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Working Paper 63:The Evolution of Collective Land Access Regimes in Pastoralist Societies: Lessons from East African Countries

Executive Summary

A large majority of land held under collective tenure regimes in East Africa is located in areas characterised by arid and semi-arid conditions such as high temperatures and low rainfall. These lands occupy vast territories and are mainly inhabited by pastoral communities who practise extensive livestock production systems that are well-suited to these conditions.Collective land tenure systems not only facilitate this type of livestock keeping, they also play a key role in determining the social, economic and political status of pastoral communities.

This study examines the evolution of collective land tenure regimes in East Africa including how they affect pastoral communities living on these lands. Specifically, we attempt to identify the drivers and impacts ofchanges in collective land access since the 1900s. We begin by synthesising regional evidence onEast Africa’s pastoral communities before examining changes in collective land tenure regimes in Kenya using existing literature, secondary data, and primary data collected in nine communities. In order to isolate the drivers and consequences of change, we focus on three types of collective land tenure regimes, namely un-adjudicated communal lands and two types of group ranches - those that are intact and those that have been subdivided. We then present data collected from three communities operating each land tenure regime so as to provide representative evidence of the Kenyan case.

Based on this evidence, we analyse the changes in these land tenure regimes across four periods from the colonial era to post-independence, through the structural adjustment period to present day, and provide a discussion around the drivers and effects on pastoral communities and their livelihoods. We develop five hypotheses about the key drivers of change in collective land access regimes relating to social, economic, demographic, urbanisation and market conditions.Following the works of Collier (2011), Benett (2010) and van Evra (1997), we use the theory testing process tracing method to test these hypotheses using data collected on in nine Kenyan communities and evaluate whether these cases provide sufficient evidence to affirm or reject these hypotheses.

We find that land individualisation and privatisation policies implemented during the colonial period and maintained by post-independence governments have not yielded the desired outcomes, especially in areas where land is accessed collectively. These policies aimed to transform the livelihoods of pastoral communities, limit livestock numbers, improve breeds and, ultimately, bring an end tothe migratory nature of extensive livestock production. However, these policies failed because, on the one hand, the government perceived the pastoralists’ extensive livestock production systems as retrogressive and as such aimed to modernise them through individualising and privatising land tenure, which it was believed would increase productivity and profitability. On the other hand, communities wanted to secure their rights to ancestral grazing lands and prevent their land from being claimed by outsiders, hence the move by the government was seen as violating thei rtraditions and way of life and as increasing competition for their land. We also find that un-adjudicated communal land mainly faced challenges associated with common pool resources, such as overuse, while group ranches suffered primarily from mismanagement.

Our analysis shows a growing trend towards individualisation of land in pastoral areas triggered by a combination of factors including the potential for change in land use, proximity to urban cities and large-scale infrastructural developments, and the nature of community mechanisms for accessing collectively owned land and other resources. Where prospects for changing land use emerged due to proximity to urban areas or potential for crop agriculture, and land was not equitably accessed among community members, the land was more likely to be individualised. We also find that demographic change and access to markets on their own do not explain the changes observed in collective land access regimes. The evidence also shows that changes in collective land access regimes created winners and losers. The winners were individuals outside pastoral communities who were able to purchase prime land i.e. located near urban cities or arable, and the local elite including wealthy and connected pastoral households who acquired larger parcels of land and land in favourable locations resulting from the subdivision of group ranches. Losers were less wealthy pastoral households which included widows who were given small parcels of land and land in drier locations after subdivision, and descendants of pastoral households who sold off their land or who lost grazing land and were unable to find alternative sources of income. In addition, where collective land was individualised,extensive grazing areas were lost and this has created pressure on public land, mainly natural reserves, game parks and forests. This has exacerbated human wildlife conflict and hindered environmental conservation efforts.

Based on this analysis, we argue in favour of the maintenance of collective access to land especially in pastoral areas where extensive livestock production systems provide key economic and social benefits. As such, it is recommended that customary laws be included in legal frameworks. We expect that this will enable communities to enforce customary laws that will protect and improve management of their land. In addition, we recommend higher investments in the provision of public goods, such as schools, infrastructure, livestock markets, and veterinary services in pastoral areas to bridge the social gaps with other communities and strengthen the transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness of community governance mechanisms.


 The Evolution of Collective Land Access Regimes in Pastoralist Societies: Lessons from East African Countries





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