BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — For many communities in Northern Kenya, livestock are equivalent to mobile bank accounts, says Patrick Ekodere, livestock director of Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) Trading. “Their wealth and their pride is in their cows.”
The trust works to develop resilient community conservancies in these grasslands, where elephants, zebras, giraffes, and rhinos have co-existed with cattle herders for thousands of years.
Until recently, it has been a relatively harmonious and stable relationship. But in the past few decades, the situation has changed. Habitat destruction and climate change have taken their toll on the grasslands, and there is now more competition for diminishing pastures than ever before.
Cows are used as capital within local communities, but families need cash too, and to generate it, they have to take their animals on long treks to market and sell those that survive to intermediaries for low prices.
Given the risks involved, and the fluctuating price per head they receive, it makes economic sense to keep more cows that can be readily sustained using current practices.
This has led to overgrazing of the grasslands – not necessarily because there are too many cows, but because they are being grazed intensively, so the grass is consistently eaten down to its roots, and not given time to recover.
As a result, erosion rates have increased in recent decades, and soil carbon – a key indicator of regeneration potential – is critically low. Indigenous red bark acacia (Acacia reficiens) trees have also started to spread, as they thrive on highly degraded soils, and this is compounding the issue as it suppresses the growth of pasture underneath.
As the grasslands become less abundant, the consequences are serious. Bitter encounters over reduced natural resources increase, leading to a rise in insecurity and human-wildlife conflict with cattle rustling, retaliatory attacks, and livestock predation incidents reported more frequently. Community members may also be tempted into activities like elephant poaching to make ends meet.
That’s where the Livestock to Markets (LtM) program – initiated by NRT and supported by The Nature Conservancy and other partners – comes in.
The livestock business is an innovative approach to the marketing challenges faced by pastoralists in northern Kenya. Herders often trek cattle for days to market, only for middle-men to pay poor prices for good cattle, and very low prices for low-grade livestock.
NRT ’s livestock program provides an alternative market, paying fair prices, purchasing directly from the conservancies that it supports, and buying selectively to reward good conservancy performance (governance, conservation, and rangeland management).
NRT established LtM in 2011 as a “mobile market,” which buys cattle directly from program participants who follow sustainable grazing practices. Once purchased and quarantined for six weeks, the cattle are fattened on nutrient-rich grasses, slaughtered, and then sold in Nairobi meat markets.
In this way, the full value of the supply chain is captured: NRT can pay a levy for each animal to the conservancies themselves, which can fund community facilities and investments, and the majority of the money can be reinvested into the mobile market’s next round of purchases.
The program incentivizes improved grassland management and discourages pastoral herders from maintaining large herds because they know they can sell cows when they need to for a decent price.
LtM kicked off with grant funding from TNC and other sources to buy 1,000 cows per year – but this traditional funding model limited the project in reaching a sustainable scale.
In 2015, TNC’s impact investing unit NatureVest sourced an impact investing loan which allowed the program to up its cow purchases to around 10,000 per year – directly supporting the sustainable management of 1.2 million acres (486,000 hectares) of land.
Now, NRT has established a new vehicle – NRT-Trading – to accept new debt and equity investments. It is a social enterprise model that can be replicated across East Africa, say the founders.
“Climate change and other external factors keep the goal posts shifting, but we hope to scale the program to other conservancies across northern Kenya,” observes Ekodere.
“At the grassroots, we will continually work with local communities to maintain the value, the essence and the pride of their traditional way of life, but also to take on a more contemporary mindset that allows them to be more independent, more resilient and more sustainable,” he says.
Find out more about restoration initiatives throughout Africa at the Global Landscapes Forum GLF Nairobi summit, August 29-30, 2018. Click here
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