We can turn curse of Laikipia conflicts into blessing

Parents are supposed to love, support and create an environment of beautiful upbringing. The sad reality is that this is not the case always.

The responsibility becomes even wider for parents when it comes to considering the larger web of the neighbourhood, community and the society. Every parent would wish to see their children prosper and in harmony with the society – this is how friendship will flourish and people get to collaborate and work better.

I am not a family psychologist, but perhaps as a parent I am able to use this analogy to explain what has been happening in Laikipia County recently, regarding reports of pastoralists’ invasion of ranches and conservancies that has resulted into loss of lives, huge economic, habitat, trust and social capital loses. Laikipia County’s livestock –wildlife nexus is a case of two child friends under the mentorship of two ill-disposed parents.

My take is that the parents, in this case livestock producers (pastoralists) on one hand and ranchers/conservationists on the other hand do not see the bigger picture and opportunities that comes with collaborative socio-economic development strategies.

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The co-existence of livestock and wildlife in the Laikipia plateau has undergone constant push and pull phenomenon over the years –dating back to when the Mukugodo (ancestoral Maasai) hunters and gatherers dominated the area, through to the migratory pastoralists of Laikipia Maasai and the times of the British colonial administration that led to the pushing of pastoralists and curving of large scale holdings. The diverse layout of the current land use in Laikipia County echoes an intricate past of human action and settlement.

Different from most if not all of other Counties in Kenya, Laikipia’s land use is split into forest reserve areas, government land, large scale farms, large scale ranches, pastoral areas (North) and urban settlements. A study that was conducted by the Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) estimated that 37 per cent of the land in Laikipia is under large scale ranching, 32 per cent is under pastoralists grazing use and 21 per cent is under small scale farming.

Beneath this intricate web of constraints in Laikipia, exist unexploited opportunities for the livestock industry in that region and Kenya as a whole. Livestock is an integral economic pillar for the drylands ecosystem and it is good if stakeholders will view it from that point. Thriving livestock and wildlife economy is possible only if we figure out the root cause of the constant clash between the two sectors.

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The root cause in this case remains the severe aridity of the Laikipia rangelands that from time to time, especially during dry seasons fail to support the pastoral livestock economy. It is about a test of resilience of the semi-arid livestock and wildlife related economies.

The land has more or less remained the same (with slight size shrinkage) even with changing usage, but of concern is – can the rangelands in their current conditions and with unpredictability of the climate continue to support livestock and wildlife in the future? What needs to change and what are the opportunities? There seems to be traction and progress around wildlife conservation and tourism in the area, however the livestock sector remains underdeveloped – highly fragmented trade with less value addition.

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With dwindling open grass rangelands, pastoralists push their animals to every space they find accessible, including the private and community ranches. What other options of livestock production exists as alternatives and can some of the ranches and conservancies remain “closed” oblivious of the livestock –wildlife ecosystem? Are there lessons that we can learn from some of the ranches that have developed mix business models?

Finding out the route to a resilient and thriving livestock economy is most likely going to be the solution to some of the challenges. A study (cattle and small ruminants systems in sub-Saharan Africa) that was conducted by FAO in 2005 opined that in Kenya livestock productivity and efficiency levels remained very low.

Mortality losses (birth to sale) are 50 per cent; the average for Sub-Saharan Africa is 18.07% for sheep and 11.06 per cent for cattle produced in ASAL areas. Although the livestock sector is highly fragmented, the opportunities have barely been exploited. With increasing middle class and growing appetite for nyama choma, Kenya is becoming a significant consumer of meat, with beef consumption alone estimated to be 612,000 tonnes/ year. However Kenya is a beef deficit country – to the tune of 300,000MT/year. We have been bridging our deficit through live cattle coming from Somalia, Tanzania or Uganda.

What is more appealing is that the meat that ends at the terminal markets does not meet the required demand both at local and international markets. According to FAO, most livestock are produced by pastoralists, customarily kept as assets, and only traded when necessary (only 14 per cent are sold).

What we see as fundamental challenges in Laikipia could be turned into massive opportunities that can boost the economy of the communities in these areas. Instead of “cursing” livestock and pastoralists, it is time we devise sustainable business models that help wildlife conservation and livestock to co-exist side by side for an all-inclusive and resilient socio-economic development.

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Mr Daud works at the Kenya Markets Trust (KMT)

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