As stewards of their land, indigenous peoples in Northern Kenya have governed natural resources sustainably for generations in ways that are compatible with their food systems, cultures and social organizations. Pastoral systems have lied a significant role in sustaining bio-cultural diversity, national heritage and contributing to the national economy. However, pastoralists customary rights to land and natural resources are being threatened by mega-infrastructure projects, large scale investments in land and natural resources, and expanding conservation areas. Pastoralists livelihoods are also increasingly vulnerable to environmental changes associated with climate change, risk and hazards.
In recent years, landscapes historically used and managed by pastoralists have come under unprecedented external pressures that are seriously affecting pastoralists ‘unique rights as indigenous peoples and, by extension, their food and livelihood sovereignty. New pressures on land and resources, coupled with lasting marginalization rooted in colonial rule, have rendered pastoralism less resilient and highly susceptible to climate change related shocks. The strategic transboundary movement of herders is essential to the resiliency of pastoralism; yet national plans for industrial development, large-scale investments in rangelands, the expansion of biodiversity conservation areas, and escalating territorial disputes place new restrictions on pastoralists’ movements. This, in turn, threatens the viability of pastoralist livelihoods and undermines the economic security, socio-cultural cohesion and human dignity of pastoralist communities.
Further linked to the loss of land and natural resources is the weakening of customary institutions. Within pastoralist communities, customary institutions support traditional livelihood practices by ensuring that traditional knowledge, cultural and spiritual practices and social traditions are passed on to future generations. Through intergenerational knowledge exchange, customary institutions assist pastoralist communities in maximising resiliency in their livelihoods and livestock production. Customary institutions also play a key role in controlling access to land and natural resources and ensuring the sustainable use and management of rangelands and natural resources. Problematically, customary institutions have been negatively impacted by recent changes in pastoralists’ landscapes, as traditional ways of managing rangelands increasingly come into conflict with new land users and land uses.
Pastoralist CSOs are working to protect pastoralists’ unique rights as indigenous peoples and to address the structural inequalities that work to the disadvantage of pastoralist communities. However, their important efforts aretoo often undermined by limited funding, coupled with poor coordination between organizations and limited capital and capacity within organizations. Yet these CSOs are self-determined, persistent, resilient and endowed with considerable influence and legitimacy in the communities they respectively support. They also possess unparalleled understanding of pastoralist economies, ecologies and socio-cultural contexts. If these organisations are able to organize, coordinate and collaborate, many of the challenges facing pastoralists can be more effectively addressed.