The introduction of predator-proof mobile bomas has significantly reduced the number of attacks on livestock by lions.
For a minute, Evelyn Nampaso turns away and gestures to a group of men tending a herd of more than 300 cattle on the grassy Enonkishu plains, a conservancy in the north of the Maasi Mara National Game Reserve in Narok County.
Then, as if in response to my unvoiced question she explains: “I’m telling them to divide themselves into groups so that some can assemble the mobile boma (cow pens) and put the young calves in it while others take care of the older cattle.”
Looking after cattle at the game reserve is no longer a big problem for the pastoralists of Enonskishu (which means place of healthy cattle in Maa), thanks to the introduction of predator-proof, mobile cattle-pens made of metal bars. The mobile bomas which can easily be dismantled and reassembled as they move from one area to another with the livestock, has significantly reduced the number of attacks on livestock by lions, as well as the retaliatory killing of lions by the Maasai pastoralists.
Unlike in most conservancies in the Mara, which have only patches of grass and eroded land, the signs of uncontrolled grazing and land degradation, Enonkishu Conservancy is luxuriant, with knee-high savannah grasses, a boon to both the livestock and other grazers like gazelles and wildebeests.
The conservancy, which is owned by 30 farmers, sits on 4,000 acres of land that has been subdivided into 12 grazing blocks, to which the cattle are driven on a rotational basis; they spend 10 days in one block before moving on to the next.
At Enonkishu, wildebeests, gazelles and zebras, among other wild animals, graze on the red oat grass, just like the cows. The scene is alluring, and tourist vans make occasional stopovers to let the visitors admire the wonders of the Mara.
After surviving a devastating drought that posed the most serious threat yet to their livestock and tourism — their main source of livelihood — seven years ago, the pastoralists of Enonkishu adopted a new approach to conserving land by creating a viable livestock enterprise through a holistic management initiative that includes paddocking, rearing fewer and better cattle, cattle fattening and market-oriented ranching.
TRAIL OF DEVASTATION
Evelyn Nampaso, a member of the Enonkishu Conservancy. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI
The initiative was introduced to the pastoralists in 2010 through the Mau Mara Serengeti (MaMaSe) Sustainable Water Initiative, a consortium of international and local partners led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation-Institute for Hydraulic Engineering (Unesco-IHE) aimed at improving water safety and security in the Mara River Basin.
“Back then we would experience two droughts in a year, which was unbearable. Our livestock would die and the wild animals would also move to other places in search of water, so no tourists would visit the conservancy,” recalls Nampaso, a mother of four.
Indeed, August 2009 is one month that undoubtedly left a bad taste in the 51-year-old’s mouth for, so severe was the drought that parts of the famous Mara River dried up. Consequently, some herders lost their entire herd; Nampaso lost 20 of her 56 cows, which remains the highest number she has lost.
“We were so hard hit that we decided to come together as landowners in Enonkishu to establish this conservancy in 2010. Every member donated 100 acres of land. We also brought our cattle together,” offered Nampaso who, in addition to the 100 acres, also donated 30 cows to the common effort.
The 2009 drought left a trail of devastation. The Mara River for instance, where wildebeest cross from Tanzania, creating a spectacle that is known worldwide, dried up completely. It also made the local pastoralists rethink the culture of owning more than 100 heads of cattle as had been the trend.
“We sold off most of our cattle and restricted our herds to 30 per individual at most, since that was what the grazing blocks could support at the time,” explains Daniel Sayialel, a cattle owner and member of the Enonkishu Conservancy.
Now that the land has healed, the pastoralists have become careful not to damage it again, rearing fewer heads of superior breeds of cattle, which is more profitable.
“We have two herds; 150 steers in the commercial herd and 300 cows in the breeding herd. The steers are jointly owned by the members, who pool resources to buy them,” Siyialel offers.
The farmers buy second-generation Boran steers from neighbouring markets which, after deworming and three months of proper grazing, are sold to Mara Beef Company, which is also located within the conservancy.
A second-generation Boran steer goes for Sh27,000 but after three months of proper treatment it is sold for Sh60,000.
They sell 50 steers to the beef farm every month, and part of the proceeds are saved while the rest goes to the famers.
“Mara Beef also donated five Boran bulls to us, which we are using to improve our breeding herds. Zebu and Boran cross-breeds have admirable features and can weigh up to 500 kilos compared with the Zebu breeds, which weigh 250 kilos,” Sayialel offers, adding that they plan to introduce the Sahiwal breed next year.
The lush grass is also attracting several wild animals, which is a bonus to the conservancy owners as tourists pay to visit the place.
“Due to paddocking, we no longer have cases of diseases such as East Coast Fever, which is caused by ticks,” Sayialel adds.
“We came in here so that we could add value to the farmers’ products. We train them on proper husbandry and grazing. Nowadays, we buy 400 cows every month from local pastoralists within the Mara,” offers Tom Keywood, the director of Mara Beef Company, adding that they have helped farmers avoid brokers, who used to take advantage of them.
A cow would go through seven brokers before reaching the market back then, and a farmer would earn just about Sh17,000 instead to Sh30,000 for a second-generation steer.
Mara Beef supplies its products to various supermarkets in Nairobi, Nakuru and Narok.
Ms Frida Gacheri, a market access adviser with the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), which has been training the Enonkishu pastoralists on value addition and market access, notes that the country’s livestock market is so disorganised that the flow of information between the producers and the market is hampered.
“Farmers have no idea of what the market wants, while buyers do not know where to find the producers, which causes a disconnect between the two parties,” she says.
When farmers failed to find better prices on the market, Ms Gacheri says, they would hold on to their livestock waiting for better prices, only to find themselves in the middle of a drought so they would end up losing everything.
“Basically, the price matches the quality of the cow so we encourage farmers to stock good cattle breeds which can convert grass into meat and fetch good prices at the end of the day,” Ms Gacheri says.
PARTNERS IN CONSERVATION
Reeds are planted around the water purification plant to enhance the water quality. PHOTO | COURTESY WWF
Hotels treating waste water to conserve environment
IN 2009, the Maasai Mara Game Reserve felt the devastating impact of climate change, which nearly brought the area’s tourism sector, its main source of revenue, to its knees.
However, people living within the game reserve have come up with a number of environmental initiatives to conserve streams and rivers, which are the heartbeat of the famous tourist destination.
The shocking news that the River Mara was drying up first came to the limelight in 2009, when both the local and international media reported the drought was ravaging the River Mara and its tributaries.
“This is the first year we’ve ever seen the river this low, an officer who works with the Mara Conservancy, a not-for-profit organisation told the British newspaper, The Independent.
“The Mara River, where wildebeest cross from Tanzania, dried up completely in 2009,” a tour guide working in the Maasai Mara told another British newspaper, The Guardian.
In April 2015, The Daily Nation carried out a survey which revealed the death of several crocodiles and hippos as rivers dried up as scores of residents, wildebeests and zebras crossed a dry river bed.
Treating wastewater in a constructed wetland, whereby hotels and lodges biologically pre-treat sewer water before discharging it into the environment, is among the initiatives Enonkishu residents are using in their efforts to conserve the environment.
The Mara River sustains one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world – the annual migration of huge herds of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes arriving in the Mara Basin during the dry season in search of water and grass.
Through the Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water-MaMaSe programme, a consortium of international and local partners is led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation–Institute for Hydraulic Engineering (Unesco-IHE) aimed at improving water safety and security in the Mara River Basin, both pastoralists and hoteliers in the Mara have become champions of conservation.
Researchers believe that biologically pre-treating water before discharging it into Mara River will enhance the quality of the river’s water, making it safe and attractive to wild animals.
Asby Mwalili, the lodge engineer at the Mara Sarova, says the process is cheaper and more environmentally friendly compared with a mechanical treatment system.
In the biological method, which is done via a constructed wetland system, used water from the kitchen, guestrooms or sewage flow through pipes into a septic tank where it is held for a few days to biodegrade. Thereafter, the water flows from the tank through outlet pipes into a shallow pit filled with gravel, which acts as a sieve, letting the liquid through while retaining any solid matter.
The gravel also acts as bio filters, removing sediments and pollutants such as heavy metals from the water. Papyrus reeds are also planted within the wetland to enhance the water treatment.
“From the gravel pit, the water flows into a pond-like structure; this is what is known as a constructed wetland. We have included some plants to enhance the ambience of our constructed wetland,”Mwalili explains, adding that they use 90 cubic metres of water every day, 80 per cent of which ends up in the sewer.
The Mara Sarova Hotel was the first institution to adopt the technology in the early ’80s but upgraded it three months ago to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) and National Environment Management Authority (Nema) effluent discharge standards.
Joseph Tira, 33, the owner and manager of G&G Hotel in Talek Town within the game reserve, says he prefers the treatment of the wastewater in a wetland because he will no longer need to dig several pits within his premises to hold used water.
“We use 600 litres of water every day. Currently, we treat our water before discharging it into the environment but in future we plan to use it for fish farming,” he says.
Mr Kennedy Bwire, a project officer at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), notes that there are more than 200 lodges, hotels and camps in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, all located along the Mara River or its tributaries.
Since the Mara River is not big, untreated or chemically treated waste water will eventually degrade the riverine ecosystem serioualy and even impinge the most basic needs of the people, livestock, wildlife and the overall basin’s economy, the expert noted.
“Therefore, used water that ends up in the river will affect its quality. However, if treated, the quality of water improves, which is handy in supporting the ecosystem,” he adds.
Ingrid De Loof, project coordinator at Unesco-IHE, says they have trained all representatives from all the hotels on the construction of the wastewater management system.
“The irregular flow of the Mara River could, for instance, lead to a decline in the wildebeest population, thereby hampering the entire migration cycle that sustains the Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem,” De Loof said, emphasising that institutions that pollute water should clean the water before releasing it back into the environment.