A bandit's haven offers hope to residents near conservancy

Ms Sveva Gallmann, a director at Muktan Conservancy formerly known as Laikipia Nature Conservancy speaks to the media at the bee keeping project that has so far benefited over 1000 residents. [James Munyeki, Standard]

Ironically, sometimes the most beautiful, pristine and remote natural places in the Rift Valley often host the worst human beings.

The gorges, dark and tangled forests provide cover, and a safe haven for bandits. So it was with Mukutan Conservancy, formerly known as Laikipia Nature Conservancy in Laikipia County.

For long, armed raiders operated from the gorges in the vast conservancy, taking strategic positions and ambushed security officers as they pursued them whenever they attacked farmers, stealing their livestock.

But slowly, and over the past two years, the management of the conservancy and the local communities are turning the tide. This is because residents are now benefiting from the resources of the conservancy owned by renowned conservationist and author Kuki Gallmann.

This follows the introduction of a programme dubbed Mshipi, in English a belt. The project is meant to unite the six communities surrounding the conservancy. Among them are Tugens, Kikuyus, Ilchamus, Pokots and Turkana.

The programme aims at supporting them in various ways to benefit from the projects and earn a living. The conservancy aims to be a catalyst for economic empowerment of Mshipi communities.

This has so far reduced banditry attacks in the region. Among the projects are community livestock promotion, wild avocado farming, beekeeping, sustainable eco-charcoal production, construction of health facilities, and promotion of education.

Among the beneficiaries are pastoralist communities surrounding the conservancy. They have since been allowed to graze in the conservancy at a small fee.

A fattening project to allow their cows to be groomed at the conservancy has so far been started. This includes dedicated grass banks for community livestock and wildlife showcasing Mukutan’s holistic conservation commitment.

“So far, we have over 4,000 head of community-owned cattle grazing at the conservancy under a structured agreement with the pastoralists who previously were fighting over water and pasture. Since this program started, we have seen cases of insecurity drop drastically” said Sveva Gallmann, one of the directors of the conservancy.

Last year, over 500 heads of cattle were fattened and sold at Mukutan. “Once we fattened and sold them, the project generated Sh26 million for the local community. Some individuals got as much as Sh800,000 to Sh1 million. Many have used this money for school fees and other livelihood investments,” said Ms Sveva.

The programme, she said, has so far employed 90 community members, who are managing an additional 4000 breeding stock.

“The youths are no longer engaged in cattle rustling. They are now actively involved in looking after cattle and earning a dignified wage. We are glad that the Mshipi programme, which unites all the communities is taking shape,” she said.

They are now also enjoying NSSF and NHIF services from Mukutan Conservancy. Beyond funding, Mukutan provides essential support, including medications and cattle spraying, ensuring community and livestock well-being.

For Mr Peter Ngugi, an avocado farmer at Matuiku village, things have improved, and are now walking to the bank.

This is after the first harvest of Hass avocado, from seedlings grown and supplied by Mukutan Conservancy. “I earned over Sh200,000 in my first harvest. The narrative that Mukutan Conservancy has been a bad omen in our community has changed. We are now earning a living from it,” he said.

Mr Francis Mwai, an agronomist employed by the conservancy, said 190 farmers have so far benefited from the programme. Each farmer has a minimum of 80 trees, Mukutan distributed a total of 20,000 high-quality Hass seedlings.

These are drawn from Matuiku and Wangwachi regions. These are areas that have been experiencing banditry attacks.

“This year, we are targeting to harvest over 20 tonnes. This will be a major boost to our neighbouring communities’ said Mr Mwai.

Ms Sveva said among other projects they have started are distribution of bee hives that has so far benefited over one thousand households.

This she said had been distributed to all the communities through the Mshipi program. The establishment of the land of Hope school has also been a success.

“So far, we are taking care of some 70 children in the pre-primary school. This is now boosting the education level in the community,” noted Ms Dolphine Maburi, the project lead.