Pastoralism is the dominant economy in the drylands of Kenya and Tanzania but practical measures to support pastoral systems are lacking at the local level. A lack of informed dialogue between government and pastoral citizens has led to limited and inappropriate planning and investment in pastoral areas. Participatory digital mapping using satellite imagery and digital earth and other open source Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can bridge the knowledge and communication gap between pastoral communities and government planners, offering an effective ‘tool’ for participatory planning and decision Ͳ making in support of pastoralism in the context of devolved government.

This paper presents on going experience from Kenya and Tanzania using an improved mapping system and workflow that enables pastoral communities to demonstrate, in a ‘language’ understood by policy makers and planners, the logic behind their livelihood strategies.  The work is being carried out within a broader context of political and administrative devolution where County and District governments in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively, have authority over local planning and development processes, and where the policy and legal environment is increasingly supportive of pastoralism.

The challenge lies in the implementation of these policies and laws, and their reconciliation with other laws that often have conflicting provisions over land and natural resources. Through improved understanding as a result of the mapping work, it is hoped that governments, particularly at the local level, will begin to invest in appropriate planning to support pastoralism as a viable and productive livelihood and economic system under increasingly variable climate conditions.


Pastoralists in Africa use detailed knowledge of their environments, characterised by highly variable and unpredictable resources, to maximise livestock productivity and minimise asset loss (Krätli and Schareika, 2010).  Variable rainfall in time and spaces results in an uneven and unpredictable pattern of pasture growth across the rangelands. As the nutritional quality of plants change during their growing cycle, the availability of nutritious pastures in any given place is temporary and short Ͳ lived (Bremen and de Wit, 1983; IIED & SOS Sahel, 2009).  Different plant species, different soils and different topographical features, such as gullies or depressions where water may concentrate, add further complexity and dynamism to the nutritional profile of East Africa’s rangelands (Behnke et al ., 1993). 

Under properly functioning pastoral production systems in the rangelands, the spatial and temporal variability in the availability of nutritious pastures is not a constraint for livestock productivity: in fact it is a resource. Through mobility, the selective breeding of livestock, the maintenance of the commons and the practice of negotiated access to resources, pastoralists can harness and exploit the ever Ͳ changing concentrations of plant nutrients on the rangelands for livestock production (Krätli, 2007; Krätli and Schareika, 2010; Krätli et al ., 2013; Wilson & Clarke, 1976).

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