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Lives of Laikipia

Suyian Ranch, located in northwest Laikipia, covers 43,000 acres of spectacularly beautiful scenery. The property encompasses a series of dramatic escarpments, exclusive valleys and expansive grassland plains. This has been home to the Powys family for over 100 years. Suyian is a working cattle ranch but started out as a ranch with 9,000 head of merino sheep!  Anne Powys was born on Suyian ranch and  has always called this home. As a fully qualified Yoga instructor she has opened up the space she loves, offering guests tranquility at her unique camp – Suiyan Soul, Anne’s main passion is the indignous flora of East Africa, she continues to record the indigenous knowledge of plants in the hope of saving this important information for the people of Kenya. Within Suyian and stretching out into the wider ecosystem there are significant populations of elephant, reticulated giraffe, ostrich, hippo, Burchell’s zebra, Grevy’s zebra, buffalo, lion, leopard, African wild dog and occasionally cheetah, among many other species. The property is also home to rare and interesting species of plants – the perfect setting for Anne’s self taught naturalist skills to flourish. When you meet Anne the first thing you notice is her proud adornment of traditional local jewelry, here’s why: “I really enjoy ethnic jewelry, especially jewelry made in Laikipia. I was once asked what my ethnic jewelry is by members of the community and I couldn’t answer or even describe  what my traditional Celtic jewelry was!. I like to support women’s groups who make traditional jewelry in Laikipia and the rest of the country too.”

LWF AGM review

Over 170 LWF members attended the Forum’s AGM, including Laikipia’s County Executive Officer for Tourism – Jane Putunoi and Deputy Governor and Member of LWF – Gitonga Kabugi. The key highlight for this year’s event was the vetting of 4 new Unit Directors: Mike Roberts (Eastern Unit), Anne Powys (Northern Unit), John Horsey (Central Unit) and Robert Kimani (Western Unit). These 4 new unit directors have since been confirmed and are addressing pertinent issues with members in their respective units.

Hon. Gitonga Kabugi recognised LWF’s significant contribution to conservation efforts as well as in the preservation of Laikipia’s natural resources saying; “The work being carried out by LWF is vitally important for Laikipia. I would like to say here today that the County Government will continue supporting LWF’s activities and pledge more participation in the Forum’s activities”.

2015 also recorded the highest amount received in membership registration fees. Over Kes. 2million was raised during the Forum’s first membership drive that begun in August 2015. Both old and new members came out in support of this effort and, members belonging to the top 3 categories were honoured at the AGM that was held on 10th October at Nanyuki Sports Club.

LWF is a membership driven organisation, and the tremendous effort made by staff, members, as well as the support from USAID and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN), ensures that implementation of various conservation activities for Laikipians and Laikipia continues.

Weather watch

According to satellite footage, the effects of the expected heavy rains will not result in the highly anticipated floods experienced during the 1997/1998 El Niño. Nonetheless, emergency plans are being put in place to deal with the after effects of the rains set to begin in November through to January 2016. Laikipians should also note that rainfall will vary across the County because of its vast landscape.

The Laikipia County Government has formed an active planning committee that includes various stakeholders such as; Red Cross, Kenya Meteorological Services, Laikipia County Agricultural Sector for Development Support Programme (ASDSP) and Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. These organisations aim to ensure that emergencies are adequately responded to, especially for locations that have been classified as vulnerable.

WEATHER WARNINGS

Article courtesy of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

Though these heavy rains are not being classified to fall under El Niño, the effects will definitely have human and socio- economic impacts. Positive impact includes farmers benefitting from increased crop yield and a chance to harvest water for storage.

Negative effects will include food insecurity as crops get washed away by the heavy rainfall and displacement should residents lose their homes. Outbreak of disease for both humans and livestock is almost inevitable.

Areas likely to experience floods include Ewaso Narok wetland (Rumuruti to Oldonyiro), Container area, Thome, Mathira, Salama ward (upper part of Muruku), Manguo (Nyahururu), Matanya (along Equator), Lamuria, Kinamba (Tandare and Gatirima pans), Ngare Ng’iro, Segera, Suguta, Nanyuki town (areas along Nanyuki river) and areas along Likii river.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Safety during this season begins with you! At a minimum, you should make arrangements to have enough supply of clean food, proper housing, good clean water storage and a First Aid kit. Always ensure proper sanitation around your home to avoid diseases from contamination of water sources by dirt and debris washed downstream.

In case of any emergencies, Please contact this helpline to report:

County Emergency Operation Center

Nanyuki Social Hall

Emergency numbers: 0722 343 000, 0721 639 146

Or

Countrywide police hotline in Safaricom 112 (free of charge)

Grass is peace

Laikipia County is renowned for its exceptionally high quality beef. This is heavily attributed to the many pastoralist communities and resident ranchers who rear cattle for local and international markets. Livestock farming has been a part of Laikipia’s economic makeup for decades and as a result a large number of Laikipians depend on it directly or indirectly.

LWF’s 24th AGM held on the 10th October focused on Rangelands Management and, Peace and Security; issues greatly affecting the Laikipian landscape as well as Laikipians. During the AGM, LWF’s rangelands team addressed members and emphasised that grass is essential in the promotion of peace and a key factor in reducing conflict between communities.

“Pastoralists and commercial ranchers need to be placed at the heart of restoring the landscape. As LWF’s Rangelands team, it is important to meet the people and develop their capacity to manage their own resources. It is their ownership recognition that leads to sustainable success” said Josephat Musyima – LWF’s Director of Programmes.

The presentation from the team also included Holistic Management (HM), an area that LWF has focussed on for the past 7 years.  HM involves: caring for grass, the leaves above and roots below and, practicing good herding by managing livestock to rehabilitate degraded land. “Pastoralists and ranchers in Laikipia have a significant role in landscape restoration and this can be done through proper herding which, in itself, is a sustainable rehabilitation solution. Rehabilitation of land and respect for grass remains a critical focus; this is the only way to deal with conflicts over natural resources,” says Ewan, a key member of the Rangelands team

LWF’s focus on HM begun after receiving support from USAID and from the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands (EKN) with the idea of having communities develop and manage their own natural resources. As a result, many communities have adopted the approach with a recorded increase of women now involved in the practice.

However, like in any other Natural Resource Management, HM has met its challenges brought on by uncontrolled factors such as drought, poor governance, illiteracy levels, poverty and insecurity. The statistics from a baseline study conducted 5 years ago found that there were emerging problems such as increased livestock diseases as a result from interaction with cross county livestock.

The success of HM is greatly dependant on the residents of Laikipia because they provide important solutions for challenges being faced.  When suitable grazing methods are practiced, there is minimal animal impact on land, increased grazing for livestock, total grass recovery and provides ample time to plan for grazing during dry and wet seasons.

LWF continues to increase awareness, enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the Holistic Management programme through trainings of community HM response teams and chief barazas.

Cause for concern: Laikipia’s drying rivers

Article by James Mwangi

Water is a finite resource which is fundamental to life. It has no viable substitute. However, latest trends show that water resources management throughout the country reflects the uncertain future of natural water supplies. Longer drought spells should mean that communities make a concerted effort in managing available water resources and, use reserves harvested during rain seasons when rivers run low; this unfortunately is not the case.

During the months of July-August 2015, LWF reported that a majority of perennial rivers flowing in and out of Laikipia, including; Ontulili, Nanyuki, Naromoru, Upper Ewaso Nyiro, Mutara, Suguroi, and Pesi, were drying up exceptionally fast, irrespective of this being a dry season. The river sources from Mount Kenya and Abardares Ranges experienced reduced flow due to over abstraction by residents in order to meet an extremely high demand of water for domestic and irrigation use.

If water was harvested and stored during rain seasons, communities would see reduced cases of illegal abstractions and wastage of water during the dry seasons. There is also unaccounted water loss from natural water sources to residential areas, from numerous leakages on roads and illegal connections. Inefficient use of water, such as flood irrigation through furrows also reduces access to water during dry spells.

Furthermore; Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo Counties utilise multiple shared river and ground water aquifers that result in an interdependent relationship that could either foster cooperation or exacerbate conflict, which should be a strong incentive to ensure the success of water management through improved transboundary governance and cooperation.

There is a need to upscale endogenous conservation initiatives in the region through the progressive work of Water Resources Users Associations (WRUAs) and Community Forest Associations (CFAs). WRUAs have struggled to attain financial sustainability despite their great effort and commitment in managing transboundary water sources. They implement water rationing programs during the dry seasons, protect water sources and resolve water conflicts between downstream and upstream water users. The County governments have worked and continue to play a part in promoting WRUAs. It is encouraged that these same governments should begin to value the WRUA’s efforts and allocate resources to support the development of these institutions.

Article by James Mwangi

Demystifying the Grevy’s zebra

If most Kenyans south of Laikipia were asked to point out a Grevy’s zebra amongst a herd of plains zebra, chances are they would have difficulty doing so; in fact, most of us would. This is not because the Grevy’s zebra aren’t distinctly different from their cousins, but because many may not know what to look for when coming across Kenya’s most iconic mammal.

Scientific research dictates that the Grevy’s zebra was the first of the zebra species to evolve after asses. They are taller with narrow stripes, a white belly, black dorsal stripe, large rounded ears and a brown muzzle. They live in arid and semi-arid habitats comprised of grass and shrub land. Predominantly grazers, Grevy’s zebras live on forbs and grasses but during extremely dry periods they also browse.

Originally, the species’ range spread across the arid areas of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. However, due to over-hunting for their skins Grevy’s numbers reduced drastically; the majority are now found in Northern Kenya with a few remaining in parts of Ethiopia. In fact, Grevy’s are now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as an endangered species with approximately 2,800 individuals left in the wild, dropping from 15, 000 just 30 years ago.

Today, the greatest threat facing Grevy’s is increasing  habitat loss due to overgrazing by livestock. In addition, the zebras are occasionally hunted for meat. The Grevy’s zebra has a 13 month gestation period which means that it takes a long time for the population to grow. Foal survival is critical to the growth of Grevy’s zebra populations but the threats of habitat loss and limited access to water significantly lower their chances of survival.

In Kenya, the zebras have nearly always co-existed with people where over 99% of its range is outside formal protected areas in northern Kenya.  Their seasonal movements are dependent on the availability of water and grass distribution. Lactating females are found closer to water because they need to drink more often to nurse their foals. Local communities in Laikipia and other areas of Northern Kenya, revere the Grevy’s for their ability to find water especially during periods of drought.

Due to the fact that Grevy’s zebra are endangered, conservation efforts for the species have stepped up in recent years. For example, in 2012, Kenya updated its Conservation and Management Plan for Grevy’s Zebra. In the same year, an aerial count of large mammals, including Grevy’s zebra, was conducted by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Grevy’s Zebra Trust and other stakeholders to determine the status of populations in order to make informed decisions regarding conservation.

In addition, the involvement of local communities in long term conservation efforts of the Grevy’s zebra, means that communities who live with the species can play an active role in the development of infrastructures that address conservation. Governance processes are also being strengthened, with pastoralists managing their rangelands through a participatory approach. Also, efforts made in releasing more information about the Grevy’s zebra means that Kenyans now know that much more, about the iconic species that is part of their natural heritage.

Scouts uniformed to protect Gathiuru forest

Members of Gathiuru Community Forest Association (CFA) are quickly making a name for themselves as being the most proactive protectors of forests in Kenya. They have over the years successfully demonstrated what Participatory Forest Management is all about, and are often a point of reference during discussions with other CFA’s in Nyeri and surrounding counties.

With 4, 000 members and growing, Gathiuru CFA works closely with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to conserve and protect 14, 985 hectares of forest while benefitting from the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Scheme (Pelis) which is a modified form of the shamba system that had greatly contributed to the destruction of forests. The Act also addresses the formation of CFA’s and how they interact with KFS through Participatory Forest Management, and allows for forest farming which has benefitted communities significantly. Protecting forests in Kenya is far from easy, and support from stakeholders has ensured that Gathiuru CFA can continue to implement various conservation activities.

Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) has worked closely with Gathiuru CFA over the years, helping them develop and implement forest management plans. On 22nd October 2015, LWF, with the support from USAID, handed over 80 brand new scout uniforms that will see these protectors of the forest uniformed to carry out their duties. “Conservation knows no boundaries, as clearly seen in Gathiuru forest which is part of the larger Mt. Kenya ecosystem. The water towers here support many ecosystems and thus we must do all we can do to protect these catchment areas as well as forest areas. These uniforms handed over to the scouts will allow them to implement their duties in full recognition of the public and give them a better sense of authority “says LWF Programmes Officer Mr. Josephat Musyima.

Deforestation in Gathiuru forest has seen forest cover reduce significantly over the past decade and it has taken the intervention of local community members, local administration, KFS, various stakeholders and scouts to change the situation. Since 2012, LWF has been engaging with the Gathiuru scouts which has led to the increase of numbers within the CFA and allowing benefits gained from forest farming to flourish.

During the 22nd October function, KFS Deputy Commandant of the Central Highlands Conservancy, Mr. Wilson Lebo, urged members of the community to take pride in the natural resources available to them and encouraged them to assist the scouts in protecting the forest by being diligent in pin pointing those engaging in illegal forest activities in order to successfully protect Gathiuru forest.

Women empowerment through conservation

The saying goes – “If you empower a woman you empower the whole community”. This is true in the town of Dol Dol where women have taken the initiative to build Manyattas with the intention of promoting eco-tourism as an alternative source of income. The idea is to let traditional practices shine while promoting sustainable conservation practices, in a setting that allows tourists to fully immerse themselves into the Maasai community.

The idea came to life after the community needed alternative sources of income to tree logging and charcoal burning that was being carried out at Mukogodo forest. In February this year, 300 women, all reformed charcoal burners, came together to form Naramat Environmental CBO with the help of their area Chief – Kaise Maxwell. He insisted that creating significant change within the community needed women to spearhead the process, saying; “women in this community are the sole bread winners, I knew if we empower the women we will empower the whole community and individuals as well.”

Traditional Maasai culture dictates that there is little chance of women inheriting or owning entities that would allow them to generate income. They focus mainly on making beads; building manyattas for family use as well as carry out basic homestead chores. Men herd the livestock as the women go out to look for food to provide meals for their families. The intensity of activities geared to support families also increases during dry seasons.

Women wake up very early to fetch water, milk cows and walk for miles to sell charcoal to residents in neighbouring villages. Before the introduction of alternative sources of income, such as eco-tourism manyattas, the women from Dol Dol would make charcoal from timber harvested from Mukogodo forest – Kenya’s last remaining indigenous forest, decreasing the forest’s cover at an alarming rate. During the formation of Naramat Environmental CBO, Chief Maxwell informed members on the repercussions of deforestation and encouraged members to forgo the practice. As a result of this, communities in the area now play an active role in the protection of Laikipia’s forest resource, as well as gain knowledge in alternative sources of income to support their livelihood.

LWF’s strategic planning receives funding

LWF has received USD 250, 000 from USAID to develop a 5 year strategic plan aimed at defining a clear direction for the Forum for the next 5 years, as well as to strengthen its membership. LWF has also requested additional support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN) that will go towards the development and completion of the strategic plan. The total funding received will also be used for programmes development, support reform for conservation efforts to match present and future needs as well as ensuring that members have interactive platforms to participate in the development of the forum.

For the past 17 years, most of LWF’s activities have been supported by donors such as USAID and EKN, as well as from membership fees. This model is unsustainable, and therefore, the strategic planning process will also address sustainable funding together with conservation of natural resources, wildlife management and sustainable and effective ways of working with governments; both at the County and National level. The strategic planning process begun with the formation of a task force that is headed by LWF’s Executive Director; Peter Hetz.

Laikipia is amongst Kenya’s most recognised counties for the conservation of natural resources, and LWF aims at playing a significant role in conservation through its membership.

The strategic planning process will take 8 months with implementation taking place in several stages. Stay tuned to Focus Forum for updates on this.