Restoring dryland ecosystems in Northern Kenya

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4 March 2022
Adrian Leitoro

Adrian Leitoro is co-founder of Nature and People as One (NaPO), a community-based organization that supports the Indigenous Rendille and Samburu communities in conserving the pristine landscapes, biodiversity, wildlife and culture of northern Kenya’s dryland ecosystems.

Adrian comes from the Rendille community. He grew up in conservation areas around the country, which taught him to appreciate first-hand the positive impacts of environmental and biodiversity conservation in the country and the important role of local communities in safeguarding nature. He is also currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Climate Change Adaptation with a focus on Nature-Based Solutions in the African Savannas at the University of Nairobi.

Our project area is Ngurunit, located on the northern side of the scenic Ndoto Mountains. The Ndoto Mountains Dryland Ecosystem covers an area of approximately 97,165 ha and spans both Samburu and Marsabit counties in northern Kenya. The Ndoto mountains are huge carbon sinks that provide critical ecosystem services to communities living around them, such as the provision of water, firewood, fodder and traditional herbs. Ndoto is home to the Rendille and Samburu communities, who are generally herders of camel, cattle and shoats (sheep and goats). The area is also home to a wide range of wildlife, including elephants, lions, leopards and wild dogs, among others.

ndotto mountains
FIG 1. The Ndoto mountains Photo: Kenyan camper thekenyancamper.com/   

The dryland ecosystem of Ndoto are a crucial livelihood strategy in response to increasingly frequent droughts. Their sustained provision of ecosystem goods and services helps local communities adapt to the local consequences of a changing climate, while the carbon stored in these ecosystems, if well managed, can contribute to climate change mitigation. According to FAO, the role of forests and woodlands is even more important, both biologically and socioeconomically, in arid lands than it is elsewhere, where forests play vital roles in the livelihood of communities in Africa’s drylands. 

For us, dryland forests are a key starting point to restoring the drylands of northern Kenya. Their restoration will have strong positive environmental and social impacts on the surrounding dryland areas.

FIG 2. Degraded landscape at Ngurunit

Forest and land degradation is one of the main threats facing the Ndoto mountains and is mainly caused by overgrazing, as the Rendille and Samburu communities are predominantly pastoralists. Forest fires have also become increasingly frequent as a result of accidental fires caused by traditional honey harvesting. Invasive species such as the prosopis juliflora are also a major cause of the disappearance of some native species in the area. 

FIG 4. Invasive prosopis juliflora in the Ndoto mountains.

For these reasons, the Ndotos urgently require ecosystem restoration. However, due to the remoteness of the area, restoration activities by both government and NGOs have been limited by a lack of native tree seedlings adapted to the area. 

Through the 2022 Restoration Stewards program, our partnership and funds from the GLF will be used to set up the infrastructure for a 15,000-capacity tree nursery at Ngurunit and engage pastoralist women in the production of high-quality native tree seedlings that will be used specifically for the restoration of this important dryland forest ecosystem. 

Adrian Leitoro

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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.