Amboseli ecosystem is typical of the dry range-lands inhabited by Maasai pastoralist and rich wildlife herds. Like range-lands throughout Kenya, Amboseli has seen many changes to the land and in the lives of the Maasai over the last fifty years. Families with their livestock moved with the seasons, following the wildlife herds on migrations across open lands. Few children went to school and most families lived off their herds and never visited a town. The land was more wooded, with scattered swamps that saw livestock and wildlife through the worst droughts. Today most children go to school, families have settled in villages, many have taken up farming and new lives and livelihoods no longer dependent on their herds. Much of the woodlands and swamps have been converted to farms, and livestock and wildlife herds have become more restricted in their movements. As a result, the pressure on the land has increased and livestock and wildlife herds have fallen and face more frequent droughts.The Amboseli Conservation Program has documented these many changes since the 1960s. But how do the Maasai see the changes? What do they think caused the changes? How are they affected by them, and what can they do to ensure they are in control of the changes? These are some of the questions ACP has asked me to look into as a field researcher and in the course of my M. Sc. thesis.
The field study took three weeks in January and February, assisted by David Maitumo and ACC Resource Assessors Paul Kasaine, Samuel Lekanaya, and George Sunte. We conducted questionnaire surveys with many individuals and held group discussions with informants in several locations around Amboseli, some on lands subdivided and privatized (Kimana), some in areas where herders still moved seasonally (Eselengei), and some in areas where pastoralists have settled semi-permanently but still move from time to time (Olgulului). The two approaches to gathering views of change helped us cross-check observations and assess differences in views. We also asked respondents to map resource patches in the ecosystem, assess their value, judge their status and give their views on changes over the last forty years: before the park was established; post-park; as a result of land subdivision and settlement, and following the harsh drought of 2009.
We experienced a number of challenges, including drought, which made it hard to locate herders who had moved, others too busy or stressed to spend time on interviews, and yet others reluctance to participate because they had received no feedback from previous researchers who interviewed them. Despite the problems, we sampled 336 individuals out of the 364 we hoped for. Even before analyzing the results, it is clear that the biggest changes seen by the Maasai include decreased dry season grazing areas, reduced household livestock holdings and more frequent droughts. For many the greatest concerns are loss of land productivity, poor governance over the range resources, lack of proper land use plans and loss of traditional institutions. These changes have decreased the viability of pastoralism.
The results of the study should be complete in three months and will be used in conducting surveys in Kenya and Tanzania on environmental vulnerability of pastoralists, a study ACC is undertaking on behalf of the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation.
Report by: Sakimba Kimiti, Research Assistant