Covid-19 restrictions and Pastoralism: What does public-gathering ban mean for a pastoralist? Case study of Baringo County

Beatrice Mutua, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and Irene Mukalo, Ag. Head of Programmes RECONCILE

As many would think, ban of public-gatherings means “lack of livestock market”, which is indeed true, however, much more lies in this action which has become a norm as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. For many people, this ban has meant staying at home since their routine schedule of going to work and backing home is no longer pragmatic. While, for pastoralists the ban does not only affect their movement and welfare, but also their livestock’s welfare. Most of if not all of the pastoralists are affected adversely by the Covid-19 prevention measures. For instance, as a result of the ban of public gatherings, pastoralists in Baringo County bewail lack of open markets where they can sell their live livestock and get some cash to buy basic needs including food. Access to markets is very important to pastoralists who depend on keeping livestock to earn their living. Most pastoral areas are not rich in crop production and hence depend entirely on markets to access commodities such as vegetables, cereals among others. The purchasing power is also defined by the ability to sell their livestock. With the closure of markets and livestock, auction grounds has rendered the pastoralist in Baringo county victims of starvation since they cannot buy food for their families. The cash flow has been affected due to a fall in demand for meat and livestock internally and externally following the closure of food outlets and hotels both within and without Baringo County.  The shrinking market has left pastoralists in a dilemma not knowing what to do in order to meet their daily basic needs and the most needed commodities.

Further, the ban has influenced the management of resources in pastoral lands. Pastoralist communities are communal in nature with community meetings taking an integral part of their lives. Community meetings are not only meant for social gathering but they are an important platform for sharing information and making decisions. The emergence of COVID-19 has since made it impossible for such gatherings to take place. With an emphasis on social distancing and stay at home ringing every second it is indeed impossible to conduct public meetings in any place. This has its implications on pastoralists and pastoralism as a livelihood. Pastoralism as a livelihood is dependent on the wellbeing of natural resources, particularly pasture and water. The status of these resources is embedded in proper planning and use which is mainly informed by communal decisions. Given that community meetings are affected the sharing of grazing plans and ensuring the grazing plans and patterns are adhered to, is proving difficult.

The weakening purchasing power for the pastoralist and resource management is implicative to development work that is happening the County, for instance, efforts towards conservation of biodiversity both Fauna and Flora are challenged given that, the communities are resorting to alternative sources of livelihoods that are not sustainable. For example many have resorted to charcoal burning, which is putting the forest cover in the recurrently-drought-hit County at a greater risk since this action is likely to influence rain patterns in the long run; rendering the many parts of the County susceptible to adverse effects of climate change including floods and drought. Additionally, another sect of the community is pursuing wildlife poaching, this not only threatens the extinction of endangered mammal species in Baringo including Greater Kudu, but also the larger Baringo County economy that is dependent on the tourism as a significant revenue earner for the County. With these adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a need for various stakeholders including the County government of Baringo to strategize on how to help the communities and save the biodiversity and the economy of the County. Measures to cope and adapt to the new norm are to be put in place including; provision of alternative market spaces that would accommodate bigger numbers without putting the populations at risk; fumigation of the market places; provision of sanitizers, soap and water at the entrance and also recording temperatures of all those walking into the markets, besides strictly enforcing wearing and use of masks and social distancing in all public places. These could help curb the spread of the virus while still keeping the community going despite the uncertain times.