Standard (Kenya)

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Livestock at a ranch in Taita Taveta County. Pricked by climate change, dwindling fortunes and desirous to reap the most of their natural endowments, ranches in Taveta shift to more profitable wildlife sanctuaries. [Nzau Musau, Standard]

Beneath the scenic Taita Hills and in the famed Taveta rangelands, a revolution is under way away from the pring eyes of outsiders.

Pounded by the vagaries of poor ranching for decades, over 28 groups are transforming themselves into conservancies to reap maximum benefits of their rangelands.

Already, they have formed a monolithic Taita Taveta Wildlife Conservancy Association to champion the development of the conservancies and related economic activities among its membership.

Tucked in the middle of the two Tsavos – Tsavo East and Tsavo West – their biggest assets are their consolidated 1.4 million acres of picturesque rangeland, thousands of wild animals crossing between the two Tsavos and a highly nutritive pasture that locks both livestock and wild animals for fattening.

Donald Bong’osa Mcharo is the silver-haired chairman of the budding association.

Uncontrolled movement

I caught up with him and his group in a Voi hideaway planning the last stages of the ‘revolution’ that aims at toppling Masai Mara conservancies from top most world attention.

“The traditional ranching is no longer viable on its own. Our little progress has been hindered by uncontrolled movement of livestock from nomadic groups, some of whom have made agreements with some of our members,” Mcharo, part owner of 53,000 acre Mgeno ranch in Taita Taveta County, said.

The plan is to introduce a new profit line not just from tourism through flora and fauna sight-seeing, but also through green energy and structured mineral extraction.

Already, some members – including his Mgeno ranch – are reaping millions of shillings through carbon-trading programmes.

Alfred Mwanake, a feisty young man is the co-ordinator of the association. He is the one-man secretariat running across the one-million-acre length and breadth of the ranches to unite them into singular action.

Wambosha Kamattah is another woman who is into ranching. She is the secretary of Rukinga ranch, a thriving 5,000 acre conservancy running the wondrous Kivuli Lodge but also swimming in millions of shillings of carbon credits.

At the same time, she is treasurer of the troubled and impoverished Terry B ranch that is more or less of zero value at the present.

She should wish that she were the treasurer of Rukinga and Secretary of Terry B instead, I teased her.

“Before, we used to think that conservancy is purely about wild animals exclusive of anything else but this thinking has been shattered by our visits to other conservancies. Now we know when we can combine ranching and conservancy,” she says.

She believes with the association’s new consolidated approach, the ranches can now transform into viable business entities that will create wealth.

Lenjo Msamuli is a thorough-bred Taita man who cuts the ideal image of a rancher. Towering, high-waist clad, Queen’s English accent and donning a cowboy hat to boot, his grandfather was pre-colonial entrepreneur who earned his “Msamuli” name supplying colonial men with ghee.

“Make no mistake,” he warned me at the very outset: “We are not leaving our core ranching business. This is important. We are expanding to cash in more from our resources. You will be surprised to know in some times of the year, we host more wildlife in our ranches than the two Tsavos combined,” he says.

He complains that the Standard Gauge Railway, despite leaving migration corridors, is hindering the flow of wild animals across the two Tsavos: “I just do not get it… wait until there is a drought and you will see those animals dying on the SGR fences as they look out for those corridors.”

Kenneth Kimitei, a landscape ecologist with Africa Wildlife Foundation and in charge of Tsavo area, is helping the association to grow its feet.

He believes that with a strategic turn-around, the ranches can transform the lives of the Taita people and grow wealth for Kenya.

“Our role has basically been to co-ordinate this shift by enhancing the capacity for the association to deliver on its vision and mission,” he says. Together with the ranches and through support of USAid, we developed the strategic plan and we are now improving their capacity to implement it”.

In the words of Mwanake, the wheel of the group, everyone now has the hope that the new plan will roll out well and transform their fortunes. “But it needs to move fast from planning to actual implementation. It cries for partnerships and begs for adequate financing. It requires unwavering commitment from members,” he adds.