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Protecting our Resources: Legislating the Natural Resource Management Bylaws

The seasons seem to be shifting with greater uncertainty of when the rains will come, or end and increasing events of more erratic and violent rainfall followed by severe drought. The breakdown of traditional institutions that used to govern the sharing and use of land based resources such as pastures and water is making it harder for communities to manage their livelihoods under conditions of climatic variability and uncertainty.

Kenyans, especially communities in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) are dependent on natural resources for their daily needs. As a result of this dependency strong local institutions for managing access to natural resources under a changing climate is critical for livelihoods, food intake and health of it populace and animals.

In Isiolo, the Isiolo County Adaptation Fund (ICAF) with funding from Department for International Development and implemented by the Adaptation Consortium is helping communities adapt to these climatic changes by strengthening the Natural Resource Management system (NRM) known as the Dedha. Dedhais a sophisticated system of governance among Boran pastoralists that enables communities manage the uncertainty of climate change by dividing land according to wet season, dry season and drought reserves with access to these lands being controlled by the Dedha.

They preserve pasture areas near permanent water sources for use in the dry season and in event of drought; they also reserve areas for use during the wet season in those areas where there are many temporary water sources. Through this system, communities in Isiolo were able to survive the drought in 2014, which also saw influx of herds from other neighbouring counties of Wajir, Samburu, Marsabitand Garissain search of pasture and water.

Many neighbouring counties do not have an equivalent of the dedha system and have occasionally grazed their animals in Isiolo drought reserves during non-drought periods without seeking the permission of the dedha elders. This has ignited conflict and has compromised the resilience of Isiolo’s community to drought. To ensure that there is negotiated and amicable access to these resources Dedhas with support from Adaptation Consortium have conducted cross border resource sharing meetings with the neighbouring counties to agree on the consensual rule for reciprocal access, which is essential for effective resource sharing and mitigation of conflict.

In addition, the Dedha elders have continuously involved the neighbouring counties of Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit and Samburu in drafting the NRM bylaw to ensure that there is coordination in management of these rangelands. In the past the dedha institutions regulated the neighbouring communities movements and although access to resources was never denied to pastoralists from other areas they were negotiated. The same principle of negotiations will form part of the NRM bylaw with the Dedhas managing access to these resources. There is also need for inter-county engagement to ensure that the rules and regulations are ingrained in all the counties management of natural resources.

The Dedhas have been very effective in managing pastures and water, but due to its informal nature, Isiolo residents and other neighbouring communities have continuously contravened the laid down structure. This has necessitated the importance of passing the NRM bylaw to control access to pasture and water in dry, wet and drought season.

The NRM bylaw entrenches into law the customary rules and regulation of managing natural resources and recognizes the Dedhas role in controlling access. “Dedha" is a system that has been tried and tested, the fact that there is influx from other counties with no such traditional institution tell you that the Dedhas are relevant and doing a good job and needs to be legally recognized.

Tom Amek – Isiolo County Planning Officer.