Communal grazing scheme resuscitates camel rearing

A communal grazing model in Samburu that allows camel herds to graze simultaneously in organized plots using a rotation schedule is taming inter clan clashes while preserving dwindling fodder a move that is seeing the slow come back of camels that has been the signature heritage of the Samburu people.

Lack of access to water points, and limited pasture had taken a toll on the pastoralists livestock which has traditionally been their source of livelihood. The camel, was the only livestock that pastoralists felt economical to keep due to its ability to withstand harsh climatic conditions. Prolonged dry spells however was taking a toll on the camel which also succumbed to ignobilities of nature. Pastoralists could no longer take care of the ship of the desert.

The new grazing scheme however is seeing pastoralists embracing camel rearing again due to organized grazing, a move if sustained could see livestock rearing making a comeback. Instead of grazing anywhere, the region is divided into large plots of land, which are grazed simultaneously by all herds using an agreed rotation schedule.

This allows a better use of the existing vegetation, the soil is well fertilized with dung and aerated so that rainwater and nutrients can penetrate. The grazing period is followed by a lengthy regeneration phase. Another measure is to retain grazing areas close to settlements.

To the farmers who have cows, the cattle graze the standing hay but only during periods of extreme drought. The distance between grazing and water is short because the village boreholes provide water even during drought periods.

Abdi Jattani a chief at Bulesa area of Borana who has been a chief for the last 19 years knows the value of such a grazing scheme. Now 51 years of age, he has seen the worst inter clan fights for resources some resulting in numerous deaths. “Poverty here is our greatest problem.

When resources like water or pasture no matter how small is discovered, people are willing to kill for it. He recalled the drought of 2011 which he says was the most horrendous in the pastoralist community. As more and more waterholes dried up, the grass withered and the distance between the remaining pastures and water points was so great that cattle died on route.

Bulesa lost 300 of its 3000 cattle. The Borana people were forced to move to higher areas where there was more water and food. However, these areas were on the border with the Samburu, a rival pastoral tribe in the south west of the Borana region. According to Jattani, young Samburu go through an initiation ceremony in order to become men: this involved the stealing of cattle. In the past they stalked the cattle with bows and spears but today they use Kalashnikovs.

“Two men from our village died and 400 cattle were stolen. In 2011, we lost almost one quarter of the total herd,” complains the village chief.

The grazing scheme is reversing the sorry state of affairs. Now more than 300 pastoralists enjoy the scheme and knowing they are assured of pasture and water are actively involved in regeneration of vegetation and preservation of water pumps. “I had sold all my livestock for peanuts. I just sat here and waited to die. But after being convinced about the new scheme I invested my little money and bought ten goats. Today after one year I have 5 camels, ten cows and 20 goats. I have never seen something this big,” said Junet Ahmed a pastoralist.