Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Climate Change & Overgrazing, a rising hazard to Kenya’s grasslands

The State has singled out climate change and overgrazing as new challenges threatening the existence of Kenya’s grasslands and rangelands.

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Principal Secretary State Department for Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation Mr Harry Kimtai, said the situation was being aggravated by a growing population that is looking for more settlement areas, mainly within these grasslands and rangelands.

Mr Kimtai pointed out that grassland in Kenya covers 83 percent of the land. This supports 70 per cent livestock and 83% of wildlife. There are more than 10 million people who live in these areas.

According to data from the Department of Livestock, the rangelands provide habitat for approximately 70% of the nation’s livestock population as well as 90% of the wildlife vital to the tourism sector.

While stating that the National Government has put in place a five-year Strategic Plan to manage and develop grassland and rangeland whose implementation is projected to cost approximately Sh9 billion, the Principal Secretary challenged County Governments to include in their County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) strategies aimed at sustainable use and management of grasslands and rangelands.

The National Government’s Strategic Plan, developed by a team from the State Department for Livestock, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the University of Nairobi is being implemented in collaboration with key stakeholders, under the newly formed Grassland and Rangeland Society of Kenya (GRASK).

GRASK was established as part of the resolutions made by the 24Th International Grassland and 11Th International Rangeland Virtual Congress held in October last year, to help address challenges and develop and manage grasslands and rangelands in Kenya.

Mr Kimtai was flanked in his speech by Dr. Eliud Kireger, Director of Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization. He spoke at a Nakuru Hotel during a consultative forum for Agricultural officers from Elgeyo Marakwet, Turkana and Narok counties.

GRASK also hosted representatives from research and education institutions, agricultural experts, small holder and large-scale livestock farmers from six counties.

The Principal Secretary indicated that the eco-systems, besides being important sources of fodder, were vital centres of biodiversity. He stated that many of the most renowned grasses in the world, including brachiaria species, were a result of this eco-system.

“We have noticed degradation in the rangelands and grasslands especially due to overgrazing. Communities in the affected areas are now deprived of food and nutrition security. We must find ways to preserve this precious eco-system. In some areas such as Baringo, there is also a change of vegetation where desirable grasses are being replaced by invasive plant species,” said Mr Kimtai.

He pointed out that ecosystems also play an important role as wildlife habitats and watersheds, recreational areas and sources of minerals and plant material, among other uses. He pointed out that despite these benefits, the lands still lack the foundations for economic and social development as well as the expected roles of ensuring food security and nutrition security.

“We are keen to partner with county governments through programs such as Kenya Livestock Commercialization Program to upscale production of pasture as one way of conserving grasslands and rangelands. We are working together with stakeholders to address the issue of landscape restoration, where degradation has taken place,” stated the Principal Secretary.

On the five-year Strategic Plan, Mr Kimtai said the document is guiding the National Government in developing regulatory framework, policies and legislations for the proper management of grassland and rangeland resources in the country.

It includes eight strategic issues, including climate risk and community resistance, inadequate support for the community leadership governance structures, lack a legal framework to regulate service providers in the grasslands.

Kimtai also observed that the strategies are guiding government and biodiversity stakeholders in finding solutions to serious problems facing the ecosystem dependent on human and wildlife populations.

Dr. Kireger expressed concern that productivity of the grasslands and rangelands was rapidly declining due to climate change resulting in environmental variability, leading to frequent droughts, fires, floods, land degradation and loss of biodiversity.

He stated that sustainability is the greatest challenge in managing rangelands.

“This is because our grass dries very fast and regeneration becomes a problem. It takes a while to regenerate, especially in areas where the rangeland was overgrazed. There is a lot of connection between research and sustainability of our rangelands, and we need to take our pastoralists through these challenges and how to overcome them,” The KALRO Director General stated.

Dr Kireger said KALRO had developed four range grass varieties. They include KBK, Cenchrus ciliaris Var, MGD1 and Cenchrus ciliaris var.

“The move will facilitate commercialization of the varieties and make the seeds readily available to farmers for the establishment of new pasture fields and restoration of degraded rangelands. KALRO also has a gene bank of more than 300 grass accessions from the northern and southern Kenya rangelands. It is from this germplasm that more cultivars and varieties will be developed,” Kireger said.

Dr. Kireger observed that the culture in the rangelands is changing as people settle down and live in one place rather than the nomadic lives they used to live.

“People are settling down particularly in the north. Because they are unable to move from one place or another due to the degradation of the rangeland, villages are being built. They are becoming more dependent on food aid/support. We, therefore, need to equip those pastoral communities with new skills to support themselves otherwise the Gross Domestic Product will go down every time we have a drought situation,” he opined.

Kireger said that urgent interventions and measures are required to preserve the rangeland resources, and improve their sustainable use.

He stated that investment in rangelands monitoring and rehabilitation will greatly contribute to food and nutritional security as envisaged under the Constitution of Kenya, the Vision 2030, and in line the global Sustainable Development Goals.

Management of rangeland and grassland ecosystems, observed the Director General, also required cutting edge technologies and innovation.

Kireger added that the technologies and innovations include high yielding and adapted grasses for high rainfall highland and the rangelands, integrated soil fertility management, conservation, agriculture, irrigation and drainage management technologies, agroforestry systems and bio-energy system technologies.

“Some of these technologies have potential to revolutionize the livelihood for the people who depend on the grasslands and rangelands. Particularly, the adoption and commercialization of high yielding and adapted hays is supporting the emerging hay value chain that supports the livelihoods of people who depend on the grassland or rangelands. We are ready to partner with GRASK towards scaling and transfer of these important technologies and innovations,” he added.

He said that KALRO scientists are currently improving information and disseminating it to farmers in semiarid and arid environments about how to increase productivity of climate-smart livestock genetics like Sahiwal and Boran cattle, Dorper sheep, Red Maasai, Red Maasai, Galla and Red Maasai.

ByJane Ngugi Dennis Rasto

Source: kenyanews

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