Shifts in settlement and grazing patterns, rising human populations, and increasing climate variability have significantly reduced the productivity of the rangelands of northern Kenya in recent decades. This poses a major threat to both wildlife and sustainable pastoral livelihoods. Loss of grass cover and the proliferation of invasive species such as Acacia reficiens have reduced food for livestock and wildlife, and exacerbated soil erosion. Unplanned water development and settlements have increased grazing pressure and reduced recovery times, trapping pastoralists in a downward spiral of declining production and increasing vulnerability.
In 2014, a study conducted by the World Agroforestry Centre showed that 70% of the rangelands in NRT conservancies were highly degraded, and over 50% of the area was heavily eroded. Rates of erosion have increased in recent decades with 37% of the NRT conservancy landscape experiencing over 10% increases in erosion between 2002 and 2012. Similarly, soil carbon stocks, a key indicator of soil health and regeneration potential, were critically low (below 3.5 kg/m3) in 40% of the NRT rangelands. 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.
Land use planning
Over half of NRT member conservancies are now actively planning their grazing and rangeland management. This includes mapping wet and dry season grazing areas, as well as settlements, infrastructure, water points, schools and other conservancy resources.
Grazing committees in conservancies are developing and implementing rest-rotation grazing plans. These new plans are allowing grass to recover after intensive use. Local monitoring of livestock movements and grazing patterns enabled these conservancies to adjust plans in response to declining forage, which is also reducing grazing conflicts. Planned grazing systems have also opened up the potential for carbon market revenues.
This is where livestock are concentrated tightly in a designated area for a set period of time. They are then moved on and the land left to recover. The hooves of the cattle break up the hard pan soil, which helps restore soil nutrients and improve soil structure. This technique is improving the impact of livestock on rangeland health.
By clearing invasive plant species, stabilizing erosion gulleys, and reseeding bare areas with perennial grasses, conservancies are rehabilitating hundreds of hectares of degraded land.
Each NRT member conservancy has a rangeland coordinator, active grazing committees, and grazing bylaws agreed across all conservancies. This has expanded from a focus on conservancy-level planning and management to include cross-conservancy and regional grazing management. This is addressing the need for wider landscape coordination. In addition, three new regional grazing management committees are now bringing together multiple conservancies, County Governments, and neighbouring communities to improve the management of rangeland resources on a larger scale.