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Evolving Customary Institutions in the Drylands An opportunity for devolved natural resource governance in Kenya?

Evolving Customary Institutions in the Drylands Evolving Customary Institutions in the Drylands

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Written by Daoud Tari and James Pattison

It is useful at the outset to define two important terms which are used throughout the paper-‘natural resources’, and ‘natural resource governance’:

‘Natural resources’ – is used for simplicity although it is acknowledged that in the case of land which has been managed by pastoralists for many centuries, this cannot be considered a purely ‘natural’ resource. Referring to it as such devalues the careful stewardship of rangeland environments by pastoralists. This is an important distinction, particularly in the context of land- use debates where the value added by pastoralism as a land-use system (in terms of tourism, ecosystem services, and conservation) is often ignored.

‘Natural Resource Governance’ – this definition will be used throughout the paper: ‘the norms, institutions and processes that determine how and by whom decisions pertaining to natural resources are made, and how power and influence is exercised in the implementation of those decisions’.

In order to ground the discussion of CNRMIs, the remainder of this introductory chapter summarises the role of communal land tenure in facilitating a pastoral livelihood and some of the misconceptions associated with it.

Traditionally pastoral land belongs to a group that is linked by decent or cultural affiliation. However, the land is not regarded as private property and those currently controlling access do not have unlimited rights to exploit or exclude others from the land. Key pastoral resources such as water and pastures are available to all pastoralists depending on prevailing conditions. The principle of reciprocity is based on the idea that resource access is something to be negotiated and is part of an on-going mutually beneficial relationship.

Traditional laws protecting the future productive capacity of the land are common to many different pastoral groups. Tree cutting, tree pod harvesting and grazing controls are just a few of the activities governed by CNRMIs. As well as environmental protection, CNRMIs enforce and negotiate dynamic and overlapping user rights which enables herd mobility across vast landscapes. In policy documents and in the literature there is a long running confusion concerning the use of ‘open-access resources’ as a synonym for ‘communal resources’ (or similar terms).

In reality these forms of land tenure could not be more different. Open-access resources are not subject to access restrictions or differentiated user rights, whereas communal resources are tightly controlled during critical periods by overlapping, dynamic and differentiated user rights governed by CNRMIs. Birgegard (1994) argues that tenure is a social institution, a relationship between individuals and groups consisting of a series of rights and duties concerning the use of land. In this sense, tenure institutions (such as CNRMIs) touch all aspects of life through their role in supporting household production (and survival in extreme years), political power and cultural expression. Therefore in addition to changing the way that people use land as a productive asset, enforced changes in land tenure can also have profound social and cultural impacts.

Today pastoral land tenure remains poorly understood and respected by African Governments and Western donors. This has resulted in land policies that have undermined the pastoral production system. Communal land tenure enables mobility because it provides an overarching institutional framework within which user rights are dynamic and can be renegotiated based on changing environmental conditions. In the case of the Boran, Jarsa Dedha (the Dedha council of elders) is a key CNRMI. The Dedha council enforce laws and provisions (or Seere ) which are governed by the Gada council (the supreme Boran governance structure).

Livestock mobility allows pastoralists to capitalise on transient and scattered patches of pasture at peak nutritive value. 4 A skilled herder maximises the time that a herd is grazing on the best quality pasture by utilising a deep knowledge of the local environment and by managing herd mobility within the limits set out by the Dedha . One of the main management objectives of Dedha is to ensure that standing forage is preserved for the dry season near to permanent sources of water-grazing is therefore restricted in these areas during periods when alternative grazing resources are available.

Forms of land tenure that restrict herd movements reduce pastoral productivity and increase the risk of livestock death during droughts. An important aspect of Dedha’s management of communal resources is negotiation of reciprocal use agreements between neighbouring pastoral groups. These agreements are essential in environments with highly variable rainfall because increasing the spatial scale of utilisation reduces variability which, in turn, maximises access to nutritious grasses. Maintaining communal tenure under the control of Dedhas is therefore essential to support climate resilient livelihoods and reduce conflict associated with competing claims over resources.

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  • Publisher:
    IIED and Adaptation Consortium
  • Published:
    2014
  • Language:
    English