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GRASSLAND & RANGELAND SOCIETY OF KENYA (GRASK)
Grassland covers over 26% of the world’s landmass and about 80% of agricultural area, while rangeland covers 54% of the global terrestrial surface. Grasslands and rangelands are responsible for 16-17% of primary production, serve as hotspots for biodiversity, environmental protection and are important carbon sinks. They are critical to supporting human economies, livelihoods and culture. Globally, grasslands and rangelands provide critical goods and services to mankind and are a source of livelihood for about 1 billion people.
In Africa, grasslands form a key biome in rangelands characterized as tropical savannahs. The savannah grasslands form a continued grass layer with a scattered woody component in the rangelands.
Rangelands are extensive in semi-arid, arid and sub-humid areas (ASALs) but are also found in higher rainfall areas which have potential for cultivation or commercial forestry. Therefore, rangelands are uncultivated grasslands, shrub lands or forest lands with herbaceous and/or shrubby under-storey used to produce forage for grazing or browsing animals.
Savannahs describe a vegetation community having a continuous grass layer usually scattered with trees within the tropics and sub-tropics. It is restricted to where the grass stratum is continuous and important, occasionally interrupted by trees and shrubs; bush fires occur from time to time and the main growth patterns are closely associated with alternating wet and dry seasons.
Rangeland and grassland generate many essential goods and services, including feed for livestock and other ecosystem services. Across Africa and the developing world, these ecosystems support livestock production that contributes 40% of the global value of agricultural output. At the same time, over 75% of the livestock and 60% of the wildlife are found in the grasslands and rangelands, underscoring the importance of these ecosystems. In East Africa drylands, they support over 60% of rural households who keep livestock.
Economic importance of grasslands and rangelands
In Kenya, over 36% of the population derives their livelihood from the grasslands and rangelands. In addition, grasslands and rangelands constitute over 80% of the Kenyan land mass that support 70% of the national livestock herd and 90% of the wildlife that supports the country’s tourism industry. Over 60% of the red meat is produced from these ecosystems in the country. The grasslands extend into the high rainfall areas where they majorly support dairy production. Across the production systems, farmers, ranchers and pastoralists depend on grasslands and conserved products such as hay and silage and on a range of fodder crops for their livelihoods. Grasslands also contribute significantly to cropping systems, with a large part of crop yields being dependent upon the benefits of the pastures and herbaceous legumes. About 4.3 million dairy cattle are kept under extensive, semi- intensive and intensive systems of production. Kenya’s dairy sub-sector contributes about 8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with an annual milk production of 5.2 billion litres.
In spite of their importance, grasslands and rangelands are increasingly threatened by over exploitation, degradation and climate change that has undermined their productive capacity. Furthermore, rangelands lack the basic foundations for social and economic development, and livelihoods supported by these critical ecosystems are often food and nutrition insecure.
To sustainably manage the grasslands and rangelands of Kenya and the region, there is a critical need to have professionals who are highly skilled and are cognizant with the current trends that threaten the grassland and rangeland ecosystems. There is need for continuous dialogue and exchange of information on evolving issues, new technologies development and a platform that brings stakeholders together for concerted efforts that will increase results in suitable resource use, management and conservation. There is however, lack of a national representative professional body that cuts across learning institutions, government institutions, research institutions and other key stakeholders to unify, stimulate and foster focus and interest on grasslands/rangelands and their development to play their rightful role in national and regional economic development.
Riding on the momentum created by the Joint XXIV International Grassland Congress and the XI International Rangeland Congress that was recently held in Kenya, the process of developing a national body to help bring together researchers, practitioners and resource users gained traction. Supported by inputs from the Kenyan IGC/IRC National Organizing Committee, theGrassland/Rangeland Society of Kenya (GRASK) was borne to catalyze theprofessionals and practitioners to steer and oversee grassland/rangeland management and development in the Country and the Region. Therefore, GRASK aims to be a dedicated Society of professionals, practitioners and other relevant stakeholders to champion development and sustainable utilization of grassland and rangeland ecosystems, and foster continuous dialogue and exchange of information in all spheres affecting their sustainable use.