Sustainable Cattle in Kenya Pay Off
Friday, February 13, 2015
For thousands of years the pastoralist communities of northern Kenya have herded their cattle alongside elephants and zebras, the grass of the rangelands shared between livestock and wildlife in relative balance. In recent decades, climate change, habitat loss, and human population growth have combined to erode that balance, leading to overgrazing and the degradation of the grasslands that both humans and wildlife need to survive.
For over a decade, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has worked with the communities of Northern Kenya to develop community conservancies that support better management of cattle and grass. Through rotational grazing, grass banking, and other practices, the NRT Conservancies have seen habitat improve and human-wildlife interactions decrease.
A key tool in driving the better management of the rangelands is access to markets. Historically, the pastoralist communities lacked easy access to a market for their cattle. While cows are capital for these communities, families do need cash for school fees and other expenses, and without access to markets are forced to trek animals long distances to sell them for a poor price to a middleman trader. Without ready access to markets, pastoralists amass overly large herds. During droughts, fear of mass cattle starvation drives pastoralists to sell animals at low prices in a buyers’ market, or risk losing most of their herd to starvation.
In 2008, NRT created the Livestock to Markets program (LTM), which brought the market to the Conservancies. In exchange for conservancies achieving specific targets in conservation, LTM buys cattle directly from the conservancies, purchasing several hundred head at a time from dozens of households. Providing access to markets allows pastoralists to better manage their herd sizes, since they know they can sell animals when they need to at a fair price. And LTM also encourages the herders to bank their cash, bringing mobile banking representatives to market days so herders can open bank accounts with the proceeds from the sale.
Once the cattle are purchased, NRT treks the animals to Lewa Conservancy, a partner NGO. After six weeks of quarantine, the animals move to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, another partner, where they are fattened on grass for 15 months, improving the size and quality of the animals. Finally, the animals are slaughtered at the Ol Pejeta abattoir, and sold as cold carcasses into the Nairobi meat market. By capturing much of the full value of the supply chain, NRT can pay a levy on every animal they buy to the conservancies themselves. This levy funds conservancy investments in wildlife guards, ecotourism lodges, and community facilities like clinics and schools.
To date the program has purchased 7,000 cows, bringing nearly $1.5M of income to pastoralist families and more than $80K of revenue to the conservancies. More than 14,000 people – herders and their families – have benefited from the program. Until 2014, the program was limited in size by the $1M grant that launched it.