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Securing rights in communally managed rangelands

In the rangelands of East Africa, competition for land is increasing (© WRENmedia)
In the rangelands of East Africa, competition for land is increasing
© WRENmedia

In the rangelands of East Africa, competition for land is increasing, with fences erected to demarcate land for oil exploration, conservation and individual use. Much land use planning takes place without the involvement of local communities, and is done at a scale that suits the processes of government but ignores the needs of local land users. The biggest losers have been those who manage the land communally, whose rights to the rangeland resources are generally weaker than those with individual ownership.

So, how best to secure rights to the rangelands for local land users? In Kenya and Tanzania, various approaches are being tried, including the strengthening of group ownership through large scale partnerships, reestablishment of customary land management systems, and the development of village land use planning systems. Learning about how these different systems are working in practice, and what lessons they offer to rangeland users in other regions and countries, was the purpose behind a 13 day learning journey, organised in February 2012 by the Land Learning Initiative (LLI). Twenty two participants from nine countries travelled together between Nairobi and Arusha, visiting rangeland communities and organisations working on their behalf.

In the Naibunga Conservancy income generated has improved livelihoods and strengthened rights to resources (© Pius Sawa)
In the Naibunga Conservancy income generated has improved livelihoods and strengthened rights to resources
© Pius Sawa

The power of partnership

In Kenya, the group ranch system of land ownership was introduced by the government in the early 1970s. While the system does secure shared land ownership for group members, who have the right to graze livestock within the ranch boundary, the system has also created unhelpful restrictions on animal movements. In Laikipia, central Kenya - first stop on the learning route - the Naibunga Conservancy, established in 2003, has been formed by combining the land of nine group ranches. Around 12,000 people live in the area, mostly from the Maasai community.

Taking down the fences between the ranches, as pressed for by the Conservancy, has created much greater freedom of movement for livestock and wildlife. This has led to wildlife numbers increasing, and subsequent leasing of land within the Conservancy for tourism, including the building of tourist lodges, both by tour operators and by community members. Income generated for the community has both improved livelihoods and strengthened their rights to their resources. Sudanese participant, Galal Eldin Ali, was impressed by 'the communality of the whole project': people coming together and feeling that they have joint objectives and they can tackle jointly the encountered problems. Also the participation of women - "I think they have a real chance to prove themselves and to be equals to males," he said.

Olkiramatian group ranch has preserved its members' access to their jointly owned resources (© Fiona Flintan)
Olkiramatian group ranch has preserved its members' access to their jointly owned resources
© Fiona Flintan

In other parts of Kenya, there has been a strong trend for group ranches to sub-divide their land between their members, promoting the model of individual land ownership. Olkiramatian, a 8.900 hectare group ranch in Kajiado to the south of Nairobi, has set up a land management system that allows its members to diversify and strengthen their livelihoods without sub-division of the land. Each member is allocated an 3-4 hectare piece of land for agriculture, in an area of the ranch that benefits from a good water supply. About a third of the group ranch land has also been allocated to conservation, enabling community members to benefit from tourism projects, including a community-owned lodge. Through clear management decisions, the group ranch has preserved its members' access to their jointly owned resources, and fought off the pressure for sub-division from a large number of speculators keen to exploit the land.

Strengthening traditional systems

In Garba Tula land is held in trust for the community by the County Council (© Fiona Flintan)
In Garba Tula land is held in trust for the community by the County Council
© Fiona Flintan

The land tenure system the group saw in Garba Tula district, in northern Kenya, follows an earlier model introduced during the colonial period. Here the land is held in trust for the community by the County Council, and its management is determined by the community as a whole, led by a council of elders. Although weakened in the past, these customary processes are now being strengthened by the community, and adapted to fit with the new Kenyan constitution. This includes the creation of by-laws to formalise the management system. Indian participant, Aman Singh, was impressed with how the system is working. "We did not see much degradation, and how they manage the water, the forest, the rangeland and the migration pattern is very much suited and very sustainable from the ecology and biodiversity point of view."

The fourth and final location on the learning journey gave the participants a chance to learn about Tanzania's government-led village land use planning system. Tanzania has one of the most progressive sets of policies and legislation for securing rights to common property. In the north of the country, the Terrat village community has been supported by the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) to adopt the government's scheme by developing a village land use plan. UCRT has brought the community together, helped them to zone their land for different purposes, draw up a land use map which, following community approval, can be recognised by government, and created governance structures to further secure their rights to the land. This model enables the village to determine land use on a much larger area than under an individual ownership system, which ensures the vital mobility of livestock.

UCRT has helped the community to zone their land for different purposes (© Pius Sawa)
UCRT has helped the community to zone their land for different purposes
© Pius Sawa

Neeta Pandya of the Maldhari Rural Action Group commented on the UCRT's approach; "Their method to involve the people is very interesting because they are using the governance structure as well as their customary leadership, and also the people from the non-government organisations. It seems very systematic, involving people at various levels."

According to Fiona Flintan, who planned the learning route on behalf of a group partners*, rangelands are a complex environment, and controlling access to resources demands a sophisticated approach, potentially operating at several levels. Landscape scale institutions may be needed to govern movement of livestock across very wide areas, and beneath this, lower level management systems may govern the access of groups to their own particular resources.

The learning route gave participants the chance to see some of these varying levels of management. It also demonstrated, suggests Flintan, that any system of tenure or management depends on having very clear structures, roles and responsibilities and effective systems of enforcement. Strong, transparent and accountable leadership is vital, but should be balanced by community involvement in decision-making processes.

*Partners included International Land Coalition (ILC), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Union for Conservation of Nature - The World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism (IUCN-WISP), Resource Conflict Institute (RECONCILE) and Procasur.

Date published: August 2012

 

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