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How armed conflict over pasture in North Rift has been resolved by pastoralists

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Women from various groups during harvesting of African Foxtail grass seeds at a farm in Chemeron village in Marigat, Baringo County on October 14, 2021. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA

Summary

  • The solution has been found by encouraging residents to embrace fodder production.
  • Some residents have pooled resources and formed cooperative societies to invest in pasture multiplication and fodder production.
  • Commercial fodder production is gaining popularity as an alternative source of income among the Ilchamus community on the shores of Lake Baringo.

Dispute over pasture and water has been the main source of armed conflicts among pastoralists in Northern Kenya that has led to the loss of human lives and property.

However, the perennial issue is now being resolved. The solution has been found by encouraging residents to embrace fodder production to manage the availability of feeds for their animals throughout the year especially during the dry spells, and reduce the rampant cases of conflicts over grazing fields.

Some residents have pooled resources and formed cooperative societies to invest in pasture multiplication and fodder production in bulk to enjoy economies of scale, enhancing milk production and thus attaining food security and improved nutrition.

The African foxtail grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is the most common variety grown in dry parts of the region — Baringo (Marigat), Marsabit, West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu and Laikipia counties — due to its ability to withstand harsh climatic conditions. They are also of high nutritional value to livestock.

Commercial fodder production is gaining popularity as an alternative source of income among the Ilchamus community on the shores of Lake Baringo. The community is now generating additional revenue throughout the year due to improved livestock and increased milk and beef production.

The livestock keepers grow African foxtail grass for seed bulking at the household and group levels. They have transformed their livelihoods thanks to a steady supply of pasture for their livestock and improved revenue generation.

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Francis Leking’odia, manager of Kerio Valley Development Authority’s Chemeron Farm Project in Marigat, Baringo County shows Sahiwal cows that they feed using African Foxtail grass on October 14, 2021. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Among women groups that have benefitted from fodder production are Naret, Naitero, Nairuchuruch and Maero who have overcome cultural stereotypes and barriers to establish farms that earn them handsome income annually.

The chairperson of Naitero Women group Christine Lewatachum said they approached Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) Chemeron regional office in 2015 seeking technical know-how on pasture seed bulking.

“This is a semi-arid region and initially we had homes and farms located along Lake Baringo shores but we have been displaced by floods. Luckily KVDA came to our rescue and introduced us to pasture multiplication for our livestock. They donated pasture seeds and offered onward field extension service, to train us on the new investment” said Ms Lewatachum.

She said together with other 10 women they formed the group that has since pioneered pasture growing for seed bulking.

“Some of our members donated their farms and at the moment we have two acres under pasture. We utilise household labour to cut costs and we get over Sh500,000 annually from the sale of pasture seeds. Besides, we make hay from the stalks which we use in feeding our animals as well as thatching houses,” she added.

Ms Lewatachum said with the income from fodder production, they formed a savings account where members access loans at low-interest rates which has allowed them to comfortably foot their bills including school fees.

Another member of the group, Rhoda Lesaris, notes that the pasture is drought-resistant and does well in areas with little rain besides taking just three months to mature.

“We used to grow maize but on many occasions, harsh weather wiped it out, but when we were introduced to the pasture our lives turned around. The pasture once planted is harvested for up to six years depending on how one manages the farm. It also requires no fertiliser to be applied thus reducing production costs,” she said.

Seeing their peers excel, other women in Ilchamus ward followed suit and started benchmarking from Naitero and established pasture farms for seed bulking.

A visit to Salabani in Baringo South reveals a carpet of green grass dotting the semi-arid landscape. Farmers harvest the pasture seeds thrice a year and sell at Sh400 a kilo to KVDA for packaging before it is sold to buyers including government agencies and private individuals to make pasture.

Naret group secretary Elizabeth Barsalach said they have 10 acres under the pasture.

“Before the introduction of the pasture, poverty levels were very high in this region and catering for basic commodities was a challenge to a majority of the households. Children had dropped out of school and generally, life was hard. The pasture is now a game-changer,” she told Business Daily.

For Nairuchuruch group, pasture has completely transformed their lives both in terms of nutrition and living standards.

“Each drought season many of the poor locals used to experience hunger but now we sell the pasture seeds and buy food. We no longer rely on tree leaves to feed the animals but we have pasture which is nutritious and plenty in supply,” she said.

She hailed KVDA for addressing their marketing woes, saying that in the past brokers would buy the seeds at Sh250 or less for a kilo when compared to Sh400 from KVDA.

“We need to expand our farms to allow members to reap maximum benefits,” she said.

The pasture has opened many fronts to 30 women under Maero group, which has since bought three dairy goats. Each member has a tank to harvest rainwater. They also bought tents and chairs with a public address system for hire.

“It is through the pasture that we have diversified our income base. The goats supplement us with milk which is shared among members. This has greatly improved our health status,” stated Maero chair lady, Dinah Sikamoi.

The pasture has also been named ‘conflict resolution grass’ because it has helped in bringing peace to the area.

“We have since improved our animal breeds and disposed off the indigenous ones that are famed by rustlers. We have less than five cows that are fed with the hay from our farms and no bandit comes for them since they do not roam looking for pasture and water,” she said.

The women groups still face erratic weather which makes the pasture less productive in some seasons, as well as snakes which use the farms as their hideout.

KVDA Chemeron project manager Francis Lekingodia said they partnered with the community through groups who are engaged in seed bulking.

“We provide technical expertise in seed bulking before we buy the harvested seeds. The plenty of pasture despite improving household income has seen locals change their farming practices from nomadic lifestyle to paddocking,” he said.

Mr Lokingodia said the pasture, with a crude protein content of 12 percent, does well in dry areas.

“It is a good moisture content absorber thus it is favoured by locals in the area. We have other farms in Samburu, and Turkana under pasture and farmers and institutions across the country purchase from them seeds as well as hay,” he said.

According to KVDA managing director Sammy Naporos, plans are underway to introduce fodder production among pastoralists in other regions under the agency to provide a reliable supply of animal feeds and resolve armed conflicts.

“Pasture multiplication and fodder production among agro-pastoralists will address challenges of diminishing land sizes and ensure a steady supply of animal feeds during dry spell and help resolve armed conflicts over grazing fields,” said Mr Naporos.

“Apart from empowering households and women groups to have steady source of income, the programme has helped to minimise armed conflict over pasture and address land degradation.”

He however challenges the pastoralists to form cooperative societies to benefit from commercial fodder production through attractive market rates.

“There is need to train more pastoralists on how to diversify to fodder production for their animals and earn more revenue. They need to form cooperative societies to attain better bargaining power for the grass seeds and fodder,” noted Mr Naporos.

He disclosed plans by KVDA to train farmers and registered groups on modern grass seed production techniques and empower them to understand the entire value chain.

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