June 11, 2014

Women as the Primary Source of Information – Sustainable Rangeland Management in Northwestern Kenya

By Gabby Abrego, Conservation International

“Our livelihood is our land and the cows,” Beatrice Lemparia explains as she begins to describe life as an indigenous Mukogodo Maasai woman. Beatrice comes from one of the semi-nomadic, pastoralist communities that lives northwest of Mount Kenya. “You are not a complete Maasai without livestock, even if subjected to modern life; you are still connected and committed to providing the community with livestock.”

While the Maasai are accustomed to the harsh terrain and persistent droughts of the region, nowadays they are also grappling with overgrazing that compounds the damage being done to their communal land. Today, Beatrice is working to find a solution to reviving her community’s grazing lands and encouraging women to play a bigger role in the decision-making process.

As a current Conservation International Indigenous Leaders Conservation Fellow, Beatrice is working with her organization, Naibunga Conservancy Trust (NCT), to integrate a sustainable rangeland rehabilitation and management system in the Mukogodo Division of Laikipia, Kenya by implementing holistic planned grazing practices. Originated by the Savory Institute, holistic planned grazing is an approach that helps ranchers develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those of wild herds to heal the grasslands.

Through training and educating both men and women, Beatrice and NCT hope to shift the traditional pastoral practices from allowing cattle to roam and graze freely to systematically rotating their grazing patterns around the nine group ranches that make up NCT. This new controlled grazing method will help revitalize the degraded soil through the natural benefits the cattle provide when they graze, defecate and salivate as they move around, building the soil and deepening plant roots. “Over time, Maasai focused on the cow, now they are trying to focus on the land,” explains Beatrice.

Throughout this capacity-building phase, Beatrice has also been working to increase the participation of Maasai women in the decision-making process. “Women are the primary source of information – their opinions will alter the decisions of the community,” explains Beatrice. Maasai culture is traditionally patriarchal, and even though women are participating in NCT committees, they are not actively involved; “the men feel women are afraid to take leaderships roles.” Along with the rangeland management system, Beatrice’s goal is to create a forum that would bring men and women together to appreciate each other’s contributions in livestock management and work towards collective decision-making.

At the household level, Beatrice describes women as holding key knowledge of livestock conditions, “when they milk the cows, they know if productivity is reduced, or when they make the huts, they use cow dung, then, they can see if the cows are healthy.” Maasai women also teach their children how to care for cattle and other traditional practices. Thus, in order to build a successful and sustainable rangeland management system, they must play an integral role.

Today, the Mukogodo Maasai communities are already seeing positive outcomes from the planned grazing to both their land and the perceptions of women’s participation. Pilot areas are growing back quickly, full of brilliantly green grass, and both men and women agree there needs to be a change in how women are included in the process. As Beatrice concludes, “when the cows are healthy, people are healthy,” and this experience has given the communities a new outlook on the future of their livelihoods and culture.

Photo: Conservation International

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