Naibunga Conservancy is the collective effort of nine Maasai group ranches in the western region of the Mukogodo Division in Laikipia. Community members realised the need for conservation efforts in the area as increasing numbers of people and livestock coupled with persistent droughts were severely damaging the rangeland. The ranches came to the agreement that by combining land and natural resources, their cattle, wildlife, livelihoods and collective rangeland stood to benefit. The official Naibunga HQ was opened in April 2015.
The Maasai are traditionally a semi nomadic, pastoralist community who have built up a wealth of knowledge through decades of farming the harsh terrains of Northern Kenya. But as changing times bring increased pressure on natural resources, grazing cattle has become a volatile livelihood. By joining NRT, pastoralists can combine their traditional knowledge with modern science to more sustainably manage their rangeland, and other members of the community have means of diversifying their income through alternative employment, so as not to rely so heavily on livestock.
Naibunga is part of the ‘Livestock to Markets‘ (LTM) programme. This is an innovative approach to the marketing challenges faced by pastoralists in the region. Herders often trek cattle for days to market, only for transporters to pay poor prices for low-grade livestock. The LTM program provides an alternative market, paying fair prices, purchasing directly from the conservancies, and buying selectively to reward good conservancy performance. This market aims to incentivise conservancies to practice effective, transparent governance and sustainable natural resource management by linking local livestock owners in high performing conservancies to ready markets. So far (from 2011 up to 2014) direct purchase of livestock put 168.5 million Kenyan Shillings (approximately 1.75 million USD) in the hands of over 2,000 pastoralists.
NRT Trading is a branch of the organization that gives women in communities the opportunity to be trained in craft-making, product development, basic accounting, pricing structures and leadership skills. The aim is to enable them to take their businesses as far as they dream, so they can set up viable alternative sources of income for their families. Through the support of ICEP, a micro-credit program, these women have access to micro-loans to develop their ventures. 250 women make up 13 groups in Naibunga, all of whom are involved in the programme.
Recently, a new conservancy board has been elected and will be trained with the help of NRT, with the aim of building accountability, transparency, equity and effective representation for the community.
Despite suffering severe environmental degradation in the past decades, Mukogodo Division is still one of the best areas to view wildlife in Laikipia. The conservancy is home to populations of elephant, lion, cheetah, hyena, impala, leopard, plain and Grevy’s zebra, Thompson’s and Grants gazelle to name a few, and sustaining these wildlife numbers is now a priority for the Naibunga communities.
21 rangers employed from the community are working to increase security in Naibunga and play a critical role in raising conservation awareness, gathering intelligence, managing conflict and gathering basic wildlife data. They were trained with funding from NRT and generous support from the Kenya Wildlife Service, at the Manyani Training School in the famous Tsavo National Park. Passing with flying colours, the team emerged with knowledge in discipline, field craft, wildlife law and wildlife monitoring.
The conservancy will also implement NRT’s grazing management program, which involves land use planning and integrating new ways of grazing, to help regenerate the land. Bunched herding of cattle and designated grazing blocks are proving to rapidly rehabilitate the rangeland, benefiting both the livestock and the wildlife that graze the same plains, and ensuring the sustainability of the natural resources.
Currently, there are 5 tourist lodges operating in Naibunga:
- The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille – A luxury lodge, with exclusive cottages set in the true African wilderness. It offers an extensive range of activities for visitors, including game drives, spa treatments, mountain biking, camel and horse treks and climbing. Guests can also visit a traditional Maasai “manyatta,” built by the women of the community specifically to keep culture alive and educate visitors. They share their knowledge of traditional medicines and cooking, house building techniques, musical instruments and weaponry, and give guests the opportunity to buy beadwork and crafts. These cultural visits provide valuable income for the women.
- Ol Gaboli Lodge – The only tourism venture owned by an all-women pastoralist group in Sub Saharan Africa. It offers guests many of the same activities as Ol Lentille, and is nestled under the oldest fig tree in the area, on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro.
- Koija Star Beds – A partnership between Loisaba and the Koija community. Visitors can stay in large double beds on wheels, giving them the unique opportunity to sleep either under the shelter of their hut, or out under the stars.
- Lewaso Cottages – Although not in operation yet, Lewaso Cottages will be the first safari camp owned and managed by local Maasai people, and profits will help fund the education of children from nearby villages. Guests will have the opportunity to go on safari’s, sample local food and experience the Maasai people and their culture first-hand.
Another tourism venture in Naibunga is the Twala Cultural Centre, a women’s group project aimed at engaging tourists in local way of life. Naibunga earns revenue from conservancy fees, every member group ranch remits 20% of group ranch earnings to the Trust.
With assistance from NRT and partner organizations, Naibunga aims to achieve the following in the coming years:
- To convene, along with all other NRT community conservancies, in annual general meetings to share plans and progress
- To take part in a livelihood baseline survey, commissioned by NRT, with a view of determining the status and priority of education, health, water, jobs, food security, infrastructure and current availability of government services
- To continue the strengthening of wildlife security and monitoring within the conservancy
- To sign a partnership memorandum of understanding, along with all other community conservancies, between themselves and NRT
- To register as not-for-profit company
- To develop a conservancy management plan endorsed by the constituent community
- Implement a conservancy constitution, with the aim of building accountability, transparency, equity and effective representation in Naibunga
- To take part in peace building exercises with surrounding communities