Staying Maasai?

14 May 2009

The Maasai

Staying Maasai? Livelihoods, Conservation and Development in East African Rangelands (Springer 2009), a book co-edited by Professor Katherine Homewood (UCL Anthropology), brings together thirty years of research on East Africa’s iconic Maasai people. The contributing authors present arguments for significant changes in the region’s policies affecting Maasailand – the Maasai heartland straddling the Kenya–Tanzania border – and its communities.

Every year, over a million people visit the national parks and game reserves in East Africa, generating up to nearly US$2 billion a year in revenue. The most famous of these parts are in Maasailand, which supports the most diverse concentrations of big mammals left on earth.

Often overlooked is the abundance of wildlife, the livestock and pastoral peoples on grasslands adjacent to the parks and reserves — and the ways these pastoral herders and their animals contribute to the balance of these wildlife-rich savannah ecosystems.

Child of the Maasai community

The book examines the livelihood of semi-nomadic herders and land-use strategies in detail. In an integrated research effort that involved researchers, local communities and policy analysts, surveys were carried out across a wide range of Maasai communities. The aim of inter-disciplinary work was to create a better understanding of current livelihood patterns and the decisions facing Maasai at the start of the twenty-first century in the context of ongoing environmental, political, and societal change.  

The book’s authors encourage decision-makers to look to the Maasai peoples themselves for sustainable solutions to conserving both wildlife and pastoral lifestyles, noting that contrary to conventional wisdom, few Maasai families are yet benefiting significantly from wildlife tourism. The contributors argue that a fresh look at land, pastoral and conservation policies is urgently needed to ensure the survival of this community and its wildlife-rich pastoral lands in Kenya and Tanzania.

This innovative, multi-site comparative study gives valuable lessons of broader applicability. It highlights the continuing importance of livestock in household economies, and of the barriers to conservation-based income.

Images show the activities of the Maasai community