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Laikipia ranch grows fodder to beat drought

El Karama Ranch in Laikipia county is growing grass, which will be sold to farmers at a fair price during drought to avoid conflict over pasture

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

At the far edges of vast El Karama Ranch in Laikipia county lush green fields of Rhodes grass flourish under the blazing sun. The green fields within a fenced area provide a conspicuous contrast to withered brown grass in surrounding areas of the 14,000 acre wildlife and cattle ranch.

Here in the wild where most vegetation sprouts naturally and wildlife roam freely, a deliberate effort has been taken by El Karama to plant grass as fodder to sustain cattle within the ranch and in the surrounding pastoralist’s villages during the dry season.

The ranch has partnered with Northern Rangelands Trust to grow grass in 400-acre portion of land to provide fodder banks as a coping strategy during drought. “The project is aimed at mitigating the effects of drought, which has been recurring in the area.

Once mature, the grass, planted in October, will feed cows within the ranch and be sold to the neighbouring pastoralist communities at an affordable price, says Steven Kipketer, who is in charge of the fodder project in El Karama.

Last year, Laikipia was one of the counties that was worst affected by drought that hit the country, with the phenomenon being declared a national disaster. Members of the predominantly pastoralists community in Segera location, which is surrounded by several ranches and conservancies, bore the brunt of the harsh dry conditions. “Owing to conservation efforts by the surrounding ranches and conservancies, the area had some pasture.

But invasion of cattle from other areas where pasture had been depleted due to widespread drought regenerated into conflict leading to massive loss of livestock and wildlife,” says Peter Mwangi Wangari, Chief Segera location. According to Wangari, drought frequency in the area has increased over the past one decade owing to massive deforestation and population growth increasing pressure on resources.

“Due to population increase, people have settled on areas that were once wildlife habitats pushing them to ranches and conservancies. Logging of trees for charcoal burning has further made the area vulnerable to drought,” reveals Wangari. Fodder banks in El Karama provide hope that even if the drought recurs, pastoralists have a place they can source feeds for their livestock.

Locals are being encouraged to adopt better cattle breeds and adopt zero-grazing to reduce pressure on grazing lands. Grazing committees between the community and ranches have effectively helped coordinate grazing during dry seasons.

The ranch has adopted conservation agriculture in growing the grass to protect the natural surroundings where livestock and wildlife co-exist harmoniously. “We are careful about how we cultivate our land. We incorporate diverse conservation agriculture techniques such as zero-tilling and water banking.

There is no use of chemicals as they may affect insects and harm the environment,” says Michael Nicholson, General Manager, El Karama Ranch. Rhodes grass, which is drought-resistant is thriving well in the semi-arid even under hot conditions.

The grass is twice as nutritious compared to bush grass and is four times dense, thus a better breed. The move to plant fodder comes against the backdrop of a Food and Agriculture Organisation Global Early Warning – Early Action report on Food Security and Agriculture 2018, which predicts that there will be limited pasture regeneration in Kenya between January and May 2018 owing to below average short rains in October- December 2017. The report recommends emergency livestock support including provision of feeds and support of quick growing fodder for feed production.

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