Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace in Baringo County, Kenya – UNCCD

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Baringo_location_mapThe ground is bare of vegetation, with loose sandy loam soil. In the dry season, wells, streams and rivers dry up. But once the rain falls, it comes down in torrents, washing away the fertile topsoil. 90 per cent of the land is not well suited for agriculture, so most people are nomadic pastoralists. Their livelihood security is based around cattle – tough breeds that can survive and thrive in this challenging environment.



Welcome to Baringo County in north western Kenya. Living conditions here are harsh, and competition over fertile grazing lands and water can easily escalate into conflicts. Cattle rustling, for example, has become a serious problem in the county. In November 2012 alone, 40 police officers were shot dead when they were ambushed while tracking armed raiders.

But Baringo County is also a place for optimism about the potential of sustainable land management in adverse environments and peaceful conflict resolution in tense situations.

Rivalry over pasture and water

Sharing land and water, which are common resources, has become a major challenge for the Pokot, Tugen, Ilchamus, Turkana and other communities in Baringo County. These major ethnic groups have developed a deep mistrust of one other. Tensions have increased, for example, because Turkana search for water and pasture in agricultural areas in Laikipia and Pokots raid Turkana villages in a bid to gain control of local resources. More and more often, these animosities have escalated into violence and armed conflict. The fear of cattle rustling haunts the land.

A conflict assessment of Northern Kenya by Pragya, an NGO working for the appropriate development of vulnerable communities and sensitive ecosystems, reports of clashes occurring between the Tugen and Pokot in May 2012. At least five people died, and violence displaced more than 7,000 people and led to the closure of more than 10 schools.

Building peace

Although most people are concerned about this new level of insecurity, finding a way out of the conflict trap is not easy and many attempts at conflict resolution have failed. The armed conflicts have also led to the suspension of many land restoration projects. No peace, no development.

But in 2012, the Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace, carried out by Initiatives of Change International, called a meeting of the Pokot, Ilchamus and Tugen community leaders which proved to be a milestone in the constructive management of the conflict. The leaders formed a peace committee and agreed to overcome their interethnic hostility.

A few months later, nine community leaders from Baringo County participated in a training seminar for grassroots practitioners. There, they watched the film An African Answer by Alan Channer. The film depicts an African initiative to foster healing and reconciliation and in Baringo, it had a powerful impact. By the end of the seminar, the community leaders had developed a shared vision and an action plan to end cattle rustling in their county.

Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace: Peace-building through land restoration

The Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace aims to empower local dryland communities to restore peace and dialogue and then work together on creating a virtuous cycle of soil and water conservation. It is carried out by Initiatives of Change International.
The initiative focuses on the links between land degradation and human security. Its work is based on the conviction that the basis for land restoration and the resolution of land-based conflicts is a change in people’s behaviour, attitudes and relationships towards other stakeholders such as neighbouring communities.

Initiatives of Change International had worked on land restoration issues for quite some time when in 2011 and 2012, the UNCCD partnered up with the NGO in order to dedicate the Caux Forum for Human Security to the link between land and conflict.

At another workshop on ‘Trust-building for sustainable development’, the film had a similar effect on participating community leaders, women, young people and elders. Initiatives of Change International reported that “genuine apologies for the pain and suffering the communities had inflicted upon one another were made… A Turkana lady was moved to tears when an Ilchamus youth apologised for his role in the raiding of a Turkana settlement.”

Participants learned that there is a long history of conflict over pasture and water in the region. However, in the past, elders from the different ethnic groups had peacefully negotiated access to dry-season grazing. These negotiations ceased when the tribal relationships were politicised, automatic weapons became available, droughts and degradation took their toll and population growth increased pressure on food production.

Sustainable land management: a prerequisite for peace

Usually, all the good intentions to peacefully resolve a conflict won’t last long unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed. In the case of Baringo, these are (among others) land degradation and the difference between what the land can supply and what people demand from it to secure their livelihoods. If there were plentiful supplies of water, grazing and productive soil in Baringo, it probably wouldn’t occur to anyone to rustle a neighbouring community’s cattle.

Much of Baringo County’s dryland is degraded; vegetation cover has become scarce and biodiversity has radically declined in recent years. Far too many trees were felled, leading to serious land erosion.

But even in these harsh conditions, there is potential to boost agricultural yields. For example, farmers are advised to plant inter-crops, such as Irish potatoes, which can grow during the short rainy seasons. In addition, storage silos for harvests could enhance food security, because farmers would not have to sell their products at low prices as soon as they were harvested, but could store them until the beginning of the new year, according to Kenya News Agency reports from a food security meeting of Baringo’s governor with the national government, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, World Vision, Kenya Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations.

The Initiatives for Land, Lives, Peace (ILLP) is focusing its attention on sand dams. These are reinforced concrete walls installed in seasonal riverbeds to create higher riverbeds that – like a sponge – store water during the dry season. ILLP linked up the communities in Baringo with Excellent Development, a UK and Kenya-based charity which provides training in the construction of sand dams. “A sand dam can hold between two and 20 million litres of water,” Simon Maddrell, the executive director of Excellent Development, explains. He is convinced that “the answer to restoring lands is the conservation of soil and water.” Water needs to be retained in the soil. Terracing, planting trees to prevent soil erosion and allow the land to absorb water, and building sand dams to retain the water from the rainy season in the land are suitable techniques to successfully restore land.

Exchanging an AK47 for indigenous grass seed

Joseph Kwopin from the Pokot tribe was once a victim of one of the many cattle raids. 42 of his cows were stolen – despite the AK47 he carried with him on his long journeys to find grazing lands. Finally, as a last resort, he turned his attention to degraded land and sowed indigenous grass seed. Today, the grass fattens livestock on more than 30 acres of pasture. In addition, his business includes a fodder bank and grass seed which he sells to other farmers. Joseph Kwopin has demonstrated that with the right techniques, it is possible to maintain pastoralism in Baringo. “It is the people factor that is often the most critical for sustainability,” says Elizabeth Meyerhoff Roberts, a co-director of the Rehabilitation of Arid Environments Trust, which works in Baringo County and gained special recognition at the UNCCD Land for Life Award 2013.

Warrior qualities dismissed

Baringo County’s Deputy Governor, Mathew Tuitoek, makes it clear that “Without peace, we cannot have development in this county.” But without productive land, the county has no chance of experiencing peace. The bare ground of Baringo County reveals the close link between conflict resolution and land restoration. Once, the people of Baringo County were respected for their warrior qualities and their ability to defend their scarce resources. Today, they are recognised for something else – their reconciliation and sustainable land management efforts.

An audiovisual approach to peacebuilding

Alan Channer, co-director of FLTfilms, who is deeply involved in the Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace, takes an audiovisual approach to peacebuilding. He translated his film An African Answer into Swahili and screened it in Kenya. The film depicts peace-building methods led by two faith leaders – Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye from Nigeria.
Alan Channer then filmed the workshop in Baringo County in order to inspire other communities. The film, Transforming Land, Transforming Lives in Baringo County, Kenya can be viewed on the UNCCD website. 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