The future of rangelands is at a crossroad. Covering three quarters of Kenya, supporting 60 percent of national livestock herd and 90 percent of all wildlife, the rangelands face grave threats. The threats include population growth, poverty, land degradation, recurrent drought, loss of rivers and wetlands, declining wildlife and climate change. The collapse of subsistence economies and cultures has left families destitute. Land subdivision and sales, the extraction of charcoal, sand, building stone and wildlife poaching have risen with poverty and social disruption. Poor social services and lack of technical skills hamper opportunities for alternative livelihoods in a tight job market.
Despite the enormous threats facing Kenya’s rangelands, the opportunities to reverse the trends through improved breeds, better husbandry and marketing skills, range restoration, grass banks, arable and irrigated arming, wildlife enterprises, ecotourism, renewable energy, carbon markets and natural resource businesses have been poorly developed. The 2010 constitution sets the tone for rangeland communities to form a strong constituency, set the agenda and build the skills needed to conserve and develop the arid and semi-arid lands.
Many progressive landowner associations have taken the initiative in recent years to redress the threats and open up new opportunities for managing and sustaining the rangelands. The Rangelands Association of Kenya, in collaboration with the African Conservation Centre, University of Nairobi Centre for Sustainable Dry lands Ecosystems and Societies and the International Livestock and Research Organization, hosted the congress at the Commercial Bank of Africa Conference Centre in Nairobi on the 11th and 12th of August 2015. The congress brought together the voices and views of land owner associations invited speakers, government and country governments, national and international agencies to highlight the status, threats and opportunities in the rangelands and chart the way ahead.
David Western and Lucy Waruingi of African Conservation Centre were key speakers. Courtney White, founder of the Quivira Coalition based in New Mexico, gave a talk on the New Ranch concept emerging in the US to ensure sustainable and resilient ranching practices and restore degraded rangelands.
After the congress members of the Rangeland Association of Kenya held a one-day meeting to decide on the way ahead. The steps will include recruiting as many rangeland communities and associations as possible in the coming year to give them a strong voice in the conservation and management of their lands; address the marginalization of pastoral societies; engage national and county governments on policy and planning matters, build up the management capacity of communities in collaboration with NGOs, improve access to education and information; promote sustainable livestock systems and wildlife conservation enterprises, and draw on the best of traditional and modern husbandry practices in guiding the transition from subsistence to market economies.
At the closing of the congress David Western formally launched the Rangeland Association of Kenya, representing landowner associations. Prof. Jessi Njoka of University of Nairobi announced the launch of the Rangeland Society of Kenya, representing professional managers and scientists.