Life, biodiversity and harvesting honey in northern Kenya

07 November 2007 | News story

Threats to the environment such as climate change, the scramble for water, and deforestation have created an urgent need for new ways of tackling these pressing issues which cater for all types of inhabitants.

In northern Kenya, an innovative programme steered by the African Union and partnered by IUCN’s East Africa Regional Office, aims to do just this. Known as the Dryland, Livestock/Wildlife Environment Interface Project (DLWEIP), the programme brings together all the stakeholders – community, government, donors, implementers – in a bid to manage natural resources equitably.

Changing lifestyles in northern Kenya, as more and more pastoralists opt for sedentary livelihoods, are causing severe environmental degradation and upsetting the ecosystem. Human encroachment on wildlife areas increases the threat of diseases and parasites, as well as competition for already-scarce water resources.  Ongoing local conflicts and cattle rustling contribute to the uncertain dynamic in these remote areas.

In an attempt to stop further degeneration, the community-driven project has focused on three community-conserved areas - Kalama, Namunyak and Naibunga - inhabited by the Samburu and Masai ethnic groups. Known as conservancies, these areas pool together resources and ideas to protect the biodiversity of the environment for the benefit of all its users. If successful, it is hoped these three pilot projects will be replicated to cover other areas of arid northern Kenya.

“This project is very participatory,” points out Prof Laurent Ntahuga, IUCN’s regional technical coordinator for biodiversity and species. “We are assisting the communities to interact positively with the wildlife and manage their natural resources. Now they understand there is a way to reduce the conflicts between humans and wildlife, and livestock and wildlife.”

All of which leads to poverty alleviation, a major goal of the project. There have already been increases in the number of wild animals, which in turn encourages the development of ecotourism. A luxury tourist lodge has been constructed within Naibunga conservancy, cementing the collaboration between private business and the communities. Twenty percent of the gains go to the community. Other income-generating activities include honey harvesting and the sale of medicinal plant products.

But the major earner is of course livestock. Through the project, the communities have realised that “less is more”. They want to boost the quality of their animals, not the numbers. Fatter, better milk-producing livestock yield more returns than lots of scrawny animals. The project enables community members to voice their need for improved infrastructure and therefore better access to markets, as well as for mobile banks so that they don’t keep all their money at home.

By the end of the project, says Prof Ntahuga, it is hoped that the communities will be able to support themselves at many levels. Better management of natural resources, coupled with more efficient livestock production and marketing will raise incomes and reduce environmental destruction.

For more information:

Grace Chepkwony, Communications Officer, IUCN East Africa Regional Office,
Tel: +254 20 890 607; E-mail: : grace.chepkwonynoneiucn.org