While Kenya has enjoyed tremendous tremendous development over the years, this development has left a section of the population such as the minority groups and indigenous communities disadvantaged.
This group of people have long been excluded from the economic and political life of the state.
Their poverty index is higher, their rights are hardly respected and are rarely included in development planning processes yet these communities contribute to the conservation of the very natural resources which the country depends on for economic growth.Activities such as tourism depend largely on the rich abundant wildlife and scenery that is common in areas occupied by these minority and indigenous communities.
In 2009, ILEG partnered with Eco-tourism Kenya (EK) to pilot a model community based tourism enterprise with the community living in the Mbirikani Group Ranch area. Mbirikani area is one of the six group ranches found in Kajiado district in Southern Kenyan.
The group ranch system was initially considered as a compromise between collective ownership and the need for collective access to resources in drylands. It is estimated that it occupies an area of approximately 125,893 hectares with a population of over 100,000 households. The Group Ranch had entered into agreements with a private enterprise known as Ol Donyo Wuas where the company it leased out its land in exchange for monetary and other compensation.
For cultural and traditional economic reasons, the Maasai community in the Mbirikani area as with other areas has depended on and owned large tracts of land. Most of this land is predominately collectively owned and utilized as group ranches. However, over the years, various reasons such as marginal returns from group ranch initiatives and poor management have led to the group ranches being subdivided and registered in the names of individuals.
The main objective of this project was to conserve natural resources, cultural heritage and sustain the well being of the local people. Local communities were encouraged to protect their natural and cultural heritage since this is the backbone of Eco-tourism which is a viable business enterprise for marginalized communities living in areas where land is not arable.
Under the sub-grant, ILEG was to conduct research on the policy and legal framework governing land tenure around Mbirikani area and other areas adjacent to the proposed project. ILEG was to review the existing policies and institutional and organizational practices to see which one impeded the success of the group. Research was carried out regarding the process of demarcating the conservancy and explored the legal regimes under which the various parcels of land were registered.
The findings of the research revealed that for ranch management to be effective and beneficial, the following had to be considered: gender mainstreaming in the development projects and maintaining group ranches within the new classification of land tenure systems, ensuring public participation and access to information all which strengthen governance systems that was found to be weak in the management of ranches.
The research identified several challenges that were facing the group and threatened the sustainability of the leasing arrangement. These included among others sub-division; poor and inequitable benefit sharing mechanisms amongst group members, governance challenges arising from leadership wrangles, insecure tenure rights, lack of transparency in the utilisation of revenues among others.
ILEG assisted the group to register its constitution and implement systems to guide the governance and management of the group ranch affairs. The leadership were also trained on legal issues surrounding the group ranches such as the role of women, land ownership, agreements, management, benefit-sharing, investing among others.
Furthermore, the project which was classified as an equity-skill share pilot project, saw the the organisation of several eye-opening exchange visits for the group ranch representatives to other group ranches both locally and abroad in South Africa. This was done to help build the capacity of the group ranch representatives to enable them learn and appreciate different management models, benefit sharing mechanisms, challenges and opportunities that were being implemented by other organised communities.
ILEG is aware of the challenges that continue to face such group ranches, but hopes that its contribution to this ranch shall enable them manage their resource effectively and sustainably.