyone is allowed 50 animals so as to accommodate more pastoralists in the ranch. Those who want to sell their animals get help to market them, and the ranch retains a 20 per cent management fee.

“Through this program, we have saved a significant number of livestock that would have otherwise died from drought,” Maiyani says.

Ol Maisor Ranch also works with communities and has helped reduce deaths caused by drought.

Waren Evans, manager of Ol Maisor Ranch says through interaction with neighbouring communities, they advise them to destock when there are signs of severe drought.

“On many occasions, we either buy from them or seek market for them at good prices. Left with few animals, makes it easy for locals to manage their animals, when there are deaths, it is normally minimal,” he explains.

Having witnessed how the ranches have benefitted pastoralists, Mugie and others formed the Laikipia Conservancies Association (LCA) to mitigate issues of drought and promote conservation.

Kip Ole Polos, Chairperson of the LCA says they are empowering local communities to understand the importance of conservation and management of rangelands.

The dry season grazing program has reduced conflicts. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard] 

He says local communities have begun to understand how important it is to have grazing plans, because year after year, the rains have been failing and effects of climate change are evident.

Ole Polos explains with grazing plans, and keeping sizeable herds, communities are able to manage the limited resources and reduce conflict.

“Conservancies are living examples where wildlife, domestic animals and people coexist and flourish. Well-managed conservancies improve people’s lives and enhance ecosystem integrity,” Ole Polos says.

The dry season grazing program has reduced conflicts, especially cattle rustling. Once cattle are in the conservancy, no one can tell who owns which livestock, and if they were to raid and steal, they might end up stealing their own, or livestock that belongs to their relatives.

Ms Njuguna says the pastoralists themselves offer security for their cattle grazing in the ranches.

Once an area receives rainfall, pastoralists from the area are allowed to take their livestock home. Ms Njuguna says this gives pasture in the ranch time to grow afresh.

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