Archive for May 28, 2017

Conservancy Land Leases: No-One is Taking Away Our Land

On the 28th of March 2010 when several hundreds of local Maasai landowners were formerly signing a 15-year lease to create the Mara Naboisho Conservancy, 41 year old Kimemia Ole Taek was not one of them.

The development of Naboisho Conservancy is not something that just took place over night. Instead it was the result of extensive discussions between community leaders, conservationists and tourism investors. Yet, Ole Taek whose extended family owned several hundred acres of land in Naboisho was hesitant:

“My family members looked up to me for advice on where we would resettle and graze our cattle. I was worried about our land so I chose to resist. I didn’t understand the idea of leasing land and instead I believed it was a ploy to simply take over my family’s land.”

A few years later, Ole Taek remained opposed to the conservancy, at times even clashing with conservancy management over cattle grazing and fencing of land. His friends couldn’t understand his position. Ole Taek was a seasoned tour guide in the Mara, and thus should be a champion of wildlife conservation, not fighting against it.

Eventually, it was for the betterment of his community that turned Ole Taek around. “I never went to school but because of wildlife in this area I learnt to speak English through interacting with tourists. Today my children are going to school with others who would not be in school if there was no income from the conservancy. The lease payments are transparent, timely and used to pay for our children to have an education – the benefits of leasing land to conservancies are clear,” he explains.

According to a study by Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda (STTA) in May 2016, conservancy rent is the main source and most regular income for the people of Mara Naboisho. Further, education, healthcare and livestock treatment are the key areas of expenditure from this income.

Ole Taek now foresees a great future. But he is quick to caution that for conservancies to thrive “Maasai children and youth must be sensitized to appreciate their heritage and the conservancies must continue to allow the Maasai to graze their cattle within them.”

Like Ole Taek, many local Maasai land owners need reassurance about their land, heritage and culture being honoured, to participate and support wildlife conservation. The conservancy model by Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) combines conservation of nature and cultural heritage, eco-tourism, and the enhancement of livelihoods for the local communities.

Land is an emotive issue in Kenya and so land transactions tend to be complex. Supporting conservancies to register land leases is a key component of the MMWCA program supported by USAID-Kenya and East Africa. The goal is to protect land for wildlife while also promoting joint partnerships with the communities that own the land. The Mara Conservancies protect over 330,000 acres belonging to more than 11,000 landowners in the Maasai Mara ecosystem.


USAID Supported Conservation Project Unleashes Teacher’s Passion

For 5 years, Johnson Soit has been teaching at a local primary school in the Maasai Mara relishing his role in a career he has cherished since his childhood.

Then in November 2015, he was elected to Chair the Pardmat Conservation Area Committee, a responsibility that would see him become the head of 850 community land owners who have come together to conserve a critical area in the central greater Maasai Mara.

“We are here because of our commitment to work together to protect this vital piece of land,” stated Johnson in late December 2016 as he led 58 land owners in the signing of land leases totaling 5,000 acres; an event he describes as a milestone in the history of the Pardamat area. He added: “we believe Pardamat will become suitable for wildlife and our pastoral lifestyle living together. By stopping the fragmentation and fencing, opening up migration routes which, will in turn, reduce human wildlife conflict that has been rampant in the recent past.”

Pardamat area is important to the wellbeing of the greater Mara ecosystem. It has critical wildlife corridors, serves as a migration route from the Loita plains and connects the Mara Triangle and Maasai Mara National Reserve to four other established conservancies. Importantly, it is a key area in the Mara landscape with saltlicks in addition to its hilly forested terrain cherished by elephants for the vegetation.

As a resident and a teacher of science, Johnson comprehends the reality of reducing wildlife numbers and how the Pardamat area, like most parts of the Maasai Mara, has been altered by changes in land use practices and weather patterns. He is excited that beyond his dream teaching career, the USAID Kenya & East Africa supported Pardamat Conservation Area project, has presented him an opportunity to contribute to efforts to tackle the changing and escalating land-use practices, which seriously threaten the long-term viability of the greater Maasai Mara.

“My passion is to champion community conservation initiatives and inspire and nurture the younger generation I teach to protect their natural surroundings and be tolerant of the wildlife and the space we have shared for hundreds of years,” Johnson says in a silvery tone.

Securing the Pardamat area is a key priority for the USAID supported project being implemented by the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA). The project seeks to help landowners and community members establish a wildlife conservation area through identifying and opening critical wildlife corridors and migration routes. Moreover, the project will see a cattle rangeland established for a community cattle enterprise to supplement income from direct land leases in addition to other benefits such as provision of predator proof bomas to reduce loss of livestock to predators.

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