Living on the Ledge: Pastoralism and the Conservation Dilemma

Have you ever thought of life as futile, meaningless, vain? Well, that makes two of us at least. When you wake up in the morning and have to convince yourself that, “I have to live this day because…” Then you pick up your bag and off you go to work. Well conservation work feels that way some time, where you have to aggregate different actions in order to make sense, integration by parts (literally).

In Africa today, many will wake up having slept hungry while others will not give a hoot about having sausage and bacon for breakfast a second day. These disparities exist throughout society but it is extremely ferocious when you come face to face with its reality. I for one have been brought up in a modest family where we had enough, and a bit to share. For all I care, I desire to get a better life for my family than I ever did, and that wakes me to go to work. However, at what expense?

Land today has become an instrument of speculation in Kenya and I wouldn’t need to talk about it if it is such a trivial matter. No matter the people’s tribe, age, status, orientation, you name it; they have glorified land, with good reasons, as a worthy investment. It wouldn’t be so gory if we didn’t talk about the inequity, unfairness and irrationality that innately exist. For instance, it is not unusual that the rich control most of the land resources, usually more than they will ever need, while a majority remains squatters in their lands.

Of most concern to me is the rate at which rangelands are being sold off and fragmented into pieces that are uneconomically viable. Rangeland by textbook definition is best suited for pastoralism, wildlife, animal production, recreation and tourism. On the contrary, these lands are being bought off by large scale investment groups primarily interested in making money out of the land deals. For example Kajiado, south of Kenya, several of the Maasai group ranches have been bought off, subdivided and sold. The second rated buyers are lured into buying pieces as small as one eight of an acre (being what they can practically afford) but the big benefactors are the middle men, who have not connection whatsoever to the land save for the money it makes. These lands are fences with disregards to whether they exist on wildlife corridors or whether they are viable for any kind of economic use. Next, they buyer now has the “tough task” of speculation, that over time its value will appreciate and will sell it for a profit. The cycle continues. Money seems to be the motivating factor behind these transactions. We all want to get rich or die trying but where does it end?

The result of this is that a lot of land is not being put to any economic use, but simply being used as financial gain tools.

Pastoralism has evolved over time alongside rangelands. It is arguably the best use of rangelands given its adaptive nature that emulates the erratic climatic and rainfall variation over time and space. These lands have also been colossally instrumental in supporting pastoral livelihoods by attracting income from livestock rearing and tourism for many centuries. The allure of quick money from land sales is going to infinitely reduce the potential of rangelands to support pastoralism and related livelihoods. An abject trade of Riches for Poverty.

This is why sometimes when I wake up, I wonder if I am going to make a change. A change in the hearts of men, women and children. A change that will stop the changes we are experiencing. But the greatest of change still lies within the hearts of those, Living on the Ledge!

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