Within NRT – we have a livestock programme that focuses on improving market access for cattle from communities engaged in conservation (i.e. the community conservancies), as well as assisting conservancies to implement and manage planned grazing in their areas. For pastoralists – livestock are and will continue to be the most important livelihood option and therefore as conservationists we feel it is vital to address both livestock and wildlife needs if conservation is to succeed in this landscape…..
Caroline Karwitha is our Livestock Programme Officer and she describes the planned grazing that the community are carrying out in Il Ngwesi………..
The pastoralist community is an area that has been ravaged by constant conflict over many years. Despite the conflict being cultural, most of the time it occurs over competition for pastures and water for livestock. The big challenge in the pastoralist areas of Northern Kenya has been posed by the old theory “tragedy of commons” where most community members are not able to come together and make decisions to help them move forward. Many of the traditional systems which governed communal grazing have been eroded by ‘modernisation’.
Il Ngwesi group ranch based in Laikipia District and bordering Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a community that has broken the many odds and come up with a system to manage the range. This has helped them establish a grass bank; a huge rescue plan for grazing during the dry periods. When other communities are moving further in search of pasture, the situation is much better for the Il Ngwesi community, which is able to support a reasonable number of cattle within their conservation area.
Il Ngwesi is one of the 15 conservancies under the Northern Rangelands Trust. Il Ngwesi group ranch which is 8,675 ha has been divided into a settlement area and a conservation area. This was done through the help of the elders who are the key decision makers. The conservation area is further divided into a core area and a buffer area. The core area is a complete livestock exclusion zone set aside for the eco-lodge and tourism. It only has a radius of 5 km2, a small area in comparison to the whole conservation area. The buffer area is 6,000 ha and this is the area that serves as a grass bank. Livestock grazing is not allowed for the better part of the year following the rains, when grass is available elsewhere, which allows for good growth of grass in the buffer zone.
If the dry season exceeds its expected time, the elders give consent to allow grazing in the buffer zone and this is conducted in an organized manner, block by block until it is all utilized. The block grazing helps efficient utilization of the grasses in contrast to scattering small herds in the whole conservation area without a plan. This way livestock are able to graze for longer in the conservation area. When rains commence, livestock is immediately withdrawn from the conservation area and the cycle continues.
Planning grazing has also been the backbone of the eco tourism venture. Abundant pastures are not only needed by community livestock but also the wildlife that is daily increasing in number. The eco tourism creates more employment opportunities for the youth (morans) who most of the time play a role in cattle raids, the main cause of conflict.