A Maasai child, Kenya. Maasai pastoralists in East Africa increasingly find their traditional herding routes blocked by land investors. Photo: Tim Cronin/CIFOR photo

Herders on the move in African landscapes: lost knowledge, uncertain future

By Barbara Fraser, originally published at Forests News

African herders who have traditionally moved livestock from place to place, following seasonal forage and water supplies, increasingly find their old paths blocked by land speculators and investors, experts say.

In other parts of the world too, similar problems plague indigenous people who practice shifting cultivation in forests, clearing small plots of land to plant crops for several years and then moving to a different area and allowing the forest to take over again.

The languages, traditional knowledge and beliefs of the world’s 370 million indigenous people are invaluable for the sustainable management of natural resources and for food security, Susan Braatz, senior forestry officer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said during a panel discussion at the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum in Lima, Peru.

The forum was organized by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the UN Environment Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Convened on the sidelines of the annual UN climate change conference, the Forum brought together more than 1,700 people from 90 countries including country climate negotiators, ministers, CEOs, indigenous leaders, civil society leaders and researchers.

In Tanzania, Maasai herders or pastoralists have a long tradition of moving from one ecosystem to another, said Edward Porokwa, an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania.

But although at least 10 percent of the country’s population engages in pastoralism, contributing about 13 percent of Tanzania’s GDP, government policy does not support the practice and officials would rather eradicate it, Porokwa added.

Some herders have been moved to ranches, in experiments that largely failed because they have lost access to the variety of ecosystems they have traditionally used, he said.

Pastoralists move their flocks and herds to take advantage of a varied landscape, where salt licks are found in some areas, grass in others and water elsewhere, he said. That mobility keeps the animals allows grazing land to recover and allows domestic animals to share grasslands with wildlife.


Forests count, too. Because wildebeests carry diseases that can infect cattle, the herders move their livestock into forests periodically to avoid infection.

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