Something is happening in Kenya that is changing how we think about saving our environment everywhere.
For thousands of years, cattle herders have shared Kenya’s northern grasslands with elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinoceros and other wildlife—living in relative balance.
“The land is everything; their tradition, their culture, their livelihood. And the livestock is so close to the heart.”
This is how my colleague Tom Lalampaa described life for these communities. Lalampaa grew up raising goats, sheep and cows in Northern Kenya. He is now a visionary leader at a Kenyan community organization called Northern Rangeland Trust.
Lalampaa’s organization was formed because in recent decades, life on these grasslands has changed dramatically.
Due to poor access to markets, growing populations of pastoralists have amassed exceedingly large herds that overgraze the land and cause conflict amongst communities over limited space. During increasingly severe droughts, fear of mass cattle starvation drives herders to take their cattle on long and risky treks to market, where they are forced to sell the cows that survive—weak and underfed—at low prices.
This cycle has caused severe damage to Kenya’s grasslands and increased the risk of dangerous interactions between the herders and wildlife, both of which threaten the animals that depend on the grasslands for survival.
But today, with the leadership of the Northern Rangeland Trust, these grasslands are recovering, wildlife populations are on the rise, and the cattle herders are making more money than they have before.
Livestock to markets
What exactly happened here?
In 2008, the NRT introduced its innovative “Livestock to Markets” program. Instead of having to make the risky long trek to a buyers’ market, LTM allows herders to sell their cattle at a fair price directly to NRT in exchange for meeting agreed-upon conservation targets on their land. NRT then handles preparing the cattle for sale into the broader market.
To date, participating herders and their families have sold 7,000 cows into the program—roughly 1,000 per year—and collectively earned nearly $1.5 million of income. These families have even begun opening up bank accounts to save a portion of their profits.
And, by controlling much of the supply chain, NRT has also been able to invest an additional $80,000 from the sale of the cattle back into participating communities to pay for additional grassland conservation, wildlife guards, clinics, schools and ecotourism lodges.