Kenya's Rangelands - what can we learn from Ethiopia?

Seven NRT staff members took a trip to southern Ethiopia this month, to discover how pastoralists there are using traditional systems and simple solutions to sustainably manage their grasslands and water points.  

A recent study by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) showed that 70% of the rangelands in NRT conservancies are highly degraded, and 50% heavily eroded. It also showed that erosion rates have increased in recent decades; and soil organic carbon, a key indicator of regeneration potential, is critically low.
Several factors have led to this:

  • Rising human populations
  • Increasing climate variability
  • Unplanned water development, settlements and grazing patterns
  • Proliferation of invasive plant species such as Acacia reficiens
70% of the rangelands in NRT conservancies are highly degraded, and 50% heavily eroded

70% of the rangelands in NRT conservancies are highly degraded, and 50% heavily eroded

Starting in 2009, NRT and the community conservancies began implementing an innovative rangeland management programme with support from USAID, and more recently DANIDA. This programme seeks to combine traditional approaches to rangeland management with new techniques, including land use planning, rotational grazing, bunched grazing, land rehabilitation and developing effective community institutions. In select conservancies, this is working well. The total area under coordinated rotational grazing management stood at 1.8 million hectares in 2014. The total area cleared of invasives and reseeded with perennial grasses stood at 506 hectares.

Kalama Conservancy grazing and seasonal rangeland management plan  

Kalama Conservancy grazing and seasonal rangeland management plan  

But community politics and challenges in regulation are hindering progress in a lot of areas. To find out how to help the conservancies achieve their goals in land use planning, seven NRT members of staff travelled to Ethiopia – to see how traditional institutions are working on a much larger scale, to conserve and rehabilitate grasslands. The team:

  • Titus Letaapo – Senior Rangelands Management Officer
  • Latif Boru – Regional Coordinator Isiolo County
  • Fred Obiya –Regional Coordinator  Samburu County
  • Emmanuel Kochalle –Regional Coordinator  Marsabit County
  • Richard Kasoo – Regional Coordinator for Meru and Laikipia County 
  • Joseph Lopsala Letoole – Grazing Management Officer
  • Randisa Kisio – Driver

Ethiopian Rangelands

NRT team in a discussion with a Dirre rangelands council chairman

NRT team in a discussion with a Dirre rangelands council chairman

Key to the success and on going management of the south Ethiopian grasslands is the community-led governance structure. The system is made up of three tiers:

The Kibele –

this is a location-level council. Deals with local settlement development, conflict issues and rangeland management. Women are represented in the Kibele.

The Reera –

Four members from each Kibele in an area make up the Reera council. More or less equivalent to an NRT member conservancy’s grazing committee.

The Dheedha –

this is the highest governing body in rangeland management. The Dheedha is made up of four representatives from the region’s Reera. Duties include coordinating efforts between the Reera, local government and other partners. They also play an important role in conflict resolution.

A grazing unit map for Dirre – green indicates wet season grazing areas, orange indicates the same for dry seaso

A grazing unit map for Dirre – green indicates wet season grazing areas, orange indicates the same for dry seaso

Communities here face similar challenges to their fellow pastoralists in northern Kenya; bush encroachment is estimated to have affected 50% of the Ethiopian rangelands. But a culture of communal land management, and respected traditional governance structures that cross land boundaries; has enabled communities to implement coordinated solutions on a much larger scale. Bush-thinning, resting the land for up to two years, terracing hillsides, re-seeding grasses and reforesting have all taken place – spearheaded by the Dheedha, supported by the Reera and implemented by the Kibele.

One of the productive grassland areas the NRT team visited in Ethiopia  

One of the productive grassland areas the NRT team visited in Ethiopia  

A similar governance system is also in place to manage water points – both seasonal and permanent. The Erega is made up of six elected committee members, who ensure the water point is well maintained and used only during designated times. The Erega worked closely with the Dheedha, and adjust regulations based on climate conditions. It is also their responsibility to collect fines from those who do not abide by the water point rules. Offences include letting livestock get into the dam, drinking at undesignated spots, and making the dam dirty. Fines can be anything from monetary, to labour (building a fence or a trough at the water point) to a ban on using the water point altogether. 

The Erega dictate the water access points for livestock 

The Erega dictate the water access points for livestock 

Like their fellow pastoralists in northern Kenya, communities in southern Ethiopia rely on cattle. Proximity to Djibouti’s port (and therefor to markets in the Middle East) means that livestock markets thrive. Dubluk livestock market is the busiest in East and Central Africa – handling an average of 10,000 cattle on any one market day. The quality of the beef is also a key factor in the success of these markets. The Ethiopian Government runs a breeding centre for Boran cattle – widely renowned as being the hardiest breed in Africa. They produce high quality beef with low quality forage – and farmers in Ethiopia can buy prime breeding bulls from the Government at a subsidised rate.

There is also a dedicated Pastoralist Development Office in government – which works closely with the Dheedha on rangeland management, as well as coordinates partnerships between NGOs, donors and communities.

Two prime Boran breeding bulls  

Two prime Boran breeding bulls  

How can this be applied to Kenyan rangelands? 

Grazing and Governance

The cross-boundary coordination and implementation of land use management plans was observed as being a key component in the success of the Ethiopians. Given the established community conservancy institutions, conducting grazing management on a larger, perhaps county-level scale would be feasible. This would mean community conservancies would become a sub-system of a wider land use management system that would cover a county or district.

A community member plants grass seeds in Westgate Community Conservancy

A community member plants grass seeds in Westgate Community Conservancy

Land

Community conservancies, or even the regional rangeland management committees should this system be adopted, should prioritise tackling land degradation and bush encroachment, and reach out to county government for funding and support.

Water

Water points should be governed just as stringently as grasslands – with management committees and controlled water development plans.

Way Forward 

Inspired and enlightened from their trip to Ethiopia, the NRT Team plan to work closely with country governments to come up with policies that deal with settlement patterns, grazing systems, livestock movement and bush encroachment.