Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Socioeconomic and Ecological Viability of Pastoralism in Loitokitok District, Southern Kenya

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Socioeconomic and Ecological Viability of Pastoralism in Loitokitok District, Southern Kenya

Article excerpt


Pastoralism is experiencing a renewal of interest by those searching for livelihood strategies that are compatible with wildlife conservation and sustainable development. However, in the Amboseli ecosystem in southern Kenya, pastoralism is threatened by sedentarization, environmental degradation, changing weather patterns, labour constraints as children embrace education and an increase in conflict with other land uses. These factors may in turn necessitate drastic changes in policies that shape access to land and land use. This study assessed the current trends in pastoralist lifestyles, as well as the economic and environmental viability of pastoralism in the light of these changes. Overall the study found that the pastoralists' ability to adapt and cope has been severely compromised by the current changes which restrict their ability to move with their herds to follow scarce resources. However, due to various ecological and socio-cultural reasons, there still remains a chance to make pastoralism viable.

Keywords: climate change, land use changes, Loitokitok District, group ranch, pastoralists


Pastoralism is a livelihood strategy specialized to exploit rangeland ecosystems, mainly occurring in regions too dry for rainfed agriculture and characterized by recurrent droughts and strong intra- and interseasonal variability in climate (Galaty and Johnson 1990; Ellis and Galvin 1994; Galvin et al. 2001). Historically, the primary pastoral strategy for making use of these environments has been mobility, which occurred largely in the context of communal land-tenure systems with flexible use rights which were negotiated through layered relationships through kinship, clan, age group and lineage (Lane and Moorehead 1994; Turner 1999). Other adaptive strategies include the establishment of strong economic and social support networks, herd splitting and herd diversification (Little et al. 2001; Berhanu et al. 2007). More recent strategies include recourse to agriculture, sedentary life, trade and wage-labour migrations (McCabe 2003a and 2003b; Kabubo-Mariara 2005; Ekaya 2005).

The historical success of pastoralism has centred on its resilience and adaptability to harsh climates and changing conditions (Smith 1993). Yet, its resilience and adaptability are associated with mobility, and mobility is challenged by changes in land tenure and the increase of human population (Marshall 1990; Blench 2001). In Kenya, government policies and land-tenure systems often encourage the sedentarization of human populations, which is one of the main underlying factors of rangeland degradation (Campbell et al. 2000). This process involves the creation of more schools, clinics and water-collection points, and villages that subsequently develop around them (Jaeobs and Coppock 1999). These sedentary settlements, combined with land such as like wildlife-protection areas and irrigated agriculture, decrease the mobility that is a necessary aspect of sustainable pastoralism. With these land-use changes, pastoralist mobility and access to important grazing areas have greatly decreased. Furthermore, pastoralism is typically assumed to be more compatible with wildlife than other land uses, such as agriculture, because any habitat destruction it causes is less readily apparent (Ward et al. 1998). Studies in Loitokitok area have shown that, as human mobility becomes limited, so does that of the wildlife, due to blocked migration corridors and dispersal areas (Okello 2009). Loss of mobility of people and animals in East Africa disrupts the adjustment processes that maintain the balance between people, land and livestock (Kandagor 2005). While pastoralism is one of the few land uses compatible with wildlife, wildlife conservation has expropriated large, and often the most important, areas of pastoral rangelands. This, combined with increasing pressures from other forms of land use, means that pastoralists and wildlife managers are finding themselves forced into uneasy alliances. …

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