By Austine Okande/WWF-Kenya
Communities in the Mara Siana conservancy are reaping the benefits of sustainable range-land management through Holistic Management, a participatory approach that encourages communities living within the wildlife rich zones to adopt a suitable grazing model aimed at improving the health of the range-lands of the Mara ecosystem.
The thinking behind this approach is to address major challenges facing the Mara ecosystem such as land degradation, which is occasioned by overstocking by the pastoral communities and increased land fragmentation. Upsurge of population in the range-lands of Mara Ecosystem has led to increased land subdivision and fencing, to pave way for human settlements and other economic activities such as crop farming. thus hindering wildlife movements.
Whereas, water and pasture rank high as a cause of conflicts among pastoral communities;, MaMaSe-WWF-Kenya has been working towards addressing this perennial problem through the holistic management approach. In Mara Siana conservancy the programme has managed to secure 2,400 acres of land and is currently working with 55 landowners. The communities have also been empowered to develop a grazing plan suitable for both wet and dry seasons. Through the grazing plan, the communities are now able to calculate the ‘animal days’ (how many animals graze per block and for how many days).Training of professional herders has also been finalized. Professional herders are particularly important in this process, as they are able to bunch and direct the livestock for effective animal impact and uniform forage utilization within the grazing blocks. The established grazing committees are there to ensure grazing plans are fully executed. Using professional herders also means that school going children who would otherwise look after livestock now have more time to study.
To improve the livelihoods of the communities, this approach encourages the communities to rear commercial herds with a working philosophy of keeping few animal but high performing livestock for economic gain. They are now working towards linkages with structured markets for their livestock..
Kimpai Ole Njapit, the Chairman of Nkoilale Holistic Management pilot in Mara Siana, “The idea of keeping small number of high performing cattle is not a bad one after all. Since we adopted this approach we have sold a good number of livestock and generated a substantial amount of money for the land owners.”
He adds, “We currently have 150 cattle after selling 35 animals. For every animal sold, Ksh 1,000 is ploughed back into the pilot to enhance conservation work.”
Njapit observes that the commercial herd they keep under the Holistic Management approach are able to gain more weight due to limited movement and availability of ample pasture. As a result, the livestock are fetching almost twice the price on the market.. This has since motivated landowners who were previously skeptical about the approach to demand to be part of the conservancy.
Kaano Ole Sayagie, the treasurer of the conservancy adds that, “Recently we sold part of our commercial herds at an average of Ksh 32,000 per cow while those from neighboring communities outside the project fetch Ksh 20,000.”
Eminent challenge facing Mara Siana conservancy is increased cases of communities encroaching the pilots in search of pasture. This is attributed to the fact that Mara Siana lays as an island of grass amidst overgrazed surrounding range-lands.
Reappearance of wildlife
Preliminary results from monitoring wildlife in Mara Siana conservancy show that wildlife species within the conservancy have increased and reappearance of some of the wildlife species; a cheetah and recently a rhino were sighted in the pilot. The landowners have since taken advantage of this and are now organizing games drives with professional tour guides as a source of income from ecotourism.