Embattled Laikipia ranchers now form peace lobby

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By JAMES KARIUKI
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Wildlife sanctuaries and large-scale ranchers in Laikipia county currently fending off invasion by herders, want to be actively involved in formulating conservation plans that promote coexistence.

They have formed an association which they plan to use to protect their investments.

At a meeting last week, they said a solution must be found to protect their Sh1.5 billion a year income ventures and ensure that water flows to Marsabit, Baringo, Samburu and Isiolo counties to avert future conflicts.

Many lives have been lost and property destroyed when drought such as the current one occurs.

The ranchers, however, fell short of blaming State agencies for not spearheading conservation measures to promote water and pasture sustainability in the affected counties.

Hotel and wildlife sanctuary operators, at a meeting in Nanyuki under the auspices of Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF), resolved to champion their interests by forming the Laikipia Tourism Association (LTA).

They said the association would directly engage both the national and county governments to champion community programmes and water and environmental conservation.

Cattle owners will be trained on pasture production, storage and good animal husbandry to promote commercial beef and dairy keeping.

The new association will also ensure the gains made are protected through enactment of suitable laws that promote sustainable tourism in Laikipia.

In a statement, the 43 operators of high-end exclusive lodges, and owners of 48 large-scale wildlife sanctuaries in Laikipia, said LTA would promote peaceful co-existence of pastoralists and ranch owners.

The association will be housed at the ranchers-cum-farmers lobby, Laikipia Wildlife Forum offices. It will spearhead efforts to have a 10-year master-plan for sustainable tourism made into law by the Laikipia county government, with funds set aside for afforestation and fencing of water catchment areas.

According to the county, 86,000 tourists visited local hospitality facilities and spent nearly Sh1.5 billion in 2016. The facilities employ about 6,500 locals.

Ranchers also resolved that LTA would be the sole voice and vehicle for sustainable tourism efforts that would turn Laikipia into a diversified and sustainable tourism destination.

“As a private sector arm, LTA is expected to work with the county on energy, waste, infrastructure, revenue generation and taxation, marketing and promotion, as well as environmental compliance and adoption of incentives for continued “greening” of the industry,” said the statement.

LWF solicited for funds locally and abroad for erection of an electric fence dividing smallholder farmlands from ranches.

The project was also supported by the national and county governments. It has helped ease human-wildlife conflicts, with the county’s 3,200 elephants kept at bay.

The new group will also seek budgetary allocation for conservation programmes across Laikipia, namely for protection of water catchment areas and sensitising pastoralists and smallholder farmers on the need for better fodder production and storage.

Formation of the new group follows establishment of a LWF’s communication arm, #KaribuLaikipia, which is overseeing activities affecting ranchers and providing pasture for thousands of livestock from neighbouring counties like Samburu, Baringo and Isiolo.

The communication arm comprises ranch and conservancy owners, hotel operators and other tourism players.

“Regular updates will be posted through LWF’s social media platforms. Posts will include the many positive events and stories coming out of Laikipia’s tourism industry daily, with news alerts linked to the county government’s website,” it said.

Five and four star facilities in Laikipia include Saudi Arabia billionaire Adnan Khashoggi’s Fairmount Mount Kenya Safari Club, Puma chief executive Jochen Zeitz’s Segera’s eight-roomed villa and exclusive retreat at Segera Ranch, Lewa Downs, Loisaba Star Beds — with its hanging pool — and Ol Jogi’s private resort, managed and owned by the French-American family of the late Alec Wildenstein.

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