Kenya: Laikipia Leaders Push for Grazing Deals as Ranch Invasions Persist

Laikipia County leaders have asked herders to stop invading private property and consider striking grazing agreements with ranchers, amid increased cases of the crime.

Ranchers have started evacuating thousands of tourists from their lodges for fear of being attacked.

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, Laikipia North MP Sarah Lekorere and former National Assembly Speaker Francis ole Kaparo said the herders and ranchers should instead enter emergency grazing agreements to curb forage deficits, conflicts and loss of livestock.

Governor Muriithi said such agreements will help reduce conflicts between conservancies and pastoralist communities, thereby preventing loss of property.

"Instead of invading private property and causing wanton destruction, herders should make arrangements with ranch owners on how and where to graze their animals. With a grazing agreement in place, issues such as illegal herding will be easily handled," the county boss said.

He noted that for many years, ranchers and smallholder farmers had watched helplessly as herders drove thousands of animals into their ranches in search of pasture and water.

A majority of ranches have been reduced to bare land, he said.

Grazing agreements

But Ms Lekorere said that only Laikipia herders should get into grazing agreements with ranchers.

The deals will cover the movement of livestock on particular portions of land, access rights and protection of the limited resources in the ranches.

"The ranches and conservancies in Laikipia cannot hold livestock from neighbouring Samburu, Baringo, Isiolo and West Pokot counties. The government should make sure they stay in their counties and stop invading private property in Laikipia," she said.

Ms Lekorere and the other leaders spoke during the opening of Naibor Amani Primary School in Kirimon, an occasion that West Pokot Governor John Lunyangapou also attended.

She called on governors from pastoralist counties to prioritise rehabilitation of rangeland.

Speaking at the same event, Mr Ole Kaparo and Loisaba Conservancy Director Tom Sylvester said ranchers were willing and ready to enter grazing agreements with herders to help restore sanity in a sector reeling from invasions by illegal herders.

The Nation has established that the management of Loisaba on Monday morning held talks to decide whether to evacuate guests from the lodge.

"They (herders) have threatened to burn down our main lodge that is full of tourists. We have held an emergency meeting to discuss whether or not to evacuate our guests," said a senior manager at the ranch.

Government's warning

Meanwhile, the government has directed illegal migrant herders in Laikipia to return to their counties.

In a sign that the government will intensify a crackdown on illegal herders, Laikipia West Deputy County Commissioner Hezron Nyamberi said security officers will not allow herders to invade and destroy private property.

"Private property must be respected. Anyone who defies this will face the full force of the law," Mr Nyamberi warned when he addressed residents in Kirimon.

Ranchers and smallholder farmers who attended a security meeting in Nanyuki on Thursday said government agencies appeared "passive and helpless".

"One is aware that Laikipia is simply on the periphery of a security deterioration that extends through Marsabit - where things are bad - to Moyale and of course northeast to Mandera. The government needs to get a grip," said Lucy Jennings of the Jennings farm.

Huge losses

Herders, especially from Samburu, Isiolo and Baringo counties, have been moving their animals into private property, leaving trails of destruction.

Among the most affected ranches are Jennings farm, the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, Mugie, Ol Maisor, Loisaba and Suiyan.

Woragus farm in Rumuruti lost thousands of acres of food crops such as wheat and maize, all valued at Sh20 million, after up to 5,000 cattle invaded the farm over the weekend.

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