Invest in communities to guarantee local ownership of the conservation agenda
What you need to know:
- Conservation is about our own livelihoods.
- I think that conservation should be a matter of blending the indigenous knowledge with technical expertise.
- There are people who are today graduate professionals who have gone through sponsorship because of money raised through conservation.
For many Kenyans, conservation is viewed as something foreign, an activity whose ideas and operations are spearheaded by foreigners.
If you ask people in my constituency in Laikipia North, many might say conservation is designed to displace people from their indigenous habitats, restrict their movement and threaten their livelihoods.
But, in my view, conservation is something we Kenyans have been doing all our lives. Historically, there was no conflict between pastoralists and wildlife and animals and humans coexisted peacefully.
For a very long time, those in the conservation business did not recognise this and have been letting the indigenous knowledge slip away.
This indigenous knowledge is not documented, so it is easy to overlook.
I think that conservation should be a matter of blending the indigenous knowledge with technical expertise.
Conservation is about our own livelihoods.
Given land degradation and the kind of droughts we have been experiencing, unless some drastic measures are taken, then the livelihoods of the population are threatened.
But there are powerful individuals with an agenda against conservation and they make headway when they package their perspectives in ways that arouse sympathy from locals.
Because of this, those in the conservation business must really work to help local people understand what is in it for them. They must seek to hear people out and learn their perspectives.
If the conservation agencies have well-intended motives but are surrounded by opaqueness, people will reject their efforts, and the conservation movement shall always be beset by conflict.
That might be a great shame, because the benefits of conservation are huge and manifold. Without going out of our way to look for examples, we can see evidence of this just here in Laikipia.
We are seeing a lot of scholarships for children to attend primary and secondary schools, and even beyond.
There are people who are today graduate professionals who have gone through sponsorship because of money raised through conservation.
We have seen businesses grow out of women making and selling cultural artefacts to supply the tourism industry that depends on conservation.
We have seen many primary health care projects.
We know that free maternity health care was one of the Big Four agenda, and for some of us living in big cities, we think that it is easy.
Somebody can just walk to a hospital, get clinical services, have a child and go back home.
If you go to Kirimon in my constituency, you will find pregnant mothers in labour who have to walk or hitch a motorbike ride for 20km to the nearest dispensary because there is no transport. Then she gets there and finds the one nurse has gone out.
Even simple things like vaccinations are difficult to find, so you can have children who still can-not access vaccines for things like polio or tuberculosis.
That has a great impact on the health of mothers and children. To some of these women, primary health care is a mirage, something you talk about in big towns, but very far from their reality.
Conservation investors must do even more to help people like those mothers.
They must be part and parcel of the development of their own localities. If those in the conservation business get involved with the activities of their domiciled communities, then conservation ceases to be a foreign concept.
I see this thinking in a new investment from the Wyss Foundation that will support projects in north Laikipia that will benefit people, not just wildlife.
The grant was given to The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which will distribute grants to local NGOs to implement the projects, in collaboration with the County government.
Some of the money will go to improve primary healthcare, such as supplying vaccines, basic treatment, tuberculosis services, family planning, and referrals for complex cases. Some will be used to build new infrastructure and support new community conservancies.
If you look at community conservancies like Naibunga – group ranches that voluntarily set aside some acreage of their land for conservation – a lot of public participation was carried out and there was a deliberate effort to make the locals understand the concept.
Now the community sees that conservation is not just about the protection of the wildlife, but also about their own livelihoods.
I hope that this funding will educate and inspire others to take a holistic approach to conservation and invest in local people.