By Beth Ngugi A project by Africa’s largest rose producer, Oserian Development Company Limited, that crossbreeds the superior pedigree dorper ram from South Africa with the local Masaai ewes is transforming the lives of neighbouring communities by doubling their income while helping to improve conservation.
The project has grown into a fullscale initiative, in line with Oserian’s mantra, Flori4Nature. It is altering the lives of the surrounding, pre-dominantly Maasai community who have traditionally depended on the inferior breeds that are susceptible to diseases and attract low prices. The community’s fortunes have been waning due to fragmentation of land and drindling of\ pasture as a result of overgrazing. But Oserian, through the Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary that it manages, has been working with the local communities through the “Dorper ram project” to address this by improving the quality of the local breeds.
The resultant breed, christened Dormaa by Oserian technical directors, is given to elders and custodians in the community who then pass it on to the members for breeding. After the ram reproduces, it increases chances of the ram producing sheep from its family tree after a while.
The hardy sheep is fast maturing and can reproduce in irregular and low rainfall environments. It also consumes less pasture compared to the indigenous breeds while fetching a higher market price. It has found favour among the pastoralists who have been on the lookout for a breed that matures faster while consuming less. John Ndegwa, the Conservation Manager at Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary and who is actively involved in the project, says that the initiative is suitable for sustainable management of grasslands. Farmers, he says, have embraced the new breed and livelihoods are being changed as evidenced in the increase in flocks and better market prices.
“We train them on the philosophy of more for less. This means that the pastoralists can manage the pasture that they have by only having fewer sheep. The financial returns are higher in selling few of these superior breeds than they would be with the traditional ones,” Ndegwa explained.
So far, Oserian has donated 27 rams to the community in a Sh2 million project that has also involved training farmers on the new breeds,
management, inputs and cost of field officers. “We target community members living along the boundaries of the conservancy, women groups as well as youth. The strategy is hinged on building successful model farms within each community area whose success becomes \ ‘training centers’ for the rest of the society. To prove success of the project to the locals, we at the Sanctuary identify and isolate hardworking farmers and use them as role models for other mebmbers. This ultimately encourages partnership between the role models and other community members,” Ndegwa added.
Oserian has particularly tapped into women as it seeks to give them lasting solutions to their economic problems which has seen majority of them form support groups. According to Ndegwa, women have had to sell their entire flocks to take care of pressing family needs like school fees for their children. The project therefore gives them more value should they decide to sell the sheep.
“Women from these groups have started embracing this initiative. Given the ease of breeding this type of sheep as seen in minimal labour input, the women have more time to engage in other social and economic activities. Most are now taking care of their family sheep. In the past, it required them to sell a number of their sheep to cater for their children’s school fees.
Today, one sheep gives them same or more return as from selling a number of sheep,” Ndegwa noted. Petero Ole Panin, a clan elder in the area and one of the pioneer farmers in the project lives on the South- Westernn boundary of the conservancy and is constantly moving around the shores of Lake Oloiden in search of pasture. Holding his grazing stick, he stretches his hand and points at his flock identifying a black head sheep as the seed. He explains how the community breeds the seed with local sheep for best results and later consumes or sells the sheep.
“In the past, we would sell each sheep at Sh3000 to Sh3500 on average due to the small size and light weight. Today, we sell at between Sh12, 000 and Sh20, 000. Petero is grateful to Oserian for giving the community a viable source of income. John Kimani and his wife, now in their old age have been in the business of rearing sheep their entire lives.
They have had to contend with death of their flock as diseases and harsh climatic conditions take a toll on their livestock. They manage 18 sheep, a number John says has decreased as they have had to consume some of them during prolonged dry spells and sell others. He however is looking to doing away with all his local breeds for the dorper which he describes as hardy, disease resistant and heavier compared to local breed.
“During dry seasons, I keep immunizing the local breeds due to their inability to withstand the harsh climatic conditions. The dorper ram
has the ability to endure,” he said. Hanna Njeri another farmer at the Maela escarpment has seen better days with the dorper ram which she says has transformed her sheep rearing experience including fetching more returns.
“The dorper ram is a good seed. The sheep upkeep expenses are less. Since Oserian gave me the ram, it hasn’t fallen ill. The breed born out of the ram and my sheep is also strong and resistant to diseases,” Hannah revealed.
Even in dry seasons, she makes good money from selling the sheep. She hopes to receive another dorper ram in order to keep on enhancing her flock. Oserian takes pride in the blossoming relationship with then community. According to Ndegwa, this is a great platform for goodwill and enlightening the community on conservation, security and better animal husbandry.
“The community has become economically empowered. They have upgraded to high yielding sheep. Others have become commercial farmers. Lives have generally been transformed for the better,” he affirms.
The project however has not been without headwinds. Some farmers have not taken good care of their sheep attributing it to lack of capacity and time. Others have fallen into the temptation of selling the ram, which is key in crossbreeding, as butchers and traders,aware of the ram’s premium value, come calling with irresistible offers.