School rescues pastoralists’ livestock from death

Pastoralists staring at dwindling pasture land for their livestock are going back to school to learn about new and smart ways of managing and conserving fodder with one pastoralist school in Kiserian having emerged as key in preventing livestock deaths.

The school, complete with classrooms and a 25 acre demonstration plot, is always full to capacity as pastoralists become aware that the luxury of vast pastureland is fast fading away.

Isaac Nemuta a teacher at the school says there is urgent need to shift the cattle rearing approach if they are to survive, given that the luxury of vast pastureland is fading away fast.

Although today the rangelands are lush and wet, stretching to blue horizons, drought still hits the area, scattering the locals in epic treks for survival. It is clear that we no longer have the luxury of vast pastureland. Besides, drought is commonplace and has resulted in massive losses in the past, which calls for new ways of doing things otherwise we will all perish," explains Nemuta.

The school was established to control the perennial movement and massive losses of livestock during drought. Here, members conserve pasture then harvest when it matures, and store it for dry sea-sons. This model, which is spreading fast in the pastoralist's world, is proving to be the answer for modern cattle keeping in arid and semi arid areas. And to this end, Nemuta's lessons are critical and his students are keen to ask what they do not understand while in session.

To start the project, a resident donated a quarter of an acre to construct the school, which now has three classrooms and an office all made of off-cuts. It is here that members come for studies thrice in a month. The classroom walls contain murals capturing the entire livestock keeping value chain from husbandry to marketing. The murals also explain dangers of environmental degradation and their mitigation measures.

Alice Matura is one of the residents and also the group's chairlady. She is happy that a solution to their suffering has been discovered and predicts a bumper harvest from the 25-acre pastureland next to the school. Last season, the group harvested 2,000 bales, which were partly sold and partly fed to their cattle. "We do not suffer anymore during drought. We have steady supply of milk and our cattle fetches better prices in the market. It is because of the new model," Matura explains.

A look at what the community has in stores shows how prepared they are for the next drought season. The stores are fully stocked with hay and this has given them confidence to face the future, so they say. And to further support their initiative was a major boost that the community received from an international NGO–SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme (NALEP) under the Ministry of Livestock. "This is just one example. If you go to Isiolo, and Pokot the same concept is being implemented," says SNV's economic development advisor on extensive livestock, Morgan Siloma.

"Pasture conservation is the best way of ensuring that the pastoralists can maintain a healthy and productive herd. We are also encouraging them to fatten their cattle before disposing at the market. Steer fattening is a concept that has seen increased earnings from cattle trading amongst pastoralists," she adds. Nemuta is grateful to SNV and NALEP for its assistance to promote rapid growth of the programme. While SNV provided capacity building, Nalep gave pasture seeds under the Economic Stimulus Pro-gramme, which became a turning point in the programme. "As a result of this engagement, we were able to understand the value chain better and its interrelation-ship with fodder," Nemuta says.

And the practise is not confined to Kiserian alone. In Oldonyiro, Samburu County, Elizabeth Lemasum is busy at work. Together with fellow members of Naserian Women Group, they are determined to accomplish the day's task, which is, harvesting and baling fodder. For Le-masum just like many other pastoralists livestock is her lifeline. However, hard lessons from past severe drought have forced pastoralists into adopting modern farming technologies.

Planting and preserving fodder is also taking shape in this area. A few years ago, planting and harvesting grass was not a common practise in Samburu and for a long time, pastoralists have had the benefit of massive chunks of land to graze their animals. However, this is changing gradually.

But their initiative has not been easy. Land in this community is communally owned and their idea was met with op-position but they were not deterred to run their project, which has since been successful. Today, the group has a 10 acres fodder demonstration plot and has 45 members. "We negotiated and were allowed to proceed. We approached SNV for sup-port and it provided a tractor to plough the land. It also taught us pasture management, harvesting and storage," Lemasum says.