What is the Northern Rangelands Trust?

© ami vitale

© ami vitale

The spectacular landscape of Northern Kenya is said to be one of the last true wilderness areas in east Africa. Cultures here are as diverse as the wildlife and habitats. Yet, poverty rates are some of the highest in the country, and a harsh climate challenges the livelihoods of a largely pastoralist population. However, by establishing community conservancies, people are now finding ways to link wildlife conservation to better pasture, higher income, and the growth of sustainable businesses. This is putting more children in school, empowering women through jobs and financial literacy, and building the capacity of rural communities to lift themselves out of poverty.

The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) was established in 2004. Its mission is to develop resilient community conservancies which transform people’s lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources. By the end of 2015, there were 33 conservancies under the NRT umbrella, covering over 44,000 km2. These conservancies are managed by democratically elected boards, and are now legally recognised institutions. NRT raises funds for these conservancies, provides advice on how to manage affairs, and facilitates a wide range of training – from governance and security, to wildlife monitoring and peace building.

NRT Trading - Conservation Business Works

As the number of community conservancies in NRT grew, so did the need for a more commercial arm of NRT – one that could support conservancies to earn revenue from their own, sustainable activities and reduce reliance on donor funding.

NRT Trading was established in 2015, and now supports the development of commercial businesses within communities in three main areas – livestock, beads, and tourism. The success of these programmes is now paving the way for communities to explore other emerging markets.

BeadWORKS was one of NRT Trading’s first business lines. It aims to empower women and diversify household income, reducing reliance on livestock and natural resources. Through the community conservancies, the programme partners with established women’s groups, training them on bead craftsmanship, product development, and basic marketing and accounting skills. NRT Trading issues raw materials (beads, elastic and wire) to women, who then make items for sale overseas. These include keyrings, coasters, festive decorations, and napkin rings. The women are paid when products are collected by NRT Trading each month.