Declining land acreage is pastoralists’ woe

Monday November 27 2017


Pokot herders graze their animals in Mugie Ranch, Laikipia County, on February 3, 2016. Pastoralism is adaptive to harsh ecosystems that struggle to support crop-based agriculture. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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One of the key milestones in the 2010 Constitution is the recognition of pastoralism as a major source of livelihoods for people in arid and semi-arid regions.

The Constitution, acknowledging that pastoralists had been marginalised, provides for affirmative action to ensure that they are provided with special opportunities in education and livelihood.

These provisions were made against the realisation that previous policies had disadvantaged nomadic pastoralism and enhanced the perception that it caused environmental damage.


This view of pastoralism needs to change, if the government is to achieve its much-touted Vision 2030.

Sessional Paper No 12 on the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands ‘Releasing Our Full Potential’ debunked the theory that pastoralism is primitive, wasteful, and environmentally unfriendly.

The policy notes that the argument that ASALs main livelihood strategy, mobile pastoralism, was “irrational and environmentally destructive, and that the ASALs contributed little to the national economy was not based on sound socioeconomic analysis but stems from a lack of appreciation of the region’s potential and a lack of understanding of its production systems”.

Apart from being a cultural norm, it is acknowledged and scientifically proven that pastoralism is adaptive to harsh ecosystems that struggle to support crop-based agriculture.

Studies have shown that pastoralists are astute land managers whose mobility enables them to make productive use of drought-prone rangelands; up to 10 times more than commercial ranching alternatives.

In fact, much more degradation is evident in areas around permanent settlements than in open rangelands, where pastoralists seasonally move their herds to allow pastures to regenerate.


Livestock, largely pastoralism, contributes 12 per cent of the national gross domestic product.

As of 2012, the ASALs hosted about 70 per cent of the national livestock worth Sh70 billion or 12 per cent of national GDP.

Home to about 90 per cent of Kenya’s wild game, the interaction between wildlife and pastoralism is a major tourist attraction.

Tourism generates a 9.8 per cent of the GDP.

This leaves pastoralists with smaller grazing areas that creates a huge amount of tension.

It is erroneous to argue that activities such as irrigation and horticulture are the panacea for the problems facing the pastoralist areas.

These have been tried but have failed on larger scales.

The challenges that pastoralists continue to face are, therefore, as a result of weak and compromised land use planning, insecurity of land tenure, including natural resources and the marginalisation of pastoral systems and customary institutions.

The result is the persistent call for sedentarisation, enclosures, provision of permanent water sources and the restriction of livestock numbers to the perceived and not scientific carrying-capacity of the land.

To achieve equitable livelihoods and sustainable development in the pastoralist areas, measures that improve resilience, especially through enhanced participation in markets and local governance institutions, are critical.

Halting the current tendency to engage in land fragmentation can assist in reducing the people’s vulnerability to drought shocks and contribute to more equitable national development in an increasingly warming world as a result of climate change.

Mr Ohenjo is the programmes and administrative adviser, Centre for Minority Rights Development (Cemiride). [email protected]

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