Conservation Lessons from Loisaba
Collaborative Conservation for a Changing World
By Charles Oluchina
“You’re the organization that buys land for conservation.” That’s what TNC staff members sometime hear from people familiar with the organization. And it was true: When The Nature Conservancy got its start in the U.S. in 1951, it worked by buying land from willing sellers. The idea was to keep nature protected from people.
But the world has changed. The population has more than doubled. And as TNC began working in 35 other countries around the world, it had to develop new strategies to help people and the land work together, for the benefit of both.
And in my country, buying property is not exactly how things work. It’s a bit more complicated. Some land is privately held and some is communally owned. Some private landowners allow neighboring communities to graze on their land, and some don’t. And nomadic tribes crisscrossing the country just need a route to get through the landscape, not a place to settle down.
It’s in this complex arena that TNC is working to conserve my country’s spectacular wild places. Communal lands allow people to come together to conserve and share resources, and to take ownership of the land as its stewards. This concept is proving to be phenomenally successful.
It all started here with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where TNC supported the conservation of an important privately held ranch. A strategic partnership between Lewa and TNC has resulted in sustaining nearly 30 years of community-based conservation success. From the success of Lewa grew the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a group of people who have banded together to shepherd the growth of community conservation on their own lands.
Lewa and NRT have redefined successful conservation as being as much about the wellbeing of its people as it is about the landscape itself.
Now the Conservancy has been given the opportunity to help create another important anchor in this 12-million-acre landscape. The Loisaba Conservancy (or “Lewa 2.0,” as we are affectionately calling it), is a 56,000-acre ranch that provides critical wildlife habitat and will support the neighboring community conservancies as they grow in strength and maturity.
Loisaba will be able to provide local communities with something even Lewa can’t: access to grass. Local pastoralists will have access to Loisaba as a place to graze their cattle – an activity that is the absolute foundation of their livelihoods. And, if done properly, sustainable grazing will even help improve habitat for wildlife.
Two years ago, this land faced a serious threat. Its owners needed to sell the property, and they had offers from land developers who expressed interest in building more housing sites, a golf course, fences and an expanded road network – as has been done to similar properties in other parts of Kenya. Subdividing this large, intact parcel would sever an important elephant corridor, as well as reduce economic and development opportunities for local communities.
What the Conservancy did demonstrates the organization’s evolution since its founding: We don’t own the land we seek to protect. Our generous supporters allowed us to bring funds to the table to keep Loisaba out of the developers’ hands. But we don’t own it. We moved the land into the holding of an existing all-Kenyan community trust that will seek to improve grazing access and jobs in ecotourism and ranching. Those revenues can then be reinvested into health and education services for neighboring communities.
This is what the future of the wild places in my country can look like – a collaborative approach that protects and improves landscapes, wildlife corridors and people and their livelihoods.
Charles Oluchina is Director of Field Programs for The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Program. Born in Nairobi, Oluchina has lived in several parts of Kenya, from the western Rift Valley to coastal Mombasa. After earning a degree in natural resources management, Charles gained extensive conservation experience with USAID before joining TNC in early 2012.