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,Tanzania ,Socio-economic transformation hurt Maasai

Socio-economic transformation hurt Maasai

By Aloyce Menda

The indigenous Maasai pastoralists are changing culture and hence their life styles due to ecological and economic pressure. The pressure emanates from causes that are beyond the control of the state or the Maasai themselves.

The free land traditionally perceived by pastoralists Maasai as their formal grazing land is diminishing rapidly hence denying them a base for their pastoral economy. As a result, many Maasai are involuntarily changing their life styles to become livestock farmers or engage in activities, which are do not match with Maasai cultural ethnicity.

Under the auspices of the Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA), two scholars have accomplished a comprehensive research on the changing livelihoods in the Maasai plains aimed at probing its implications on poverty vis a vis natural resources depletion. The main objective was to examine poverty-livelihood strategies versus environment synergy and examine their implications on natural resources management, says a final report of the research.

Titled; The Changing Livelihoods in the Maasai Plains Implications on Poverty Levels and Sustainability of Natural Resource Base, the research findings were presented recently during the 10th REPOAs annual workshop held in Dar es Salaam, from April 07 to 08 this year. Professor Pius Yanda and Dr. Christopher William conducted the research in Maasai plains of Simanjiro District in Manyara region of Tanzania. The researchers established that apart from the indigenous Maasai other minorities found in the study area are immigrants. They originate from Meru, Chagga, Rangi, Nyaturu, Hehe, Nyiramba and Sambaa tribal lands.

Respondents among the immigrants said they came into the area in search for arable land for crop cultivation, green pasture free from animal diseases, business opportunities, mineral resources or joining relatives.

Immigration started as early as 1934 in the Landanai village, according to respondents. More immigrants came to Orkutu and Kitwai villages in 1958 and 1971 respectively. Immigration peaked between early 1980s to late 1990s due to discovery of mineral deposits in the villages and the nearby Mererani. The Tanzanite mines in Mererani area became a market center for various items from the villages particularly charcoal from Orkutu.

The researchers established that the settled immigrants in the Maasai plains started small-scale farming and livestock keeping. As they do so they acquired land and monopolized it as a permanent private property contrary to the Maasai customs, which regarded it as a free grazing plains.

The immigrants also depleted forest resources by cutting trees for charcoal and firewood. Poor agricultural methods increased land infertility and soil erosion. These and other factors intensified pressure on Maasai culture due to pasture scarcity. In response to changing socio-economic and environmental impulses, the Maasai diversified their economic activities over time, noted the researchers.

Where as the diversification befitted some few individuals, the majority are still poor, summarized the researchers. Apart from policy changes, which permitted land allocation to a few large-scale farmers, small-scale farmers and ecological changes are disturbing the pastoral economy, they conclude.

The researchers recommended several strategies to alleviate poverty amid the Maasai pastoralists affected by these socio-economic changes. To improve living standards and hence reduce income poverty, the small village credit schemes called VICOBA (Village Community Banks) should be enhanced. VICOBA can help the wealth Maasai involved in small businesses and mining. Those involved in livestock keeping can purchase improved breeds and improve their feeding and treatment by loans from the banks.

Improved goat keeping is highly recommended to meet the growing demand as buyers are said to come from as far as Mauritius and Seychelles. The logic of goat raising is indisputable considering the increasingly constricted options in the semi-arid regions. Both agro-pastoralists and pastoralists by investing in goats are likely to respond to future risks in traditional production systems, shrinkage of pasturage and lack of control over grazing resources, recommends the researchers.

To reduce non-income poverty, the researchers recommend increased efforts on water supply and accessibility. This would have multipliers effects in relations to healthy livestock, for improved milk production and higher market prices. Villagers could start horticultural gardens and spend more time in production instead of searching water. Rainwater harvesting is viable and hence recommended by the researchers.

During the two-day annual REPOA workshop of April 07 to 08 this year, 34 accomplished and progressive researches were discussed by various scholars. Among these 14 were tabled in the group of researchers on Resource Management, 10 were discussed in the Socio-Political group and another 10 were scrutinized by researchers in the Economic and Management group.

This research on the changing livelihoods in the Maasai plains was presented and discussed in the Resource Management group.


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