THE EVOLVING TRANSITION OF LIVESTOCK OWNERSHIP AND COMMERCIALIZATION BY THE MAASAI COMMUNITY IN THE MARA BASIN.
For centuries, the Maasai community has practised pastoralism, travelling with their livestock herds as they follow the seasonal patterns of water sources for their animal pastures and their food. In recent years many of the open landscapes that once served as grazing grounds for livestock and migratory routes for wildlife have now become subdivided, resulting in large land tracks being closed off for private, commercial and government uses. As a result, the ability for these communities to harmoniously coexist with wildlife has become harder. Less open land means that pastoral people must now live in tighter spaces with wildlife and less accessible land also means reduced pasture resources for livestock and wildlife to share, often resulting in increased human-wildlife conflict. Under the Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water Initiative (MaMaSe), the programme recognised the need for these communities to transform how they utilize the environment they depend on and which is also depended upon by the wildlife and the entire ecosystem at large. Working with The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and The Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), MaMaSe has supported introduction and adoption of holistic management approach. This involves a planned system that helps farmers, conservancies and landowners better manage land resources in order to reap sustainable environmental, economic, and social benefits. The programme has successfully piloted this approach at Enonkishu conservancy situated in the northern part of the Mara basin.
To scale up this model, the programme has embarked on a journey to transform Siana Conservancy, which is situated in the Eastern part of the Mara basin. In partnership with WWF and SNV, the programme interventions in this conservancy are on holistic management and commercialisation of livestock enterprises. The conservancy has a pool of 3,500 members. Each member is expected to contribute 6.5 acres of their land which will go towards conservation where grazing will be undertaken in a more organised and productive approach. As the conservancy undergoes this formation, livestock producers in the area have been sensitised on the need for collective action in management of their land and livestock for more benefits than would be achieved individually. This sensitization and training led to the formation of Nkoilale livestock Marketing Cooperative and Naramatisho ranches among other producer groups. The livestock producer groups have moved away from the traditional pastoral production system to planned grazing as a coping strategy to mitigate the droughts. The producers also practice improved husbandry and management practices for profitable cattle business. The Maasai are known for holding sentimental value for each of the cows they own. According to Fridah Gacheri, the livestock value chain market access advisor based at SNV, "To avoid this conflict, the programme trained farmers on how to collectively manage their stock through group buying and selling. This ensures that no single farmer will lay claim to a particular cow, but will only share in the profits made from the sale of the cows. Both groups had different ways of generating initial capital. At Naramatisho, the 32 members contributed two cows each towards the collective production and marketing model. The total of 64 cows are being fattened and will be sold collectively. Nkoilale cooperative has 120 members, contributed Ksh900,000 which was used to buy the initial stock of 25 cattle for fattening. Instead of drawing out the profits from the sales, members opted to re-invest into the enterprise to increase the herd, since they still have ample land to accommodate more cattle. Currently, Nkoilale’s cooperative has 86 cattle ". This model has brought about transparency in management, improved bargaining power since they have more cattle volumes to push for better market prices and better rangeland management which support their livestock, wildlife and the larger ecosystem.
SNV has supported two pilot groups to set up demonstration herds and materials to train and demonstrate on good livestock husbandry practices. According to Oscar Okumu, Advisor-Livestock at SNV, “It is an interesting model. The producers have three types of herds; commercial herd for collective trading, breeding herd for quality improvement and demo herd for the demonstration of husbandry and management practices”. The greatest challenge has been poor quality of herds for commercialization. Most of the cattle are the indigenous Zebu, which weighs below the 250kg live weight required by most markets. To solve this, the groups have begun breed improvement by crossbreeding their herds with improved breeds like Sahiwal and Boran–which are fast maturing and of good quality with average live-weight of about 400 kg.
Some of the good husbandry practices that the groups have been trained on by SNV include; Breed selection, breeding, breed improvement; Health and Disease Management; Pest and Parasite Control; Livestock production including fattening, finishing; Grading, weighing and body condition scoring. The groups monitor their cattle weight and body condition score and keep records of weight gains which are more than 15 kg per cow in a month. The groups have also adopted modern ways of cattle identification such as tagging as opposed to traditional cow branding technique where cows are branded with hot rods which damage the cow hides and eventually reduce the value of the hide. All these good husbandry practices are aimed at improving quality and value of the livestock hence increasing profitability.
Training Farmers on cattle weighing at Nkoilale
The cattle are now tagged using ear tags rather than using the traditional methods of tagging using hot rods, which degrade the quality of the hides.
These initiatives are geared towards incentivising livestock producers to adopt good animal husbandry practises which will help them to better manage their livestock in a bid to improve their livelihood, while taking care of their environment. The initiative is further enhanced by linking farmers to markets, through an innovative online market platform, Cow Soko, where prospective buyers can view the animals online, ahead of time, instead of subjecting them to long treacherous distances to the market, where they end up losing up to 20kg per day. For the animal to pile back these 20kg, it would take more than a month. Farmers have been trained on how to take pictures and upload them on the Cow Soko online portal (www.cowsoko.com).This platform aims at attracting processors like Mara Beef and other processors, to easily source for cattle for slaughter. According to Tarquin Wood, Founding member of Mara beef " Involving farmers in a more organised manner, listing of cattle prices online and dealing directly with them and avoiding the middle men will make sourcing of livestock much easier and the farmer is guaranteed a better market price for their cows''.
Online Marketing platform
As the Mara basin rises to the new dawn in pastoralism and livestock management, stakeholders within the MaMaSe project are confident that this initiative will be key to addressing the rampant human-wildlife conflict, improving environmental conservation and livelihood for the pastoral communities.