Pastoralists plant grass to regenerate degraded rangeland

Masai herder. Animals are the main source of livelihood for pastoralists. [iStockphoto]

Pastoralists experience devastating effects of drought that degrade rangeland  and leave their families and animals vulnerable.  

For a long time government and development partners have committed resources towards relief food for families leaving out animals which are the main source of livelihood for pastoralists.

However, the situation is changing as the community in Mayanat, Laikipia County, embarks on planting Maasai grass to regenerate the degraded rangeland and provide feed for livestock. 

Mayanat community land committee chairman Yoakim Kurani said the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is building the capacity of pastoralists to regenerate the rangeland and ensure sustainable fodder production.

The farmers are growing the grass through mainly four methods. Firstly, the community digs trenches where they grow grass on the banks to reduce runoff.

Secondly, the community uses semi-circular bands where they build low embankments with compacted earth in the form of a semi-circle with the opening perpendicular to the flow of water and arranged in staggered rows where they grow grass. So far the community has created 2,600 bands.

Thirdly they employ animal impact which has been successful in regenerating huge tracts of the degraded rangeland. Through this method, the community employs a process akin to paddock farming where livestock graze in an area for one week dropping dung that spreads the grass seeds while the hove prints hold water essential for growing pasture.

Fourthly, the community plants grass around swales, which are shallow drainage channels that collect surface runoff.

Through the regeneration of the rangeland project, the community has planted grass on more than 8,000 acres. 

The project has ensured sustainable production of feed for livestock and boosted the community’s livelihood. 

The individuals who plant grass are paid Sh500 each per day which has boosted income for the families and ensured they meet their basic needs and take children to school.

The community land committee vice chairman Kashara Kitonga lamented that invasive species like opuntia (prickly pear cactus) have colonised the area further affecting efforts to ensure feed for livestock.

Kitonga said the community has embarked on uprooting the opuntia to save the grassland. So far the community has uprooted the invasive species from 1000 acres of land.

“When we have grass, we have cows which sustain our livelihood,” he said.

He explained that they are also restructuring settlements to grow more grass after the Community Land Act provided a mechanism for transitioning group ranches held under the Land (Group Representatives) Act to community land.

“When we get grass pastoralists will exist because they will have feed for their livestock,” he said.

However, Community Land Committee Board Secretary Richard Legei said even as the project begins to bear fruit it has not been without challenges as a section of families resist efforts to fence the land over fears of losing it to private developers.

Legei regretted that overgrazing has also affected efforts to regenerate the grassland in some areas.

Mayanat Community Land Committee Board official Nkuyai Lemale Ngila said the project has not left behind women and youth who participate in electing officials and other activities.

Ngila noted that women have a five-member representation out of 15 members of the board. 

Speaking during the FAO Digital Land Governance Programme workshop in Nanyuki, Husna Mbarak, FAO Land Governance Programme Manager said land management is key in ensuring sustainable agriculture and development.

Mbarak noted that women comprise more than 40 per cent of the agricultural workforce hence their inclusion in regeneration of the rangeland in the highly patriarchal community.  

“Because of cultural norms and the patriarchal way of the society the women were left behind but in the case of the community land the community assembly has to constitute all members of the society under their jurisdiction,” she said.

She explained that the Community Land Act 2016 empowers Indigenous and local communities by redefining leadership structures ensures accountability between community leaders and members and facilitates meaningful engagement of all in land governance through the establishment of community assemblies.

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