The spectacular landscape of Northern Kenya is said to be one of the last true wilderness areas in east Africa. Cultures here are as diverse as the wildlife and habitats.Yet, poverty rates are some of the highest in the country, and a harsh climate challenges the livelihoods of a largely pastoralist population. However, by establishing community conservancies, people are now finding ways to link wildlife conservation to better pasture, higher income, and the growth of sustainable businesses. This is putting more children in school, empowering women through jobs and financial literacy, and building the capacity of rural communities to lift themselves out of poverty.
The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) was established in 2004.Its mission is to these community conservancies,which are transforming people’s lives, securing peace and conserving natural resources. By the end of 2015, there were 33conservancies under the NRT umbrella, covering over 44,000km2. These conservancies are managed by democratically elected boards, and are now legally recognised institutions. NRT raises funds for these conservancies, provides advice on how to manage affairs and facilitates a wide range of training from governance and security, to wildlife monitoring and peace building.
NRT Trading is the commercial arm of NRT. It supports conservancies to earn revenue from their own, sustainable activities and reduce reliance on donor funding. It now supports the development of commercial businesses within communities in three main areas – livestock, beads, and tourism.
As conservancies develop, more opportunities appear for communities to partner with tourism investors. Support from NRT Trading is helping conservancies to develop long-term agreements with investors and promote tourism in northern Kenya. Conservancy and bed-night fees paid by tourists are split 60:40, with 60% of the revenue going into community projects such as school bursaries, water pumps and infrastructure. The other 40% goes towards the annual operating costs of the conservancy, such as rangers’ salaries.
Northern Kenya is home to some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife,as well as several highly endangered species. Elephant, lion, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx and countless others are thriving as rangelands, security and conservation awareness improve. Community-operated sanctuaries in three conservancies are among only a handful of their kind in Africa, and are playing a significant part in endangered species conservation. Black rhino, hirola and Rothschild’s giraffe are all benefitting from targeted intervention from conservancies, who in turn stand to benefit from ecotourism.