Acacia bushes taking over Samburu grassland

13,000 hectares cleared so far with aid from Swedish International development agency.

In Summary

• Pastoralists are clearing the shrub and the land is being reseeded with grass.

• They say no grass grows under the shadeless invasive tree, acacia reficiens, and grazing land is greatly reduced.


A Pastoralist herding his cattle.
A Pastoralist herding his cattle.

Pastoralist in Samburu are worried about diminishing pasture after a type of acacia shrub invaded the area and is spreading fast, reducing grassland.

 The hardest-hit part is  Learata within Namunyak conservation area where residents are clearing the shrub known as acacia recifiens.

It is also called red-bark acacia, red thorn, false umbrella tree, or false umbrella thorn because of its upside-down umbrella top.

Residents say the shrub is toxic to their land as no grass grows near it, causing an acute shortage of pasture.

Wilson Lekiliyo said that during his childhood, the entire Learata division was grassland and pastoralists from other parts of Samburu county moving there with their livestock during dry spells.

“Since the shrubs started growing the area has been totally changed to unproductive. This tree cannot even offer shade, hinders the growth of grass and other beneficial plants around it,” he said.

He said the shrub was spreading quickly to other areas, causing panic in the community. Members sought help to clear the shrub from the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organisation that supports wildlife conservancies in several counties.

Resident Elizabeth said the barrenness caused by the shrub has led to problems including conflicts with Isiolo and Marsabit pastoralists, as they constantly move in search of pasture when their area should be producing adequate grass.

Priscillah Kushi, the project officer from the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), said the negative effects of the acacia on the environment were extreme. She said it creates harmful gulleys due to massive soil erosion as the land is left without grass cover.

She said there were many species of acacia but the community was only targeting the Reficiens for clearance.

NRT got funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) for two weeks and 13,000 hectares have so far been cleared. Kushi said the cleared area will be reseeded with grass.

Titus Letaapo, Samburu county director at the Northern Rangelands Trust, said  Namunyak was the first conservancy in the region, established in 1995, but had deteriorated to a sorry state due to the invasion of the acacia shrub.

He said that NRT had sought Sh7.8 million from SIDA to hire casuals who have been working for two weeks.

More than 500 residents, including morans, men and women, have taken part in the clearing, earning Sh600 daily.

(Edited by V. Graham)