Learning how to use grass seed banks to restore degraded grasslands – the MWCT approach

The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) works with communities across Kuku Group Ranch (KGR) to encourage conservation and restoration activities.

In collaboration with Justdiggit, MWCT is restoring the drylands of KGR through sustainable interventions such as grass seed banks – not only to economically empower the Maasai women but also to restore and bring back the grasslands that have been degraded.

The grass seed banks are established by groups of women with the involvement of the community. The process involves several activities:

  • Community involvement: Before agreeing and co-shaping actions with the community, no activities can be run.
  • Site selection: The decision of where to establish grass seed banks is also taken by the community. The selected site is often a degraded area of around ten hectares.
  • Protecting the site: Fencing is very important to protect grass seed banks from livestock and wildlife. For example, Kuku Group Ranch is a corridor for wildlife movement between the Tsavo West and Amboseli National Parks, so it is particularly important to protect the grass seed banks from potential wildlife harm.
  • Tilling of the land: This is often done using a tractor to ensure that the soil is properly mixed. The tilling is done to soften the soil and increase percolation.
  • Sowing the grass seeds: Indigenous grass seed species are placed on top of the soil and covered using tree branches.
  • Germination: In a good rainy season, the grass seeds germinate in about a week.

Germination is not the end of the journey. Grass seed bank management is intensive. It involves activities like weeding, which – depending on the rains and quantity of weeds – is usually done twice per season. Weeding makes a big impact on yields, as any weeds will compete with the grass that has been planted. Moreover, the fence needs to be maintained such that it remains effective in protecting the grass seedbank.  Additionally, it is key to regularly meet with the community to foster a feeling of shared responsibility (and hence ownership), and to raise awareness on the importance of restoration.

Finally, the general project manager should also be trained regularly to help enhance the quality of the products that are generated (i.e. grass seeds and hay). MWCT has conducted several internal and external training activities, as well as horizontal learning opportunities, to help improve the knowledge of the women leading the project about grass seedbank management. Horizontal learning opportunities usually comprise of the women visiting other groups doing similar projects.

At the end of the growing season, the grass is cut and the seeds are collected. The grass is sold as hay, while the seeds are sold to other people or organizations who want to do other restoration activities.

Moilo Grass Seedbank is a beneficiary of MWCT restoration programs. With support from MWCT’s Livelihood Coordinator, the women’s group has received a grant from Global Landscape Forum, which will assist the group to further protect its grass seed bank, implement other restoration activities, and build more awareness about restoration.

Figure 1: a Maasai woman in her grass seed bank before harvest

Women’s group takes the lead in restoring drylands in south-eastern Kenya

The Moilo Grass Seedbank is located in Kuku Group Ranch in the world-famous Tsavo and Amboseli national parks in the south-east of Kenya. The bank was established by the Maasai Wildlife Conservation Trust (MWCT) and is managed by a group of ten local Maasai women, who not only benefit from the project economically, but are also at the frontline of restoring the region’s drylands.

The Maasai communities of this area own the land between the two national parks.  Within their land lie critical wildlife migration corridors and habitat reserves; forests that are carbon sinks; and rivers and springs that supply fresh water, not only within the ecosystem itself, but also to more than seven million people in Kenya – including in the country’s second-largest city, Mombasa.

However, some parts of this land are facing serious degradation challenges from overgrazing, deforestation, and population growth. Community organizations such as Moilo Grass Seedbank are working to reverse these degradation trends. The women’s group have established a ten-hectare grass seedbank in a degraded area, by preparing the land and planting indigenous grass species (buffalo grass [Bouteloua dactyloides] and Maasai love grass [Eragrostis superba]). The grass is used for feeding livestock in the dry season, while grass seeds are sold to others who want to establish their own seed banks. However, the seedbank faces serious challenges from wildlife and livestock, as its fencing is poor. 

After a year, we expect to have a fully functional project with a tree nursery, properly protected grass seedbank, and beekeeping components. We aim to create a hub for restoration activities, where community members and other interested individuals can learn about grass reseeding, indigenous tree planting, and beekeeping. We also aim to empower and inspire other community members – as individuals or organized groups – to replicate some of the project’s restoration activities. Ideally, these restoration activities will bring positive cultural, economic, and environmental benefits to the community. As a group, we will work to share the knowledge gained in the Restoration Steward program with other stakeholders. Our targets for the upcoming year include:

  • producing 10,000 new tree seedlings;
  • fencing the project area to help deter wildlife and livestock, thus enhancing production;
  • conducting quarterly community meetings to help create more awareness about the importance of restoration;
  • running trainings on beekeeping, tree nursery management, and maintenance of grass seedbanks;
  • establishing 15 colonized beehives and training two beekeepers; and
  • carrying out regular reports and updates on the project’s progress.

MWCT works with both local and international partners. Some of our areas of interest include sustainable grassland management, wildlife protection, and land/habitat restoration. Our overall goal is to enhance the health of people, livestock, and our ecosystems. Our partners include JustDiggit International, the Global Environmental Fund and Conservation International, among others. MWCT has experience in developing grass seedbanks and in carrying out grassland restoration while improving the livelihoods of Maasai women and youths.

Through the GLF mentorship program, we have the opportunity to collaborate with experts from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. ILRI scientists Fiona Flintan and Jason Sircely will provide us with technical support and will help us build linkages with similar initiatives in Africa and around the world.

Figure 1: Moilo Grass Seedbank has serious challenges with its fencing, which currently lets both wildlife and livestock into the plot
Figure 2: Kuku Group Ranch sits in a critical location between several protected areas
Figure 3: Some of the Maasai women who manage the Moilo grass seedbank
Figure 4: Mpachacha Ene Isaya, group leader of the Moilo Grass Seedbank

Figure 4: Mpachacha Ene Isaya, group leader of the Moilo Grass Seedbank

Supporting partners

Under the banner of Generation Restoration, the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) launched the Restoration Stewards program in 2020 to support and highlight the work of six young restoration practitioners and their teams, dubbed ‘Restoration Stewards’. The year-long program provides funding, mentorship, and training to deepen the impact of these projects.
In 2021, the Restoration Stewards and their teams will be supported to further develop their project and will become ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards will share their journey in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges. Locally, they will spark a restoration movement, creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for more sustainable landscapes.