Bringing back grasses with Maasai pastoralists
The Olgulului – Ololarashi group ranch is close to the border of Tanzania and home to Maasai pastoralists. For the Maasai people, livestock is very valuable and at the center of everything. But nowadays, it’s not easy to keep livestock. Due to severe droughts, overpopulation, and therefore overgrazing, and less communal land for the Maasai, the rangelands are heavily degraded. Trees, shrubs, and grass species have disappeared resulting in heavy erosion. The loss of pasture due to all the above has resulted in a decline in livestock productivity and an increase in competition between people and wildlife, especially elephants…
But….. Together with partners African Conservation Centre (ACC) and Amboseli Ecosystem Trust (AET) we started a 1.5-year program (July 2019 – December 2020) to restore and regreen the degraded areas and to improve the livelihoods of the communities. We selected a combination of interventions among which the digging of bunds, setting up and managing olopololi’s (dry season grazing areas) and grass seed banks and educating the Maasai communities about livestock and grazing management.
- Water bunds
- Grass seed banks
- Grazing Committees
Dry season grazing reserve
Multiple olopololi’s with a total surface of 17,000 ha will be set up and managed. An Olopololi plot is a traditional grazing technique. Grazing committees specially set up for this purpose agree together that grazing in an area is only permitted during specific periods (usually at the end of the dry season when there are fewer other places to graze) or only for certain animals (e.g. calves).
All restoration activities of the whole program are taking place within the olopololi’s. The borders of the olopololis will be marked by large white poles so that all shepherds know that they cannot enter this area with their cattle. It is closely monitored by the committees, so that grass has time to grow back. The sustainability of the projects is supported by a grazing management plan.
200 hectare covered with earth smiles!
These half-moon shaped pits in the ground will capture rainwater and prevent it to run off and cause erosion. The vegetation will naturally recover due to the increased soil moisture availability. At some areas extra (grass) seeds will be sown if there aren’t enough seeds present in the soil due to heavy erosion.
Grass seed banks
This project will enable Maasai pastoralists to grow, harvest, and sell grass (hay) and seeds within the community or to NGOs and private companies who want to grow grasses elsewhere. It creates a place where cattle can graze and brings cooling through the amount of vegetation.
Three grass seed banks (with a total of almost 30 hectares) will be managed and maintained, each by a women’s group with on average 30 members. They will be trained in sowing and harvesting grass and are taught business skills.
Being a role model
Key in the regreening program are the grazing committees. Around 130 grazing committee members are trained to educate their fellow pastoralists about the importance of regreening. The members are empowered to supervise the sustainable management of the rangelands. The committee will provide a platform for all the pastoralists to work together to achieve land rehabilitation. This way the pastoralists will recognize and support the restoration activities and adopt grazing rules.