Reagan Siamito, 30, from Shompole village in Magadi, Kajiado County, was born into pastoralism. He practiced it as soon as he was old enough to handle tasks. "Livestock keeping is a lifestyle. Everything else outside that is substitutionary income," he said. Siamito has 120 cattle and 400 goats and sheep. These are the most common livestock in his area. They produce meat and milk, which locals can sell for cash. "We occasionally keep donkeys but not too many," he added.
But prolonged drought and lack of adequate rainfall have made pasture a nightmare for most pastoralists. Now, a new system is changing the narrative.
"The organization of grazing land using the Participatory Rangeland Management (PRM) system has brought order and divided the available resource reasonably equitably," Siamito said.
In Shompole, there are clearly demarcated areas for settlement, grazing and agricultural farming. Water scarcity and resource management in pastoralist communities frequently escalates into conflict, a trend influenced extensively by climate change and competition for resources. But herders are now fighting for their water rights through particular interest groups under the PRM instead of raiding parties. Pastoralist communities with working community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) systems tend to manage resources better.
Magadi case study
Siamito explains that Magadi is a semi-arid area. The question of water adequacy is always a predicament and a source of conflict for the different group ranges. Ewaso Ngiro river is the primary source of water that is often consistent throughout the different seasons of the year. "We also have water pan points, in the four range groups, which are seasonal, depending on harvested rainwater," Siamito said. To adapt to the changing harsh weather patterns, community livestock keepers have opted to keep several breeds of animals.
"When drought strikes, animals are not affected equally. Some species are superior to others.”
In Shampole, although helpful, Participatory Rangeland Management (PRM) does not always democratically involve all the residents before making a decision," Siamito says. "The committee often makes the decisions with the opinions of a few community members. These decisions are not always favorable for the entire community but are representative of larger issues."
Livestock diseases, such as scrapie, are affecting the flock. Since the drugs have been used consistently, the animals have developed resistance. "It is difficult to afford or access the alternative drugs, so some animals are slaughtered or, in unfortunate incidents, go mad or die," Siamito said.
Human-wildlife conflict is rampant. "Our animals are not domesticated. When grazing, lions, leopards, and hyenas attack them," he said.
How the system works
Joseph Kayioni is the group range manager, Oldonyonyokie location. He was efficient in the committee leadership, which got him promoted to the Chief of Oldonyonyokie. The Oldonyonyokie group range sits on an area of about 68,500ha, which is communally owned. "We practice pastoralism primarily; our people keep cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, and occasionally camels," Kayioni said. The year's calendar of predicted wet and dry seasons guides the Oldonyonyokie group range management system.
Kayioni said the range committee manages the grazing patterns, and the range manager chairs it. "The demarcations are taken quite seriously in our culture. For example, there is a specific land portion for calves to graze. Elders have cursed the area such that it is taboo if one grazes cows or goats; they either die or disappear mysteriously," Kayioni said.
Moreover, Kayioni said during wet seasons, it is prohibited to both graze and drill wells on land meant for the dry periods.
The community also gets water from a communal dam built by Tata Chemicals Magadi Limited. Kayioni said that if the by-laws set by the group range committee are broken, the individual is subject to arrest and a fine if found guilty.
Senior Chief Dennis Kuya of Shompole expressed immense concern about climate change affecting their livestock. "Long rains have disappeared, causing prolonged droughts," Kuya said. Moreover, the growth of the livestock population has caused the management of fewer resources to be more difficult. Set areas of grazing are exhausted faster than before. "To control the population of sheep, we developed a local method of tying a tight leather around the waist," Kuya said. "It prevents them from mating and giving birth during drought. It is locally dubbed the 'sheep condom' or, in Maasai language, the 'enchoni ormeregesh'."
Kuya said the Shompole community land is managed using range management patterns, where land is set aside for livestock keeping, wetlands for agriculture and conservation for wildlife. "Conservation attracts a reasonably good number of tourists," Kuya said. Residents are allowed to graze their animals in conservation areas during aggressive drought seasons after liaising with the conservation scout team to minimize human and wildlife conflict. Rangelands make up more than 80% of Kenya's landmass, according to a report from the International Livestock Research Institute's second edition of the PRM toolkit. A similar proportion of red meat in the country is produced primarily on rangelands. Rangelands provide livelihoods for millions of pastoralists, and agro-pastoralists are the backbone of Kenya’s wildlife tourism industry.
Further, the report states the vast majority of these rangelands is situated on communal rather than private land, and is managed collectively by the people who live there. While pastoral and agro-pastoral communities have had traditional institutions and practices for managing their resources, PRM facilitates better participatory processes.
Livestock-keeping affects climate change directly or indirectly in different ways, says expert Naomie Metais of Climate Fresk. "When the livestock chews cud, they produce methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas," she said.
"This in turn contributes to the greenhouse effect, which in turn contributes to climate change when the greenhouse gas (methane) is emitted in excess to the atmosphere."
Livestock also produce waste (cow dung) that decomposes to produce methane, which goes into the atmosphere contributes to the greenhouse gas effect. Moreover, Metais said, the pesticides used to spray livestock to treat them against pests or diseases contain aerosols. When sprayed on this livestock, it goes into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. When greenhouse gases exceed parameters, it causes global warming, otherwise called climate change.
Metais said an increase in the population of the pastoralist communities means an increase in the number of livestock managed per head by each person in the pastoralist communities.
This increases the production of methane and its effects, as explained above. Moreover, as the population of pastoralist communities increases, managing the resources, such as finances required to implement PRM, becomes more challenging. In conclusion, Metais said changes in the weather patterns have resulted in a scarcity of resources like water and pasture for the livestock. This resulted in a struggle for the resources among pastoralist communities, thus making it difficult to inculcate the PRM when there is conflict among the pastoralist communities due to scarce resources.
Climate change results in scarcity of these resources through drought or flood. Information from the Kenya Market Organisation shows that livestock in Kenya accounts for 12% of Kenya's GDP and 50% of the agricultural labor force. About 10 million pastoralists produce approximately 70% of Kenya's livestock in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs). These constitute 18 of the 20 poorest counties in Kenya and host the highest number of people living below the poverty line (below $1.25 per day or Sh146). Livestock production in developing nations plays a massive role in agriculture. Globally, it contributes to 40% of agricultural GDP.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2009 reported that the need for animal-based food is increasing, so the livestock industry needs to expand. At the same time, climate change remains a significant threat to livestock systems globally.
This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in The Star on July 16, 2022, and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Sheep and goats grazing in Shompole village in Magadi, Kajiado County / Credit: Sharon Kiburi