Integrating livestock and wildlife to reduce land degradation, enhance biodiversity and conservation

Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Published: 04 October 2021
Last edited: 04 October 2021
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Summary

Ol Pejeta (OPC) is a private non-profit conservancy, registered Protected Area, and IUCN Green Listed. It is home to the largest population of Critically Endangered black rhino in E.Africa, the world’s last 2 northern white rhino and other Endangered species. OPC is in Laikipia County where rain-fed agriculture and livestock contribute >75% of household incomes.

This initiative challenges the traditional ‘either/or’ approach to conservation, demonstrating the benefits of integrating livestock with wildlife. Rather than setting aside land for conservation, the sustainable land management approach involves using cattle as a habitat management tool. Carefully managed grazing keeps rangeland healthy as well as ensuring land is productive. This additional revenue stream contributes critical income, all of which is reinvested in conservation and community development – extension services enhance livelihoods and resilience. The nature-based solution offers a model for conservation in areas where wildlife is usually not tolerated.

Classifications

Region
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Local
Ecosystem
Agro-ecosystem
Grassland ecosystems
Rangeland / Pasture
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Theme
Access and benefit sharing
Adaptation
Agriculture
Ecosystem services
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Land management
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Restoration
Sustainable financing
Tourism
Challenges
Drought
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 16: Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources

Location

Laikipia, Kenya
Show on Protected Planet

Challenges

The main threats to biodiversity at the conservancy are considered in the context of the surrounding area, where the environmental, social, and economic challenges are inter-related:

  • Habitat loss from livestock encroachment. As human populations increase so does demand for land for settlement. Livestock encroachment increases the risk of human wildlife conflict and contributes to land degradation threatening wildlife and human livelihoods.
  • Reliance on rain-fed agriculture. Pastoralists and small-scale farmers are reliant on the rain. With climate change, increased periods of drought and erratic rainfall has reduced pasture and impacted crop productivity.
  • Limited livelihood opportunities. Livestock plays an important societal role which is further amplified with the limited availability of alternative livelihoods, particularly for women and youth.

A specific economic challenge for the conservancy is securing a sustainable and diverse income base – especially critical this year with the impact of COVID.

Beneficiaries

  • The c. 700 employees of Ol Pejeta who are part-funded through the income contribution the livestock and agriculture business makes to the conservancy.
  • The c. 35,000 people from the 20 pastoral and farming communities surrounding the conservancy.

How do the building blocks interact?

Conservation success and the wellbeing of communities are inextricably linked. The building blocks reflect this. Block 1 (sustainable integrated land management) supports healthy habitats for wildlife on the conservancy whilst generating income that is invested in community development. Demonstration of this best practice approach in land and cattle management provides legitimacy when engaging with local communities on livestock matters as covered in Block 2. This complementary block (sustainable community livestock management) directly supports the livelihoods of communities whilst promoting sustainable natural resource management. This helps address key threats to biodiversity and generates support for conservation.

Impacts

Environmental:

  • Improved habitat for wildlife. The solution has helped transform a working cattle ranch into a flagship wildlife conservancy. Since implementation, rangeland quality has improved and significant increases in species populations have been noted. Ol Pejeta now supports the largest number of critically endangered eastern black rhino in E.Africa and many other endangered species. A healthy prey population also supports some of the highest predator densities recorded in E.Africa.

Social:

  • Empowering communities. Agriculture is the predominant sector for the rural communities surrounding Ol Pejeta. Livestock has both economic and cultural significance. We have showcased a model for land management that is productive and ecologically sustainable, demonstrating that the keeping of livestock does not need to come at the expense of wildlife.

Economic:

  • Investment in conservation and community development. The livestock and agriculture business generates net 500,000 – 1m USD annually. This provides a critical source of revenue for Ol Pejeta that enables it to invest back in conservation and community development.
  • Enhanced livelihoods for communities. The purchase of community cattle and artificial insemination services has increased income for communities. Complementary livestock extension services have further increased productivity as well as improved understanding of natural resource management.

Story

Revenue generated through the livestock and agriculture business provided a critical source of income to the Conservancy during COVID-19. In normal times, the Conservancy’s income is typically spread evenly across three sources – tourism, philanthropy and grants, and livestock and agriculture. With international and national tourism effectively halted, Ol Pejeta faced a c.2m USD operating deficit. We were forced to take significant cost cutting measures including redundancies, pay cuts, and a focus on critical operating costs only. Our zero poaching record was under threat. Even after these cuts, we faced an existential crisis. The livestock and agriculture business helped keep us operational from the sale of our ‘conservation beef’, fodder production and hay. Last year, it produced a record net contribution of just under 1m USD for the conservancy, almost double that of previous years. Without this income larger numbers of employees would likely have had to be made redundant and conservation and community programmes would have been severely compromised.

 

We are proud of the fact we are able to run a commercially profitable livestock business in a conservancy with lions and large herds of wild herbivores – a feat many would think impossible! This approach relies on our philosophy of working with, rather than against nature.

We believe this innovative approach to land regeneration and climate smart initiative can only work if it is profitable to the producer or operator, and we aim to keep proving that.

Contributed by

Kate Terriere Ol Pejeta Conservancy