90% of the communities living within the hirola rangelands depend on their land and natural resources for their livelihoods and well-being. However, in recent decades they have been facing increasing pressures i.e. a growing population, break-down in traditional nomadic structures and longer drought periods which has caused high livestock and wildlife mortalities. With time, the health of these rangelands has changed for the worse, thus reducing the carrying capacity for both wildlife and livestock. This dilapidation of the environment has led to increased vulnerability of the local communities and ultimately leading to critical poverty levels especially for the most disadvantaged members of the society.
A major cause to the ecological degradation of these rangelands is the rapid dispersal and colonization of Acacia refeciens within hirola’s natural range. This has led to the destruction and loss of much of the native grass species over the last several decades.
Therefore, it is imperative to develop sustainable restoration management practices compatible with the conservation of biodiversity whilst supporting the wellbeing of the local communities and their economic development.
In order to reclaim the hirola rangelands’ lost glory, HCP has embarked on its second phase of a 5-year hirola habitat restoration project. This habitat restoration project seeks to develop and implement a rangeland restoration management plan that will see the introduction of sustainable natural resource management. This will in the end benefit the environment, wildlife, livestock and the local communities within the hirola rangelands
This project is a collaboration of HCP and other local and international partners working closely with various agencies and the local community to raise support for the rangeland biodiversity conservation on the ground.
This project is a participatory endeavor whereby the local community especially the women are encouraged to create grass banks for production of grass seeds.
In this second phase of the project, our focus has been on the clearance of invasive tree species in core hirola areas and seeding the cleared areas with five native grass species, i.e. Cencrus ciliaris, Eragrostis superba, Enteropogon macrostachyus, Cymbopogon pospischilli and Sehima nervosum. The native grasses are well adapted to the arid and semi-arid environments but are mostly out competed by the Acacia refeciens which presents some real management challenges.
The last 2 months have been busy with hands-on work across the spectrum of our activities which entailed setting up of six restoration grass islands across the vast hirola rangelands. each island measuring 500 by 500 meters long which equals an area of 50 acres per island. The islands were then subdivided into 27 plots each measuring 149 meters long and 43 meters wide. Between the plots we set up a 10 meters buffer zone. We came up with design so as to compare how the five native grasses would fair against each other and other grass species and also enable us to measure the rate of dispersal of the native grasses from the plots to the surrounding areas. The essence of setting up grass islands is that they act as nucleation sites for vast degraded areas by providing a seed source that spread out of the planted areas.