Ranches to convert into conservancies to promote tourism

Tourism in Taita-Taveta County is set for a major boost after all 28 ranches in the region disclosed plans to form conservancies as part of a wider plan to earn revenue from wildlife.

The Chairperson of Taita-Taveta Ranchers’ Association, Mcharo Bong’osa said ranchers have expressed willingness to transform into conservancies and earn money from tourism. Bong’osa further said a strategic plan on how the transformation of ranches which collectively occupy over 1.4 million acres is being reviewed before implementation.

He said after its approval, the ranches will be grouped under theTaita-Taveta Conservancies Association.

Speaking to KNA on Wednesday, Bong’osa said the ranchers were working closely with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on the program which is expected to generate millions of shillings that will be received directly by the conservancies. We have agreed it’s prudent to tap into the massive potential of tourism in our ranches by converting them into conservancies. Once this is done, we will earn money from both livestock and wildlife, he said.

The chairman added that ranches in the region were migratory corridors for thousands of elephants and other animals as they moved from Tsavo East to Tsavo West National Park.

He also pointed out that during the dry seasons, there were more wild animals including elephants and buffaloes in the ranches than inside the protected areas, as many of them strayed out in search of water and pastures which are abundant in the ranches.

When contacted, Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) Assistant Director (AD), George Osuri confirmed that KWS has been having planning meeting with the ranchers to implement the project. And, though still in the early planning stages, he said the conservancy proposal will transform wildlife management and allow local residents to participate wholly in conservation.

He pointed out that through conservancies, the ranchers will earn revenue directly from the tourism sector.The ranchers are excited about this idea. We expect that the sentiments by local residents that they don’t benefit from wildlife will now be addressed by such initiatives, saidOsuri.

Osuri added that all monies collected in the conservancies will be retained at the source to improve on wildlife management activities and other empowerment programs.

The AD pointed out that ranches have massive potential for doing both livestock keeping and wildlife management which will have economic multiplier effect.

He said KWS and other conservation agencies were helping in skill transfer and capacity building of the ranchers but noted that the process was being carried out in phases to ensure vital issues were addressed.

If implemented successfully, the project will replicate the Maasai Mara National Reserve model where the communities in Narok County benefit directly from wildlife.

Osurisaid that community will feel the value of wildlife and participate in conservation drives, which will aid in eliminating threats like poaching.People will be earning directly from this resource and will therefore protect and make sure the animals are kept safe, he said.

The Taita-Taveta Ranches are classified under three categories, including directed agricultural ranches, private and group ranches.Amongst those which had started the initial process of getting into conservancy, include Rukinga, Taita, Luarenyi, Sagalla and Mbulia ranches.

The biggest asset in this project remains the massive chunk that is owned by the ranches but remains largely underutilized. Most of the ranches have land measuring over 20,000 hectares but have less than a thousand herds of cattle.

They end up leasing the ranches to herders from other counties which has become a constant source of conflict with the local residents. There are high expectations that leasing of ranches will go down once the conservancies take over.

Ben Mwangi, Chair of Tsavo Rangeland Foundation (TRF) which advocates for community empowerment in conservation, said creation of the conservancies will create a sense of ownership for residents towards the wildlife.

He added that ranches will now earn both from livestock and wildlife resources. Wildlife has always been viewed as owned by KWS but with his initiative, ranchers and residents will also share in owing this resource, he said.

Mwangi said the foundation will give the ranchers all the support they needed to realize their goals.

Source: Kenya News Agency