Dark days for Kenya’s nomadic herders

15 Jan 2018

The Bisanadi National Reserve is a wildlife reserve in Isiolo County, Kenya, adjacent to the Meru National Park, home to lions, elephants, cheetahs, white rhinoceros, buffalos and over 400 species of bird.

Water for the animals is provided by the Tana Rojewero rivers, though a recent drought has put great pressure on animals and people alike. The scarce availability of water for nomadic herding communities which live outside the park has driven these indigenous pastoralists, and their livestock, into the park, bringing them into conflict with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).


KWS helicopter buzzing pastoralists in Bisanadi National Reserve

In recent weeks the KWS has used helicopters to disperse herds and push pastoralists and their animals back out of the park, with the loss of thousands of cattle and goats that either escaped from their herders or were injured while running for safety. These livestock are untraceable, and many end up being eaten by the lions, cheetahs, and other predators in the park. A 15-year old boy was also killed during a stampede. The tension here is the same as in many other parts of Africa, where the laws governing natural parks and conservation areas do not take into account the historic presence of human beings, and thus indigenous peoples who have lived in harmony with their environment for centuries or millennia are evicted from their ancestral lands. For these communities, their animals are not simply a source of food, but an integral part of their culture as well as a primary source of income.


Much of Kenya’s land is national reserves and it is the birthplace of the modern safari

The recurrent and ravaging drought has pushed pastoralists not only onto National Reserves and National Parks but also into private lodges and conservation areas, creating further conflict. As traditional grazing lands are simultaneously being lost to climate change, land grabbing, wildlife conservation, cattle ranches, the government’s LAPSSET infrastructure project and mining industries, the consequences are straightforward and inevitable: pastoralists are forced to move or let their animals die. This puts indigenous peoples’ food security and well-being directly at risk. The issue garnered international headlines when the Italian-born Kenyan author and conservationist Kuki Gallman was shot at her ranch in April 2017, yet Africans are dying every day without any media attention. The link between climate change and conflict over land is not unique to Kenya, either. Climate change is already provoking geopolitical tensions across the continent, as we see in the case of Egypt and Ethiopia: the prospect of a new dam being constructed on the Nile in the latter country could ignite conflict with the former.

Amina Duba of the Indigenous Terra Madre network told us:

“We have always lived in harmony with wild animals; it was not the first time that herders have taken their animals inside the park. It is a tradition that has always been practiced in harmony with natural cycles. There have been many incidences where elephants, cheetahs or lions escaped from the park and made their way to our villages but we never killed any, but informed the KWS who then drove them back to the park. We fully understand the importance of wild animals as a source of tourism, but resources are not being shared fairly and we fail to understand why the park should be given priority at the expense of suffering communities.”

Indigenous communities are custodians of traditional knowledge, plant species and animal breeds that have enabled them to survive the test of time, and mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that their voices are heard. Amina’s community raises camels, donkeys, goats and the Borana cattle (on board the Ark of Taste), which has been kept by nomadic herders across northern Kenya and Ethiopia for centuries, though it is now under threat of extinction.

“Though there has been a little rain, which has provided temporary relief to the pastoralists, we call upon the national and county governments to intervene and find a lasting solution to the conflict between KWS and pastoralists.”

Slow Food Kenya is at the forefront in the fight to defend the rights of indigenous peoples. The Indigenous Terra Madre Network provides a platform for exchange, learning and sharing of experiences which allows communities to discuss the challenges they are facing and find common solutions. The network will continue working with the affected communities to ensure that their cultural traditions are not eroded, fight against social and economic marginalization as well as land grabbing through the promotion of an indigenous food system that is good, clean and fair. Indigenous Terra Madre also strives to facilitate dialogue with relevant authorities with the aim of identifying and implementing measures to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, which is worsening each year.

Map: http://www.kenyasafari.com

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