A project of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) called ‘Reto-o-Reto’has won an award five years after it ended. ‘Reto-o-Reto’, in the language of the pastoral Maasai people of East Africa means ‘I help you, you help me’. The project was bestowed the 2012 Sustainability Science Award for a paper titled ‘Evolution of models to support community and policy action with science: Balancing pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation in savannas of East Africa’, published in 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a prestigious American science journal.
The Ecological Society of America gives a Sustainability Science Award each year to the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the preceding five years that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.
Authored by 17 researchers representing 9 institutions, the paper shared experimental work in boundary-spanning research to help balance action in poverty alleviation and wildlife conservation in four pastoral ecosystems in East Africa. These were the Tarangire-Simanjiro-Manyara pastoral ecosystem in northern Tanzania; the Amboseli-Longido pastoral ecosystem on the northern and western slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, which straddles Kenya and Tanzania; the Kitengela pastoral ecosystem just south of the Nairobi National Park; and the Mara Pastoral ecosystem in Kenya, which is one of the wettest pastoral areas in East Africa.
Some of the team members studied the evolution of these pastoral systems in East Africa over a 25-year period, learning along the way how to close gaps, integrate scientific knowledge and then move outside their disciplines to policymakers and communities.
Writing to the paper’s lead author, ecologist Robin Reid, who worked for ILRI during the time of the research, Eleanor Sterling, chair of the subcommittee for the awards, said that the committee members ‘were impressed with this highly collaborative paper and how it focuses not just on research but on the research process itself, providing valuable and detailed insights into how the process of ecological research can align itself better with end-goals including conservation and poverty alleviation.
‘We felt the creation of hybrid local-scientific knowledge and the partnership of technical experts with place-based knowledge holders who understand the particular contexts in which stewardship occurs are critical to sustainability goals and to emerging needs such as actionable climate change adaptation strategies. The multi-partner, multidisciplinary approach is laudable, not only because you all illustrate how important it is to tackle sustainability problems from multiple angles, but also because you show that these collaborations are possible and serve to inspire us all.’
One of the authors, ILRI scientist Mohammed Said, says: ‘it took a lot of effort to pull the team together but it is satisfying that each member continued to play a crucial role in ensuring the outcomes were realized long after the project came to an end. These include the development of conservancies in the Mara, passing of the Land use Master plan in Kitengela, contribution to review of a number of polices related to drylands and pastoralists in Kenya and Tanzania and the development of a new MSc and PhD program at the University of Nairobi to focus on the drylands. This award will further boost these efforts’.
This is the second award that this team has won for their work on cross-boundary research. The first was in 2006, when it won the CGIAR ‘Best Innovative Partnership’ award. In bestowing this award, ILRI’s mother organization, the CGIAR recognized ILRI’s collaboration with the Kitengela Ilparakuo Landowners Association (KILA). (The CGIAR is now known as Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers). The collaboration won a Judges’ Award with a cash prize of US$30,000, to use for further collaborative work. ILRI’s drylands team has been collaborating with the Maasai of Kitengela Plains, located next to Nairobi National Park, in Kenya, since 2002. They have devised means to ensure that people, livestock and wildlife can live in harmony and have lobbied government to reduce fencing to allow the annual migration of wildlife though the Kitengela Plains, thus helping to prevent conflicts between wildlife and people and their livestock. Other collaborators of the program are Kenya Wildlife Service, Friends of Nairobi National Park, The Wildlife Foundation and Kajiado County Council.