Rules of the Range: land rights in pastoral areas

External intervention in pastoral areas of Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia is often directed at rangeland management. It seeks to bring technical improvements to the way in which the rangeland is managed, or it is focussed on conflict resolution, seeking to create structures whereby different communities or ethnic groups can dialogue and build peaceful relations. A new study by the Humanitarian Policy Group suggests that both approaches may have less impact than is hoped.

The study, Rules of the Range, finds that the need for mobility is the crucial link between the technical management of the rangeland and the management of social relations between communities. It is the institutions of land management who are responsible both for maintaining harmony between mobile peoples and for ensuring that this mobility is in keeping with the rational economic management of the rangeland.  These institutions have been undermined over many years. Where Governments do not recognise that land belongs to pastoral communities in the same way that farmland belongs to farmers, these institutions have no authority. The result is unsurprising: degradation in the quality of the range and increasing difficulty in maintaining harmonious relations between population groups.  Land expropriation is even threatening the continued viability of pastoralism in many places.  The study found that even where external interventions were supporting institutions that brought state and customary authorities together for peace-building, the external actors were not appreciating the impact which their work could have for land rights – potentially, positive or negative.

The study, by Sara Pavanello and Simon Levine, argues that much more recognition needs to be given to land rights in pastoral areas, since it is the key to the continued viability of an economic system that contributes millions of dollars to the national economies of both Kenya and Ethiopia.  Support to rangeland management and peace-building would be massively enhanced if they were to start with an engagement with the institutional side of land management.

Read the report Rules of the Range here!

Posted on 7 November 2011 in Pastoralism & Mobility, Pastoralism & Natural Resources