Laikipia – A blueprint for sustainable wildlfe conservation? | Doc | Guerrilla Pictures

Laikipia – A blueprint for sustainable wildlfe conservation? | Doc | Guerrilla Pictures


National Parks and Protected Areas should be the safest havens for wildlife in every country. But many parks are failing to protect their wildlife and conservation is on the decline. In many regions, a large proportion of wildlife is actually outside protected areas. In Kenya, outside the national parks, one region has developed a unique system which is protecting wilderness and wildlife, and ensuring stable – or increasing – wildlife populations. And it is creating work for its people. This is Laikipia. Ten thousand square kilometres of hope for sustainable wildlife conservation. Here, for the last 20 years, the Laikipia Wildlife Forum has brought together local community initiatives, private ranchers, small-scale farmers, nomadic tribes, cooperatives, and tourism projects in a common mission … To conserve and sustain the Laikipia ecosystem by creatively managing its natural resources. And in so doing, to improve the livelihood of its people. And it works. My family came, my father came in 1914. In those days, there were large tracts of unoccupied country in Laikipia – in the whole of Kenya. In 1961 – just before independence – a lot of Europeans felt that they weren’t comfortable with an independent African government, and sold. My father heard it was for sale and he couldn’t help buying it. Because his nephew’s grave was on the farm, and he knew it well. Of course at the same time, while, when my father bought this farm – there were other properties for sale. By this time there were wealthy Kikuyu businessmen, and they would buy them, and they would split them up into little five-acre plots … which is very marginal land – you’ve seen it. And there were all these new settlers – I call them new settlers – mostly Kikuyu. They would pay anything for just a piece of rock, and they did. Okay, so now in the sort of late 60s, 70s you’ve got a patchwork of large-scale ranches interspersed with all these desperately poor new settlers, predominantly Kikuyu. There was room for wildlife, there always is on a cattle ranch. There were elephants, there were lions, and thousands of zebras a lot of room for wildlife. Suddenly this wildlife are presented with little crops of maize – right in their midst … irresistible. And one night, this poor little Kikuyu farmer had been toiling away – one night it was flattened. So there was – it began to create huge racial tension, because predominantly the large-scale ranches – not all – but predominantly were owned by Kenyans of European origin. And so … and they said all the wildlife the Kenyans – the white farmers are looking after come and destroy our crops. Which was happening. This is ten hectares of Alegonium sedoides, which is a medicinal plant used in the treatment of bronchitis especially in children. Grown organically here. It’s really the elephants that are going to be our major problem. And luckily – we’re in a position to be able to guard our crops with this electric fence. Small holders wouldn’t perhaps be quite so fortunate – and they have – they’ve got to contend with these animals in a way which makes their lives extremely difficult. And so it was really the brain child of the local district game warden, and one or two others, who said, now let’s try and make the wildlife – utilise it – for the benefit of the new settlers, for the benefit of the community. Richard Leakey was the director of the KWS at that time – he’s a forward thinking guy and he accepted what he called an experimental period – and opened up a Cropping Scheme. And it wouldn’t have been able to take place without the KWS – at that stage they were magnificent. They had a department called the Partnership Programme. And they created all these little wildlife committees – groups throughout Laikipia. There are now 38 of them, most of them known as wildlife self-help groups and they’re registered under the Ministry of Social Services. They all have bank accounts – because you have to have a bank account – you can’t have a bank account without being a body. And then Leakey only agreed that the cropping could take place, provided there was an infrastructure to control it – to monitor it. And this is how the Forum was created. In the formation of the Forum – we split it into five geographical areas – not designated by administrative boundaries, but by boundaries of wildlife migration. We sort of estimated where the wildlife migrations were, and split the country up into five different units. In each unit there’s about a 50-50 percentage of large-scale farmers and communities. Every year, the director has to be elected by that unit – it’s all extremely democratically arranged. And it’s very possible for the Africans, or even the Maasai to take over the whole of the executive running of the forum. We’re the only people that are creating development projects right across Laikipia. All the major NGO’s, you know – WWF, AWF – they’ve suddenly seen the Laikipia Wildlife Forum as their conduit to really get something into the ground. I think our most important employees are what we call our community liaison officers – and those guys are right in the ground, they know exactly what the community wants. It’s not WWF coming in and saying, Oh, we’re going to build a lodge here for you guys. Forget it – that’s not the way to go around. These guys know what they want … and that’s the way it’s coming through. Wilderness – you cannot put a value on wilderness today. Really the first person in Laikipia to move into conservation was the Craig family. They spearheaded that whole concept that this land was so important to keep as one unit. We are committed to ensuring politically that this land isn’t taken over and split up into one-acre plots. It’s simply not the way to go – it’s not going to help anybody. What we are committed to doing is creating employment. And that can be done. You can build dams, open up irrigation – on this property we’ve gone that way. On that irrigation plot there’s 15 hectares and we employ 170 people there. And in Africa you employ 170 people that’s supporting each one of those people you can count having five or more. And so, what we’re all striving for now is to create employment. And it’s not good enough to sit on this land and run cattle and sheep – that’s outdated. Okay that’s part of the – that’s only one fraction of the land use. So that’s really the future of Laikipia – is to create employment and to try and demonstrate to the community that livestock isn’t everything. In the past, all they wanted to do was see thousands of cattle. Now they actually understand cash, they understand education, and they’ll put their money into sending their children to school. And so employment is paramount. Even the Maasai to the North – their first request for help is a job. We have looked briefly at the history of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum. How it functions, and why it is so successful. And this leads us to a key question – for now and for future generations … And what actually happened was instead of throwing rocks at each other and fighting each other about the wildlife, the small-scale farmer and the communities came together with the large-scale rancher, and we now speak with one voice. Go to government, we advocate the same policies, we’ve all come under the same roof, and it’s had an amazing effect. And I think the success is, because it’s the people that were born, brought up here, and they’re going to be buried here – those are the guys that are driving it. Whether you’re black or white it doesn’t make any difference.

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