Model pays pastoralists to conserve environment

As pastoralists in North Rift grapple with the drought that has affected over 12 million East Africans, a new model of paying pastoralists for conserving the ecosystem in reserves and parks is helping them diversify their income and end their dependence on rain fed agriculture alone.
The payment of pastoralists, mostly Maasais, has successfully been piloted in areas near Maasai Mara National Reserve and Kitengela, near the Nairobi National Park. In both areas, Maasai people have formed ‘eco-conservancies’ to protect their grazing areas for livestock and wildlife alike.

Under the payment for Ecosystem services scheme, pastoralists are given monetary incentives in exchange for allowing their land to be used for ecological services that promote conservation, for example allowing free movement of wild animals in their land.

The pastoralists voluntarily agree not to sub divide, fence or cultivate the land they are in, in return for a fee that is paid to them. The pastoralists also commit to keeping the land open for livestock and wildlife grazing.

About 357 households living in Kitengela have given about 16,800 hectares of private land under the scheme, where they are paid roughly Sh900 per acre per year. A report by the International Livestock Research Institute indicates that the income from the payment constitutes 59 per cent of the total off-farm earnings among participating households, but experts argue that the payment still remains paltry considering the sacrifices the pastoralists make.

“It’s a good venture, we are not questioning it one bit. I just think the pastoralists should be compensated more. The amount that these parks and reserves get is astronomical and so it should be reflected in the pay that they give to the pastoralists,” said Milly Ndenge an environmentalist based in Nairobi.

Under the arrangement, beneficiaries enter into a contract with The Wildlife Foundation (TWF) which also monitors adherence to the contract by the pastoralists. In the event that the beneficiary sells the land, they are removed from the records. The beneficiaries are paid in three installments, each on the last Saturday of the holiday before schools open in January, May and September, in order to cater for the school needs of the children of the beneficiaries.

The revolutionary Wildlife Lease Program was an idea inspired by The Wildlife Foundation and the Friends of Nairobi National Park in a bid to counter the loss of crucial migration lands connecting Nairobi National Park. The initiative supports the Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS) objective of supporting Management of the ecosystem to facilitate the conservation of species and habitats inside the park, as well as in the entire ecosystem.

However in order to ensure that the conservation payment works for the long term, experts at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are investigating the trade offs to quantify how such interventions could be more equitable to pastoralists inhabiting these wildlife-rich areas.

The scheme comes hot on heels of a report recently released by ILRI which showed that despite government decision to invest Sh8.5bn in agriculture and funding irrigation schemes in drought ravaged parts of Turkana, the only feasible way to address future droughts is through investing in pastoralism in dry lands.

The report found that only investments aimed at increasing the mobility of livestock herders could buffer the dry lands from future food crises. It argued that herding makes better economic sense than crop agriculture in many of the arid and semi-arid lands that constitute 80 per cent of the Horn of Africa, and that supporting mobile livestock herding communities in advance and with timely interventions can help people cope the next time drought threatens, and that  pastoralists switching to growing crops that require extensive investment in irrigation would be counterproductive in the long run.

Livestock constitutes an important aspect of Maasai life, with an estimated 75 per cent of the total household income in Maasai land generated from livestock, according to a report by the World Resources Institute.