Frustrations in Laikipia are running so high that some residents of Laikipia have resulted to using medieval tactics to keep out herds of unwanted livestock.
As a result, some conservancies and ranches have invested millions of Kenyan shillings to construct trenches, (in addition to the electric and chain link fences, and wires on the borders of their lands) with the hope that this will somehow forestall or prevent the entry of illegal livestock and herders on to their properties.
According to the National Environmental Management and Coordination Act of 1999, the construction of these trenches requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). These assessments are a pre-requisite to the construction of trenches, and require public participation as part of the assessment process. Each EIA is also subject to public scrutiny, and based on the results of this review, a license is, or is not, issued for construction.
In the case of the trenches being built in Laikipia, the “environmental impact” jury is out. EIAs have been carried out for two of the properties and are available on the LWF website. The impacts of these trenches are still not clear, but what is clear is that the EIA analyses are poor. There are plenty of other examples of the use of trenches in Laikipia to deter entry into private lands, but there doesn’t seem to be any public access to their EIA reports, or any comparative analysis. We have experience of trenches being used around Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares, as well as on the Athi-Kapiti plains. Where is this information helping to inform “trenching” in Laikipia? Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any dedicated task force that monitors the effectiveness of these trenches. Are trenches an effective deterrent to the movement of illegal livestock on to private lands? And what impact do they have on wildlife and biodiversity?
KWS has offered the most senior objection to the construction of trenches, as they are concerned about the impacts on the biodiversity of the Laikipian landscape. No good studies have been done, to our knowledge, to inform us about the impacts of trench construction to biodiversity in Kenya. However, many scientists believe that an abundance of small animal life could be impacted by trench construction. Larger mammals also appear to be impacted, but the significance is not known.
Many of the biggest frustrations over the construction of fences come from neighbours who are not consulted in their construction. They wonder what this new ditch means for their neighbourhoods, neighbourly relations, and the future of this “open landscape”. Other neighbours have raised concerns over the impacts to the soils with resulting erosion, and how disturbed ground is an ideal medium for invasive species. People also complain of the unsightly nature of these trenches and what this means to tourism and the beauty of our Laikipian landscape.
In a meeting organised by LWF on 11th January 2017, members of the ranching community led by the Laikipia Farmers Association 2014, met with representatives of the Laikipia County Office of the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA). They discussed the NEMA requirements and way forward. The minutes of that meeting have yet to be released by NEMA, and KWS has not yet issued a formal objection/no-objection to the construction of trenches. Unfortunately, KWS could not attend this meeting, and thus no formal position was shared by them.
In a world obsessed with walls and fences, historic and contemporary, there has never been a wall/trench that has worked to keep out people intent on getting to the other side.
Is this the future we envision for Laikipia, our Wildlife, and for our Neighbourhoods? Or is this Laikipia’s last stand?