Pastoralists in West Pokot and other pastoralist zones are set to benefit from a drought friendly and fast maturing grass variety that promises year round fodder for their livestock in a bid to stem pastoralist migration to Uganda in search of pasture which is affecting livestock market locally.
The planting of the grass, which is known as Cenchrus Cilliaris, is among a raft of measures supported by government and meant to reclaim dry land and mitigate the effects of drought while improving food security for the pastoralists.
Native to Africa and South eastern Asia, the grass also known as African Foxtail Grass is a perennial invasive grass that was introduced for control of soil erosion. This plant has a very low ignition threshold and can burst into a raging flame even during dry spells. Its quick regrowth allows it to compete successfully against almost all vegetation.
The pilot project, to kick off in a month's time will involve planting the grass on 50 hectares of land in Kiwawa division before rolling it out to other areas. It will also involve planting of drought friendly tree species to restore and conserve the environment. “With the help of the community we have identified 50 hectares to initiate the grass pilot project. We will expand the project to others affected areas to help more herders affected by shortage of food for their cattle. We intend to reclaim more degraded land and provide grazing field for the pastoralists,” Regional Arid and Semi Arid Lands Officer Samuel Kosgey said.
At a forum held at Lopet area and attended by environmentalist Abraham Domongole, Kosgey said over-concentration by the pastoralists in one area contributed to degradation. The official said the ministry will enhance water harvesting techniques in the areas to help the pastoralists during dry spells.
“The new program will enable pastoralists to access pasture and water and stop the perennial migration of herders to Uganda in search of pasture and water for their livestock,” he told herders.
According to the official, the ministry will also establish three tree nurseries of drought friendly species in the area to encourage the residents embrace trees. “We target to establish tree nurseries in the area to help the pastoralists engage in tree planting. We have already identified several tree species friendly to drought,” he said.
Traditionally the pastoralists have grappling with feed for their livestock have crossed border to Uganda. And with this constant migration, there has been concern over a rising livestock market in Uganda that threaten's Kenya's livestock sector. For example, the pastoralists pitching tent in Uganda sell part of their livestock to Ugandan traders with a promise of more grazing land and water.
And with the large herds they prefer offsetting some of their livestock. This is hurting Kenyan economy, with projections showing that over 40 percent of the meat that is slaughtered comes from sale of livestock from the pastoralists, with the total capital value of pastoral livestock in Kenya valued at Sh295.2bn.
Livestock’s contribution to the Kenyan economy is two and a half times larger than official estimates according to various studies.
“This is why we cannot afford the trend we are seeing now of pastoralists moving gradually to Uganda, it will have a catastrophic effect in the long term,”said Kosgey.