Jun 19, 2012

Maasai: Pastoralists Vulnerable To Climate Change

Over the past years, the Maasai pastoral communities have been facing severe socio-economic crises due to the continuous drought. Although the pastoralists are vulnerable, a gradual change in their lifestyle and an adaptation project could help. 

Below is an article published by The Citizen:

On meeting Ngaiyok Legilisho Kipainoi many of his long-time friends would assume he had been out of his native Mairowa pastoral village for some time and has just returned.

He talks more about the doings of modern societies and every time he moves from one homestead to another everybody can tell his way from the trail of dust that follows his motorcycle.  

In reality Kipainoi, 35, is already in a world away from the destitution and social tension that gripped the north-eastern Tanzania rangelands in 2009 in the wake of a devastating drought. The past three years or so have seen the worst socio-economic crisis in the Maasai pastoral communities in recent history.

The drought has immensely cost the nation in lost productivity, but traditional cattle breeders in this area compute its toll on the decimated herds of livestock.

Available figures show that Longido District in Arusha Region, suffered a loss of at least 120,000 head of cattle, which was slightly over half of its total herd of 200,000.

The drought’s impact on the people’s lives and their livestock is still visible in many villages of Engarenaibor ward even after recent rains brought back a flush of green on the ground.

But the good news is that, together with the improved weather condition, there is a gradual turnaround of the pastoralists’ way of life. While they boast of owning thousands of cattle, only a few dozen have survived and breeders admit, they have now realised that real wealth is not in big herds.

“The days of keeping many heads of cattle for prestige are gone—thanks to the 2009 drought. It has taught us a lesson. A lesson to adapt to climate change,” said Kipainoi.

Indeed the lesson has come home to every pastoralist as they strive for a fresh interaction with the environment. Being able to cope with climate change, however, has not enabled them to escape from poverty.

But in the way Kipainoi assesses his fellow villagers, they are actually “graduating from the culture of keeping livestock for fame to increasing the productivity of their animals in a well-managed manner.”

For many years, the Maasai pastoralists had resisted government pressure and persuasion to destock their herds until the drought opened their eyes to see livestock as a commodity.

“We have started selling our animals and we use the proceeds to build decent homes or pay school fees for our children,” explained Kipainoi, who has a family of two wives and six children. All children are attending primary school.

At the onset of the drought Kipainoi boasted a herd of 480 cattle, but he emerged from the catastrophe with less than half of the stock.

“After the drought we realised that our local Zebu breed can withstand adverse weather conditions and are well adapted to the environment. So, if we are to improve earnings from livestock, without risking another loss to drought, we must practise proper animal husbandry,” Kipainoi emphasised as he stood by his new motorcycle at the construction site of his new home.

Pastoralists are likely to remain vulnerable to climatic shocks if the right strategies and appropriate structures are not put in place to end overexploitation of natural pastures and water resources.

According to Kipainoi, pastoralists in this district have started selective breeding in order to build up a productive stock that is also resilient to climatic changes.

 “This involves selling cattle that are weak and cross-breeding a new stock from animals that display strong characteristics of high productivity and resilience. For example, preferred animals are those that feed selectively on the range, can trek long distances and are resistant to local diseases,” he said.

Ongoing experiments concentrate on cross-breeding exotic races with local Zebu and Borana cattle and popularisation of the Gabra goat breed.

“Our plan is to ensure that calving takes place at the start of the short rainy season when fresh pastures enable cows to yield more milk. In that way calves stay healthy enough to survive their first dry spell and then benefit from the long rains before the long dry season sets in,” Kipainoi explained.

Meanwhile, village elders, locally known as Laigwanani , in Engarenaibor ward have set restrictions on communal grazing areas reserved for a specific time of the year, known as ronjo, said Ngaya Samria, an elder of Sinoniki village.

Samria, who lost 202 heads of cattle to the drought and now remains with 68, said the restrictions for management of pastureland are based on seasons.

 “The elders are responsible for general utilisation of natural resources and serve as the local authority that determines the carrying capacity of range areas,” he said.

According to Samria, the Morani (young Maasai warriors) scout around for suitable rangeland but the final decision on land usage is taken by the elders. Individual households (manyatta) take care of their immediate surroundings where they keep milk cows and goats.

To back up the pastoralists’ efforts, the Arusha-based Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF) has come up with a climate change adaptation project that focuses on the drylands of Longido, Monduli and Ngorongoro districts in Arusha region.

This project is technically supported by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) with a view of improving Tanzania's planning system so that it can adapt to climate change.

Similar projects are under way in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal, said Ced Hesse, IIED researcher on drylands development issues.

“I think the project idea that TNRF and IIED are pursuing is quite good, especially the process they have taken of involving major stakeholders in various steps. It is likely that it will be a success story,” remarked Abdallah Said Shah, Head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Tanzania.

Since development planners usually do not consider climate change, it is important to undertake a mainstreaming process which would ensure that issues related to climate change are taken on board since they affect development programmes, Shah said.

Hesse cautioned that climate change would hit Tanzania’s drylands earlier and harder than other regions of the country because of a historical legacy of limited and inappropriate development in those areas.

“Dryland communities who have experienced severe droughts for hundreds of years have important strategies and institutions for adapting to climate change. They can, therefore, teach us something about adaptation,” Hesse noted.

In his view, the problem is that the ability of local people to adapt to climate change has been eroded, not because their strategies are not good, but because modern laws and policies have ignored traditional knowledge and institutions.

“This has left local people more vulnerable to climate change,” said Hesse, noting as another problem, the lack of complimentary effect between traditional and formal government planning systems.

It is for this reason the IIED project seeks to improve the planning process, partly in view of the 2009 drought. 
“But it has a broader and longer-term perspective to strengthen the capacity of local governments in their planning systems so that they can better adapt to climate change that will result in more severe and more frequent droughts and floods  in the future,” Hesse added.

Carol Sorensen, TNRF coordinator, said villagers in drylands have realised that land use planning had either not been done or not been enforced.

“They have discovered that water and rangelands should be better managed if they want to live off their herds. They have discovered that land is limited, and that crops and settlements need to be controlled and situated in the areas most suitable for these activities,” added Sorensen, a community-based natural resource management expert.

Rangelands management systems have largely not been well understood by policy makers and politicians. And, according to experts in the field, this situation pertains not only in Tanzania but nearly everywhere pastoralists operate.

As Sorensen observed: “Traditionally, pastoralists do not kill or eat wildlife, believing that wildlife are one of God's signs that there is peace and plenty in the land, and that to harm these animals will bring disaster.”

Therefore, pastoralists should be legally guaranteed access to land and water in clearly demarcated areas since they too have wildlife interests at heart for the benefit of tourism, she said.

Alais Morindat, IIED consultant on the project on mainstreaming climate change adaptation in drylands development planning in Tanzania, said the project was aimed at designing a longer-term action-research programme that will test approaches and mechanisms to mainstream climate change adaptation into pastoralists development planning.  

He said this preparatory phase is being implemented in partnership with the local government authorities of Monduli, Longido and Ngorongoro Districts, relevant national institutions such as the Tanzania Meteorological Agency, the Vice-President’s Office responsible for climate change, customary leaders and civil society organisations.

Over 6000 thousands pastoralists were affected by the drought in the six districts.

Mr Morindat said the 2009 drought has changed the pastoralists’ perception and way of life. 
“It has also forced or rather challenged them re-think about their future and a need of  for them re think about their future and a need for them to adopt scenarios planing.That is to say they have to plan for when the rains are good and at the same time plan for a situation when the rains are bad or poor", he said.