For decades, pastoral communities in Kenya have grappled with the constant shortage of pasture for their livestock due to unreliable weather patterns, leading to loss of livestock which is their main source of livelihood. This has also led to competition for the available pasture with wildlife that grazes in these areas. Management of conservancies has been tried and proven to be the ideal means of managing how these communities profitably utilise their land, while sustainably conserving the environment.
Striking a balance while managing the wildlife/livestock in these areas, demands for active conservation efforts which can only be realised if collaborative partnerships are built and aligned towards sustaining appropriate enterprises for these communities. In the middle Mara River Basin, the Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water initiative piloted The holistic management approach in Enonkishu conservancy. The conservancy is to be used as a model conservancy on how to sustainably manage environmental and social-economic activities in the conservancy. The model can be replicated across other conservancies in Kenya and the East African region. In line with this initiative, MaMaSe has partnered with the newly developed Mara Training Centre in Enonkishu to disseminate rangeland management courses within the Mara Basin.
For the first time, a conference dubbed "Grazing for Change" organised by Mara Training Centre was held in Nairobi, bringing together experts on rangeland management from Kenya and across the world. Some of the key speakers included; Professor Brian Perry- an international development scientist, Dr. Paula Kahumbu CEO- WildlifeDirect, Robin Reid-Director at The Center for collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, Dickson Simiren Ole Kaelo- Founding Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Conservancies Association and World renowned Allan Savory, from The Savory Institute of Holistic Management among other sector leaders. The event was aimed at creating a platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges faced in the conservancy space and explore incentives which would steer communities and other landowners towards conservation efforts.
Dickson Kaelo set the stage by first acknowledging that continued development across conservancies in Kenya has led to increased land fragmentation and in return posing a challenge while trying to manage livestock. These have led to distorted wildlife migratory paths which are a source of conflict with communities. For this to change, the conservation movement has to be kept its momentum. On the other hand, Robin Reid emphasised on the need for strong leadership in the wake of increased development in the conservancies.
Dickson Simiren Ole Kaelo- Founding Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Conservancies Association
According to Allan Savory who gave the keynote address, he noted that most of the challenges faced in regards to desertification and climate change were symptoms of man-made problems and that poor management of livestock has contributed to the major concerns faced in these grassland landscapes today. He added that livestock (in a balanced number) should be used as a tool to heal the land and regenerate grasslands through holistic management.
A key concern in balancing expectations between conservancies and communities is on how to create win-win scenarios for enterprise while looking at integrated wildlife-livestock enterprise opportunities. Tarquin Wood; MD Mara Beef located in Enonkishu Conservancy shared on how, through Mara Beef and Enonkishu conservancy which is largely community owned, they have managed to link farmers to a direct market, which has helped to increase the profit margins of these farmers, since there are no middlemen involved in the transactions. This approach is gradually luring more farmers to have their land included in the conservancy.
Allan Savory; Savory Institute of Holistic Management
On the other hand, implementing ideas with reference to rangeland management is a challenge for many. Ian Craig gave an example of the Northern Rangeland Trust wherein as much as rangeland management is important, priority had to be first given to peacekeeping before enterprise development. Therefore, there is need to strike a balance between social development and conservation.
Continued research, on issues with reference to holistic management, cannot be overlooked. Emphasis was made on the importance of a better understanding of pasture composition, nutritional value and resilience of the various livestock and pasture species there are and how science can be used to improve both. This would in turn help in improving the quality of pastures, their longevity and livestock breeds.
As the event wound up, delegates felt that there is a need for more education on rangeland management and holistic management. The Mara Training centre offers an amazing platform to train conservancies on the various conservation interventions which include but not limited to; Eco-literacy, Grazing Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Wildlife/Livestock integrated systems and Financial Planning which are targeting Conservancy Managers, Conservation Enthusiasts, Holistic Management team leaders and Conservation Stakeholders. As the MaMaSe programme winds up later this year, the Mara Training Centre will continue to upscale initiatives that MaMaSe Introduced along the Mara River Basin, going to show MaMaSe's sustainability approach towards development in the Mara River Basin and beyond.