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Processes and impacts of rangeland fragmentation on group rights

Many parts of the rangeland in the Horn and East Africa have been highly fragmented, putting the pastoral systems in these areas at risk of complete collapse. The pastoralist production system suffers as it is dependent on having access to communally held seasonal grazing areas and water sources, and when migration routes to grazing and water get blocked, pastoralist production becomes impossible on the remaining areas of the rangeland.

The root causes and processes of land fragmentation vary, but some common themes exist:

i) Lack of support for pastoralism and inappropriate land use planning.

There is a general lack of support for pastoralism as the most appropriate land use system for the majority of dryland areas and a general misunderstanding of the interconnectedness of pastoralism, where the different parts of the pastoral system (social and ecological) are highly interlinked. Inappropriate development and land use planning systems fail to accommodate for this. Planning and tenure (where it exists) focus on small administrative units and individual resources. This threatens the health of the rangeland and its ability to support pastoral systems.

ii) Conversion for agriculture

Of increasing concern is the trend of leasing large tracts of land in pastoral areas for commercial investment (both foreign and national). In Kenya the Tana Delta is a primary target for this investment and the planned LAPSET (Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport) Corridor across northern Kenya will open up pastoral areas to (both positive and negative) interventions. In Ethiopia in 2009 the government launched an investment plan to provide 3.7 million hectares of land for agricultural development. To date around 1.3 million hectares have been designated—the majority of which is found along the major rivers in pastoral areas. Taking land from along rivers prevents the access of pastoralists to vital dry season grazing areas.

iii) Conversion for ranching and individual landholdings

Ranching has been introduced to many countries in East Africa. In Uganda for example, the Ankole rangelands form part of the western section of Uganda’s cattle corridor. Over a period of fifteen years 50 ranches of around 1,200 hectares (12 sq km) each were established, with many given to absentee landlords. The large numbers of pastoralists who were displaced were forced into a protracted migration across southern and central Uganda as they tried to access grazing in protected areas and remaining common property areas. Across Kenya settlement has been encouraged in pastoral areas, and some districts—such as Machakos¬—are now totally converted to agriculture. The northern rangelands have been carved up into individual commercial ranches and farms. In Laikipia 48 individuals control 40.3% of the land (937,583 hectares) as commercial ranches or conservancies (the latter with an area dedicated to wildlife conservation). Many are held without clear legal title. In addition there are 23 large-scale farms covering 1.48% of Laikipia. The farms are fenced off and rarely provide livestock corridors for pastoralists. 27.21% of the land is under small-holder agriculture. Most pastoralists are limited to 13 group ranches in the drier northern parts covering 7.45% of the district (Letai 2011). Corruption and bias in land allocations in Kenya has contributed to the displacement of the poorest in particular, and the marginalisation of women (Mwangi 2007).

Additional causes of rangeland fragmentation include: mineral exploitation, the invasion of alien plants such as Prosopis juliflora, conflict and the establishment of protected areas.

Impacts of rangeland fragmentation

Rangeland fragmentation is one of the key reasons why the ability of pastoralists to overcome drought has been severely reduced. With less grazing land available, the poorest pastoralists in particular are unable to retain herds of a sufficient size to survive protracted dry periods. As resources become scarcer, remaining patches are ‘privatised’ by more powerful community members—keen to maintain their own access to them. Such individualistic attitudes are new, and disadvantage the poorest even further by affecting the traditional customary safety nets and livestock redistribution practices that used to support them. Now neither the government nor customary governance systems are effectively protecting resource access for the poorest. As a result new vulnerable groups are emerging in pastoralist communities across the region. These include: asset-poor households; small stockowners; families with few or no working members who are unable to access distant resources including water; widows; aged persons; and households with limited access to social networks. Pastoral resources outside the control of development schemes are now gradually coming under the possession of urban-based traders and herd owners, who exploit the uncertainty surrounding pastoral land rights.

Women and men experience these changes differently. When land tenure is formalised women have not automatically benefited and in some cases have lost out. Weak customary systems no longer protect them. Women are often left as ‘de facto’ heads of their households but without the decision making power or a public voice in community discussions. However it seems that women are better able to make the most of new and opening opportunities and in particular for business development, working well as a group. Though workloads have increased, many women are happy to have a more independent income. However those women who have had less exposure to alternative lifestyles can feel highly insecure about the future.

Recommendations

In order to better secure rights for rangeland users the causes, trends and impacts of rangeland fragmentation need to be better understood. Development and land use planning need to occur at a scale and in a manner that is appropriate to pastoral production systems (usually as a landscape or rangeland), building on pastoral knowledge and tried and tested systems. Land and resources require protection such as (serviced) migration routes for pastoralists. The most appropriate land tenure system for a given context needs to be identified and developed with rangeland users: in particular it should protect the poorer less powerful groups in society. A system of ‘nested governance institutions’ have been identified as the most appropriate.  In some cases rights exist yet pastoralists do not know about them: as such, awareness and understanding needs to be improved. Investments need to be made in secure cross-border movement and regional pastoral development.

These issues are discussed in more detail in the full research report, which can be found on the land portal: “Broken Lands, Broken Lives?”

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