Sustainable cattle in Kenya pay off
A key tool in driving the better management of the rangelands is access to markets.
For thousands of years the pastoralist communities of northern Kenya have herded their cattle alongside elephants and zebras, the grass of the rangelands shared between livestock and wildlife in relative balance. In recent decades, climate change, habitat loss, and human population growth have combined to erode that balance, leading to overgrazing and the degradation of the grasslands that both humans and wildlife need to survive.
For over a decade, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has worked with the communities of Northern Kenya to develop community conservancies that support better management of cattle and grass. Through rotational grazing, grass banking, and other practices, the NRT Conservancies have seen habitat improve and human-wildlife interactions decrease.
A key tool in driving the better management of the rangelands is access to markets. Historically, the pastoralist communities lacked easy access to a market for their cattle. While cows are capital for these communities, families do need cash for school fees and other expenses, and without access to markets are forced to trek animals long distances to sell them for a poor price to a middleman trader. Without ready access to markets, pastoralists amass overly large herds. During droughts, fear of mass cattle starvation drives pastoralists to sell animals at low prices in a buyers’ market, or risk losing most of their herd to starvation.
© A traditional herder from Northern Rangelands Trust community conservancies in northern Kenya. CREDIT: Ron Geatz
In 2008, NRT created the Livestock to Markets program (LTM), which brought the market to the Conservancies. In exchange for conservancies achieving specific targets in conservation, LTM buys cattle directly from the conservancies, purchasing several hundred head at a time from dozens of households. Providing access to markets allows pastoralists to better manage their herd sizes, since they know they can sell animals when they need to at a fair price. And LTM also encourages the herders to bank their cash, bringing mobile banking representatives to market days so herders can open bank accounts with the proceeds from the sale.
Once the cattle are purchased, NRT treks the animals to Lewa Conservancy, a partner NGO. After six weeks of quarantine, the animals move to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, another partner, where they are fattened on grass for 15 months, improving the size and quality of the animals. Finally, the animals are slaughtered at the Ol Pejeta abattoir, and sold as cold carcasses into the Nairobi meat market. By capturing much of the full value of the supply chain, NRT can pay a levy on every animal they buy to the conservancies themselves. This levy funds conservancy investments in wildlife guards, ecotourism lodges, and community facilities like clinics and schools.
To date the program has purchased 7,000 cows, bringing nearly $1.5M of income to pastoralist families and more than $80K of revenue to the conservancies. More than 14,000 people – herders and their families – have benefited from the program. Until 2014, the program was limited in size by the $1M grant that launched it.
© Livestock is the primary measure of wealth among herding communities of northern Kenya. CREDIT: Ron Geatz
This year, The Nature Conservancy’s NatureVest program helped NRT to scale up the Livestock to Markets program with a $3.5M impact investment into a new entity, NRT Trading (NRT-T). The Nature Conservancy is considering another investment in NRT-T of similar scale in the coming months. This social enterprise subsidiary of NRT will be an incubator for programs like Livestock to Markets throughout the regions where NRT is working with communities—an area of over 31,000 square kilometers. The investment in LTM will enable the purchase of 10,000 animals annually, up from just over 1,000 a year under the grant-funded model. NRT-T will also build a second abattoir and invest in other capital improvements to enable it to expand its reach to 1.2M acres of community land. The Peter Hawkins Dobberpuhl Foundation made this investment possible through a $7M commitment to The Nature Conservancy.
The $7M commitment provided by the Peter Hawkins Dobberpuhl Foundation will support the financing by The Nature Conservancy that is critical to scaling the impact of the Livestock to Markets program and also create an investment track record for NRT-T that enables the new venture to raise additional funds from other debt and equity investors. At the same time, as the original investment is repaid, capital is freed up for further commitments to other sustainable livelihoods ventures in the region.
In March 2014, the Livestock to Markets program bought 234 head of cattle from a single conservancy. Six months later, the program purchased more than 950 animals from 4 different conservancies, benefitting over 2,500 people. At the same time, over the past two years, elephant poaching in the NRT region is down 38%.
This is the power of impact capital—to change the scale at which we support conservation and communities.