BELOW LEFT Maasai gathering at a manyatta (homestead) for a community meeting regarding the infringement of agricultural activity on their grazing lands. BOTTOM LEFT Kenya Forest Service rangers overlooking their protected area in Dol Dol, Laikipia North. BOTTOM RIGHT Maasai community members in Kimana, Kajiado South.
Partnerships between communities and ecologists are key to maintaining and conserving such ecosystems.
the influx of cash, and the popularity of cultivation all contribute to the erosion of traditional systems. Furthermore, herders generally have little influence on policy decisions regarding land use. In the face of climatic changes like fluctuating rainfall cycles, herders’ decision-making capacity is further limited.
“Progressive changes and approaches relating to pastoral issues were often mediated by foreign NGOs,” said Stronach. “The truth is that traditional herders and ecologists often think the same way in terms of grazing pressures and rangeland management. The people who don’t understand are politicians and agenda-driven conservancies.”
Partnerships between communities and ecologists are key to maintaining and conserving such ecosystems. “All too often, people consider interactions between pastoralism and wildlife as separate issues.
But the truth is that keeping them going together will be doubly strong,” said Stronach. Indigenous pastoralism, tourism, and the wildlife industry cannot exist independently.
Bridging the knowledge gap between herders and empirical science has only recently been recognised as an important objective. The advantages of reciprocal learning and understanding conflicts from different perspectives is key to unlocking fraught conservation issues.
Hussein Wario, the Executive Director at the Center for Research and Development in Drylands (CRDD) based in northern Kenya, places his trust in the facilitation of cultural exchange. As the intrinsic value of traditional herding knowledge finally dawns on the research community, giving back to local communities must be prioritized in the pursuit of boosting biodiversity. After all, conservation does not exist in a vacuum. Wario explained how a major barrier that ecologists face is rooted in the Kenyan educational system. “From a young age, we are taught production systems for chickens and pigs, but not cattle, critical subsistence livestock for our country. This orients individuals in a way of thinking that our family or culture is not important, that it has no place within the greater ecosystem.” This kind of mental exclusion permeates the minds of future policymakers. “This trickle-down developmental approach, seeing drylands as not important (and focusing solely on highlands), is a vestige of colonial times. For
22 | APRIL - JUNE 2022