Over 30 pastoralists in Mau Narok area of Kenya are accessing structured markets for their livestock while taming human wildlife conflict in the fragile Mara ecosystem, in a classic model that has also transformed them into commercial livestock producers.
Traditionally, the communities battled dwindling pasture occasioned by long dry rain spells which would see them loose up to 50 cows a year. Despite owning large tracks of land, individual members could not keep more than 20 cattle as grass was quickly exhausted.
The searing drought would lead to death of wild animals that shared the grass with the cows. Predators would then move in and attack the pastoralist’s herds. Until they had enough of it.
With support from Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water Initiative, MaMaSe a not for profit organization working on improving water safety and security in the Mara River Basin by tracking human activities, the community members operating in the Enonkishu conservancy on the edge of Maasai Mara, came up with a concept that would not only spare the pastoralists’ livestock but point them to the right markets.
The idea was to get the pastoralists to form one large collective grazing zone that would allow them manage the limited grass. Each member contributed 100 acres to setting up the communal pasture land. Cows are bulked and allowed to feed in one ‘block’ before moving to another. The 3,000acre communal land is sub divided into 12 blocks.
On average the cows graze for 10 days in each block. This structured movement allows grass in the previous blocks to regenerate. It has also allowed peaceful coexistence with the wild animals because pasture is now in abundance. 25 year old Daniel Nampaso is one of the members of the conservancy who has benefitted from the rangeland management. “It was a tough life before. Scrambling for pasture not only led to death of our cattle but also never ending conflict. A lot has changed,” he said. Evelyn Nambaso a mother of four and a fellow member agrees. “We rarely have conflict with the wild animals now. Pasture is in plenty. And this idea has gone ahead to open more doors for us.”
She is referring to two models, commercial and breeding that the community has adopted to rear their cattle and access markets. The breeding concept, which they have been working together with partners like development organization SNV Netherlands, involves cross breeding the weak and low quality Zebu breeds with the hardy Boran to produce breeds that are weighty enough to attract high premium in the markets. A traditional Zebu weighs on average 300kgs with a cross breed weighing up to 450kgs.
The commercial model which has become the community’s cash cow involves buying poor yielding, emaciated breeds from local markets and fattening them at the conservancy with a view to earning extra from them. “We buy what we call grade two cows from the local markets, the weak ones, rear them in the conservancy where there is ample pasture, tend to them ensure they are free of diseases then sell them off say after six months. On average a cow that we pick at the market at $300 we are able to sell it for $600. It has really paid off,” said Nampaso.
One of the markets they have found through this model is Mara Beef, a company that also specializes in rearing its own cattle and working with the pastoral communities around Mara. On average the company slaughters 400 cows a month and is looking to expand as markets express insatiable appetite for its products.
These products, which include beef cubes, mince and cuts, find their way into major supermarkets in the capital Nairobi hundreds of miles away, bearing the tag ‘wholesome grass fed beef.’ Tarquin Wood the Managing Director is a religious stickler of quality and perfection. “We deal with members of Enonkishu conservancy a lot because we felt we needed to do something to contribute to the conservancy. We are however very strict on the quality of cows we buy. So we invest a lot in training these pastoralists on issues like animal husbandry because that affects the quality of the cow they sell to us. We only sell cows with potential to fatten or ready cow for slaughter. So far our relationship with them has been incredible. Our wish is to turn the livestock owners here into commercial livestock producers,” said Mr. Wood.
Such success stories in market access among pastoral communities has been replicated to four other groups in Mau Narok by MaMaSe. The idea is to train the livestock producers good animal husbandry practices to prepare their livestock for the markets while training them market dynamics to ensure they are well equipped when making sales.
And with more than 80 per cent of the beef consumed in Kenya being produced by pastoralists according to a 2011 study by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Livestock Policy Initiative (LPI) it matters that these livestock producers see value for their money.
“It is a very chaotic and disorganized sector in Kenya. Producers rearing their livestock without knowing what the markets want, and then going to the markets with no price information and certain buyers riding on this lack of information to exploit producers. At MaMaSe what we are doing with these pastoralists is coordinating the entire value chain so that as they become commercial producers they know from get go what to do to attract top dollar for their livestock,” said Fridah Gacheri the livestock value chain market access advisor at MaMaSe, based at SNV.