Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Livelihood Choices and Returns among Pastoralists: Evidence from Southern Kenya

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Livelihood Choices and Returns among Pastoralists: Evidence from Southern Kenya

Article excerpt


Pastoral systems are rapidly changing in Africa and elsewhere, yet relatively little is known regarding what, and how well, households in these systems are now doing. This article addresses livelihood choices and income diversification strategies in a traditionally Maasai pastoral area of southern Kenya, and the factors influencing the returns to their diverse livelihood strategies. We explore how well household-level versus geographic factors explain the large variability in income and livestock wealth levels and the implications for wildlife conservation and poverty reduction strategies.

Keywords: Maasai, pastoralism, Kenya, income diversification, livestock


Pastoralists in Africa are rapidly evolving as they respond to increasingly variable and unpredictable arid and semi-arid rangeland environments, privatization of communal grazing lands, rapid in-migration and population growth, and increasing needs for cash to cover education, health-related and other household expenses. The responses in terms of livelihood strategies of the Maasai people, found in both Kenya and Tanzania, to these tremendous land-related and socioeconomic pressures, is of interest for other rangeland-based, relatively vulnerable livestock-based systems.

A key poverty avoidance strategy for many poor smallholders across Africa has been diversification into non-agricultural income sources. In sub-Saharan Africa, previous studies show the importance of non-farm income in diversifying income sources and increasing total income with non-farm income constituting roughly 35 percent of rural household income in Africa (Reardon et al. 2006). In Kenya, it is estimated that non-farm income constituted 29 percent of rural household income between 1994 and 1996 (Barrett et al. 2005). Other studies are showing even higher participation, such as in Western Kenya where the share of non-farm is 80 percent (Francis and Hoddinott 1993). Over the last decade or so, many pastoral households have also begun diversifying into non-livestock-based strategies to avoid poverty, such as growing and selling crops, engaging in trading activities, selling charcoal, getting a job in town, starting wildlife/tourism-related businesses (Homewood et al. 2001, Kristjanson et al. 2002, Thompson 2006).

However, our understanding of the processes and outcomes involved for pastoral systems and the well-being of these households is relatively weak. Governments, NGOs and development agencies working in these areas are seeking such information to inform investment priorities and poverty reduction strategies, as they decide whether to focus on education, livestock marketing, human health, building roads, and so on. In addition, encouragingly, pastoralists in East Africa are finally beginning to have a voice in policies that affect them, and are also seeking information as to the implications of different land-use and livelihood strategies to inform policy debates (Nkedianye 2004, Reid et al. 2006).

While several studies looking at land-use, diversification and livelihood options have been carried out in several agropastoral/pastoral systems in East Africa (e.g. Rutten 1992, Little et al. 2001, Serneels 2001, Thompson and Homewood 2002, Campbell et al. 2003, Homewood 2004,), few have been able to derive measures of how well households are doing, in terms of revenues earned from the various activities household members are pursuing, and look closely at what factors significantly influence those returns. This research aims to fill that gap, exploring patterns and outcomes of poverty-related household diversification strategies in an area of Maasailand in Kenya. Based on a household survey that was conducted across Kitengela, a pastoral/agropastoral and wildlife area located just south of Nairobi in 2004, this study builds upon previous household socio-economic studies conducted in the area in 1999, 2000 and 2003 (Mwangi and Warinda 1999, Kristjanson et al. …

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