Climate change: Grazing systems reduce drought risk at ASAL Kenya

Often marginalized and with high rates of poverty, pastoralists make their living through a mix of pastoralism and small-scale farming.

The residents of Isiolo have developed a grazing and grazing management system. This ensures that their animals never lack forage and counteracts the effects of climate change.

In Laikipia we drove for six hours into Borana conservancies where our host-turned-tour-guide gave us the names of various wild animals without even asking.

But we were not there in the wilderness; we needed to find out how protected areas pastoralists help keep animals alive during a drought.

According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Kenyans have lost more than 1.4 million animals to the ongoing drought, putting animal-dependent herders at risk.

Kenya‘s landmass [Kelley Boss, Standard]

“In 2017, a farmer lost over 200 cows to stay at just 15 cows,” Aden Boru of Isiolo County’s Kina Division told The Standard.

To put this in perspective, livestock is the primary source of wealth for pastoralists. The loss of animals to drought adds an additional layer of vulnerability to this already fragile ecosystem.

My mission for the past three months has been to find a solution and spread the word.

Back to our game drive

Pastoralists, who roam to find food for their animals, herd 75% of Kenya’s cattle. But now it’s going nowhere.

So much so that herders in conservancies are looking for solutions. This means grazing in wild areas.

The Borana Conservancy, nestled at the foot of Mt. Kenya, gave us exclusive access to some of Kenya’s most beautiful scenery and wildlife.

Borana Conservation Area [Japheth Makau, Standard]

We were accompanied by Abdi Sora, General Manager of Borana Conservancy. He made it possible to manage the wilderness and human use.

In fact, Borana Conservancy started out as a cattle and sheep farm.

“At Loldaiga Conservancy we have community cattle under the Livestock to Market program. We brought them here because Borana is very dry and there is a lot of grass and water here. So that we can finish them and sell them,” Mr. Sora said.

Since we didn’t plan to explore the variety of wild animals, we did it anyway. We drove four hours because all the herders we met had healthy animals, but Sora insisted that we see at least one herd of herders.

A shepherd came with us; He knew the place very well and started keeping the GM informed. Apparently a lion ate two cows the day before.

I was beginning to think that we could see what cattle were there and go back.

But the herd we were looking for came towards us, grazed past us and moved deeper into the reserve. They were downhill from a dam.

They were clearly pastoralists, you could tell by their build, and they seemed to enjoy grazing in the sanctuary.

Cattle graze on the conservancy [Japheth Makau, Standard]

Livestock-to-Market program

The program works to help the community, but the Conservation Authority also benefits.

“The Livestock to Market program started in 2017 where we met with the community to discuss how it would help them and then brought cattle from the community to the conservancy,” explains Mr. Sora.

The Conservancy determines the value of animals at point of entry, manages livestock on behalf of owners and seeks markets at the right time.

“We employ shepherds and manage the livestock on their behalf. We don’t buy the animals from them, we just fatten them up and when the animal is ready to sell we look for buyers,” says the GM.

“Once we have the buyers, we work with a committee because the community has a sacco so it’s transparent. Once we agree on the price, we weigh the animals and sell them.”

The Conservancy wins too.

“To cover our own costs we take 20% of the raised value, 10% of which also goes to a local insurance scheme to minimize losses from predators.”

The owner gets 70% of the upgrade value plus the original starting value.

This, says Mr. Sora, gives pastoralists added value for their livestock; he wants shepherds to practice it with business acumen.

“We are working with six of Borana’s neighboring communities through this program. The goal is to help them get value for their livestock because if they sell them at auction, they don’t get value.”

In 2021, the conservancy housed approximately 12,000 animals for two months to help the community.

A shepherd giving instructions to Mr. Sora

Isiolo

In search of grazing solutions, we visit pastoralists in the Isiolo county. Here we meet Aden Boru of Division Kina; He tells us how they would lose their livestock to drought and how life has changed thanks to a participatory rangeland management (PRM) toolkit presented to them by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We would lose a lot of our stocks to drought because we used to graze everywhere when we moved from one place to another,” he says.

“Our children have not had access to educational facilities because of these movements, but with the introduction of PRM we are making a kill as our livestock are not dying, our children are in school unlike in the past where we had to search long for pasture and water .”

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) developed the PRM toolkit through Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD). It promotes the sustainable management of rangeland resources to reduce livestock mortality.

Participatory Rangeland Management Toolkit

Like traditional pastoral systems, PRM involves planning and decision-making at various levels. For example, the pasture land is divided in such a way that some fields are reserved for the dry season and there are fields where animals are only allowed to graze during the rainy season.

Mr. Boru says that through this system they have learned to divide their land into three pastures; Dry, wet and dry grazing areas, and they have not lost their population since the toolkit was introduced.

“In the past August was a difficult month but this time we can smile as we have pasture and water.”

His words are echoed by Abshiro ena Muhammed, who tells us that things were so tough that families broke up and their children suffered from malnutrition diseases.

“As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman. We don’t leave our homesteads anymore and our children stay in school, we have enough milk surplus to feed our children and now they are healthy,” she says.

“Our women have ventured into businesses like other women across the country compared to when we were just hauling grass for livestock. We now have permanent homesteads.”

Abshiro ena Muhammed from Isiolo

At the same location, we meet Bernard Wafula, Isiolo County’s Range Management Officer. He tells us that in collaboration with various NGOs in the area, they are working with the community to start producing artificial pasture to avoid losses during the drought.

“The culture of believing that pastures are from God should end, and shepherds should understand that the government along with NGOs are helping us take action,” says Mr. Wafula.

effects of climate change

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, Kenya’s rangelands make up over 83% of the country’s landmass. This feeds over 70% of the country’s livestock and 85% of wildlife populations.

Unfortunately, due to the effects of climate change, frequent droughts and floods are hampering the productivity of these pastures that support over 10 million people.

Mr. Boru from Isiolo tells us that he is forced to venture into camel breeding, which is not their tradition as the animal can travel long distances in search of water.

In Laikipia, the general manager of the Borana Conservancy explained the importance of herd control to protect the environment.

“We control the number of animals in the conservancy. We make sure we keep what we can feed according to our carrying capacity, bearing in mind that we also have wildlife.”

The problem is, if animal numbers are not controlled, people can own as much as they can afford, affecting grass water and soil.

“We make sure that erosion is as low as possible. We take animals up to our carrying capacity; we don’t overload the country. We make sure that the environment is protected,” says Mr. Sora.

On farms, soil can sequester carbon when left undisturbed and covered by a crop. For this reason, the availability of rangeland is crucial for pastoralists to address their contribution to climate change.

According to Dennis Kubasu, Research Officer at KALRO, pasture management boils down to the conservation of pastures.

“Pastoralism is about the use and conservation of pastures. It includes grazing management plans and land carrying capacity calculations. That will affect stocking rates and ensure a year-round supply of pasture,” he says.

“Poor grazing management leads to both land and species degradation and generally reduces the productive capacity of the country.

He also says that a holistic management approach, delayed grazing and restoring rangeland through reseeding are some of the management practices that have been used effectively in areas such as Samburu, Baringo, Garisa, Wajir and ranches in Laikipia and Taita Taveta.

This report was written and produced as part of a media literacy development program implemented by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the content.

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