M.Sc. thesis: New opportunities and new constraints for Maasai livelihoods

 Part 3: Dispatch on M.Sc. thesis results    

Florian Neubauer has been working on a M.Sc. thesis with RSO titled `New opportunities and new constraints – Understanding changes in land tenure and livelihoods among the pastoral Maasai in southern Kenya´. In his third and last post, he shares some of the thesis` main findings. Florian’s second post can be found here.

Localized coping strategies increasingly gain in importance: Here, cattle which has accessed a fenced area where grass is preserved for stressful times.

Localized coping strategies increasingly gain in importance: Here, cattle which has accessed a fenced area where grass is preserved for stressful times.

Background

Pastoral livelihoods in Africa are characterized by a high reliance on strategic migration and livestock keeping as a source of social and economic wellbeing. However, over the past decades pastoral livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa were increasingly exposed to various pressures like a progressing privatization of land. The experiences of the Maasai in southern Kenya provide an illustrative example for livelihood changes due to land privatization. During the 1970s, a transformation from land held in trust to individual ‘group ranches’, as land communally owned and managed, took place in the Maasailand. During the 1980s, title deeds were privatized and group ranches subdivided into smaller, individually owned ranches. Focusing on Maasai households, this research analysed – with specific regards to impacts and implications on food (in)security – how these changes in land tenure shape the livelihoods of Maasai pastoralists in southern Kenya.

Main results – Summary

The research suggests that changes in land tenure – notably,  the privatization of title deeds and the commodification of land – shape Maasai livelihoods and can contribute to increase a household`s food security. It suggests furthermore that Maasai actively adapt their livelihood strategies as a result of these changes and use(d) the new land tenure system to develop new livelihood strategies. However, these new or changed livelihood strategies impact Maasai pastoralism both as a production system and as a socio-cultural way of life.

 

Maasai livelihood components

An analysis of current livelihood strategies of Maasai households in the research area revealed that livelihood strategies consist of different combinations of the components livestock keeping, cultivation and off-farm labour. The research shows that Maasai households in Kajiado County rely economically to a large extent on the traditional pastoral production system of livestock keeping, however, their livelihoods are complemented by cultivation and – marginally – off-farm labour. Beyond its economic importance, keeping cattle can furthermore be an important form of social and cultural capital among the Maasai. This eclectic importance induces the investigated households to still rear cattle as a main livelihood component, however, cultivation seems to clearly gain in importance over time.

 Food (in)security of Maasai households

Producing and storing hay for dry seasons as a way to avoid or postpone migration.

Producing and storing hay for dry seasons as a way to avoid or postpone migration.

Cultivation and livestock keeping, currently the two dominating livelihood components, determine a household`s food (in)security substantially, either as a direct source of nutrition or as means to purchase foodstuffs. But both practices rely to a large extent on seasonal rains. The seasonal cycle`s perceived unpredictability and irregularity – aggravated by (perceived) climatic changes -, water and food scarcity, as well as changing food and livestock market prices during dry seasons pose periodical pressures to agro-pastoral Maasai livelihoods and their food security. Accordingly, some Maasai households remain vulnerable to the seasonal cycle and are characterized by cyclical or seasonal food and feed insecurity. However, food and feed (in)security need to be regarded in a wider context of changing land tenure and new land use practices emerging from a privatization of land ownership. Accompanied by the individualization of title deeds in the research area is a rather high land tenure security that  has contributed to increase cultivation and agricultural production of many Maasai households, since cultivation is regarded as a long-term investment in land. Accordingly, most of the households started or intensified cultivation in order to contribute to the household`s food security. It is probably the current combination of cultivation and livestock keeping that has increased the resilience of many investigated households and improved their food security, as Maasai food security depends on both a secure access to agricultural and pastoral resources. In order to overcome seasonal food and feed instability and insecurity during stressful times, Maasai households apply a wide range of mostly drought-reactive and less preventive coping strategies which are partly facilitated and partly constrained by the privatization of land and water resources.

 New forms of grazing arrangements

The research shows that strategic mobility and migration have changed due to the new land tenure system and that migration currently depends on accessing a set of various forms of capital – especially cultural and social capital – in order to access private land of other Maasai. This combination of accesses to different forms of capitals seems rather new and emerged with the changing face of migration after the subdivision, which contributed to generally more sedentary livelihoods and converted migration from a particular socio-cultural way of life into migration as one out of a set of coping strategies a household can draw on in stressful times. Due to the privatization of land and a reduced household mobility, mutual grazing arrangements between neighbouring farms gain in importance for Maasai livelihoods in order to increase feed security for the household`s livestock. The practice of accessing neighbour’s land draws – similarly as migration – especially on a culturally and socially embedded ‘reciprocity’. However, the research shows that furthermore a – partly mutual – dependency of some farms on the neighbour’s resources exist, which contributes to practiced overstocking and overgrazing in the research area. Where customary access practices of (relatively) free cattle mobility and new property claims – as a negotiation between customary land tenure and new freehold – incompatible come together, social interfaces occur, which might only be `avoided´ or solved in practice by a reification of land property claims and rights through fencing.

 Fencing and lands sales as pastoral livelihood constraints and opportunities 

2.Fenced areas can preserve grass for a household`s cattle and allow their nourishment on the own farmlands through - parts of - the dry season.

2. Fenced areas can preserve grass for a household`s cattle and allow their nourishment on the own farmlands through – parts of – the dry season.

Accompanied by the privatization of title deeds is the phenomenon of increased fencing and land sales, which both shape and change the accessibility of land by Maasai pastoralists. While fencing is more the result of a new property regime protecting and reifying individual property rights and claims, land sales, especially to non-Maasai, are more an outcome of the commodification and valorisation of land within a land market that emerged after the subdivision of the group ranch. Both, fencing and land sales can contribute to a permanent loss of (pasture) land, impact current cultural and social norms, practices and habits, and change pastoralism as a production system and as a way of life. But beyond that, land sales and fencing can facilitate new livelihood strategies, provide new investment opportunities (e.g. a perennial access to water through boreholes, irrigation) and create space to re-arrange and develop new drought management strategies.

 New forms of drought management

Analysing drought management strategies at the household level, the research suggests that current drought management

Boreholes can facilitate a safe and perennial access to water. A requirement to increase and intensify cultivation and to decrease migration.

Boreholes can facilitate a safe and perennial access to water. A requirement to increase and intensify cultivation and to decrease migration.

strategies might increasingly be localized and demobilized in the future, caused by both new emerging localized drought management opportunities (e.g. producing and storing hay) and a reduced accessibility of pastures of other Maasai. These localized livelihood and drought management strategies might impact Maasai-specific cultural norms, habits and customary practices. Due to the privatization of land and the accompanied reduced mobility of livestock, the amount of cattle a household can keep is depending on the capacity and the size of the land, which is available or accessible for a household. Temporal or permanent strategies to expand a household`s accessible pasture land (e.g. migration) are progressively under pressure, which will probably decrease the number of cattle a Maasai household will keep in the future. The current economic importance of cattle and an assumed future numeric reduction as well as a decreased accessibility of pastures necessitate Maasai to change current and look for alternative livelihood strategies.

Drilling a borehole - A large-scale investment for Maasai households.

Drilling a borehole – A large-scale investment for Maasai households.

New land transmission practices from a gender perspective

The individualization and privatization of land title deeds included a transition of property regimes from communal to individual land ownership. Individual title deeds in this sense became a new tangible and inheritable asset within Maasai households with new intra-household land transmission, subdivision and inheritance practices. How these practices will be established remains to be seen, but an increased consideration of daughters especially in intra-household land distribution practices seems to take place within some Maasai households. These new practices might impact the current marginalized position of women within many Maasai households and – possibly – Maasai society in the future.

Future livelihood strategies of Maasai

Agricultural and pastoral intensification and extensification as well as generally a livelihood diversification seem to be trends which will further increase in importance for the investigated households. The adaptive capacity, knowledgeability and willingness of Maasai households to further adapt to these changes might become crucial for future livelihoods. New forms of localized and demobilized cattle management, land use intensification strategies through an intensification and extensification of cultivation and agricultural production, livestock intensification and a diversification of production and non-production-related sources of income are ways Maasai might increasingly (have to) approach in the future. However, this does not necessarily mean that livestock production is abandoned completely, but rather that new strategies will expand livestock production and that current livestock keeping practices will change.

Contact: Florian-Neubauer@freenet.de

Changing Importance

Changing ranked relative importance (1 = lowest – 8 = highest) of household assets by Maasai over time (Past: Before the subdivision of the group ranch 25 years ago, Future: in 25 years). N = 13

Changing rated relative importance (0 = low - 100 = high) of the three dominating livelihood components by Maasai over time (Past: Before the subdivision of the group ranch 25 years ago, Future: in 25 years). N = 13

Changing rated relative importance (0 = low – 100 = high) of the three dominating livelihood components by Maasai over time (Past: Before the subdivision of the group ranch 25 years ago, Future: in 25 years). N = 13

Outcome of the seasonal cycle: Dried out dam in the research area.

Outcome of the seasonal cycle: Dried out dam in the research area.

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About foodgovernance

Jessica Duncan is Assistant Professor in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University. Originally from Canada, she lived in France, Spain and the UK before coming to the Netherlands. She holds a PhD in Food Policy from City University London and is the author of the book Global Food Security Governance: Civil society engagement in the reformed Committee on World Food Security (Routledge, 2015, http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781138802520/ ). Her research areas include: food policy; food security; global governance; environmental policy; participation; rural sociology. She is particularly interested in transitions towards environmentally sustainable food security governance.

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