Livestock to Markets

Photo credit: Treehugger

© Livestock is the primary measure of wealth among herding communities of northern Kenya. CREDIT: Ron Geatz

A key tool in driving the better management of the rangelands is access to markets.

By Charlotte Kaiser, Deputy Managing Director at NatureVest, The Nature Conservancy.

For thousands of years the pastoralist communities of northern Kenya have herded their cattle alongside elephants and zebras, the grass of the rangelands shared between livestock and wildlife in relative balance. In recent decades, climate change, habitat loss, and human population growth have combined to erode that balance, leading to overgrazing and the degradation of the grasslands that both humans and wildlife need to survive.

For over a decade, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has worked with the communities of Northern Kenya to develop community conservancies that support better management of cattle and grass. Through rotational grazing, grass banking, and other practices, the NRT Conservancies have seen habitat improve and human-wildlife interactions decrease.

A key tool in driving the better management of the rangelands is access to markets. Historically, the pastoralist communities lacked easy access to a market for their cattle. While cows are capital for these communities, families do need cash for school fees and other expenses, and without access to markets are forced to trek animals long distances to sell them for a poor price to a middleman trader. Without ready access to markets, pastoralists amass overly large herds. During droughts, fear of mass cattle starvation drives pastoralists to sell animals at low prices in a buyers’ market, or risk losing most of their herd to starvation.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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