Coastweek website



Land usage, climate change threaten pastoralism in Kenya

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The driver of a car at the front honked incessantly Sunday as the eight others behind him joined in the effort to make the dozens of animals that were crossing the main road in Rongai, a suburb on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, hurry up.

But the two boys herding the goats, sheep and cows seemed not to be in haste as they knew there was no pasture on the other side of the road.

After about two minutes, the over 100 animals had crossed to the other side of the road and the boys took them to a dumpsite where they started to forage for feeds.

The scene has become the common in the suburb and others like Kitengela and Ngong in Kajiado County and Athi River in Machakos, where years back, the pastoralists would roam freely with their animals in search of pasture.

There were no concrete houses on the swathes of the land that was once communal and some rivers were flowing with water, however drier it was.

But that is in the past. A faster growth in real estate development in the suburbs initially occupied by the Masais, one of Kenya’s largest pastoralist communities, is killing the cattle-keeping and communal life amid the adverse effect of climate change.

The Masais, who still keep cows but in smaller numbers, no longer have the luxury to walk for kilometers in search of pasture.

In the urban parts of the towns, the land has been subdivided and sold and houses built on them for human settlement as real estate development takes place.

And in the rural areas, the land that was once communal has also been sub-divided and fenced making the movement of herders with animals from one place to another impossible.

“There is drought all over but we cannot move from one place to another in search of pasture. Life is tough, where shall we keep our cows,” Julius Laarat, a herder in Kitengela said on Sunday.

He noted that he is now forced to herd his 30 animals on road reserves to avoid conflict with the new owners of the land in the suburb.

“When I was growing up in 1990s, all this was open land,” he said pointing to a piece of land that now holds dozens of storeyed buildings.

“It did not belong to my family but we would graze our 400 cows for kilometers without anyone asking us,” he said.

At one section of the land there was a river that hardly dried. It is no more, forcing Laarat and other herders in the community to let their cows drink sewer water released from residential houses in the suburb.

Deeper in Kajiado County, things are not any different. While some landowners have leased part of their pieces to people farming using irrigation, others have sold to real estate developers and fenced off the remaining acres.

On it they have grown fodder like Boma Rhodes and lucerne for production of hay which they later feed their animals or sale.

John Rolorker, based in Isinya, is among those who have embraced fodder production in bid to conform to the change sweeping through the region.

The owner of 200 cows said initially he had 150 acres of ‘idle land’, but he lease 10 to someone who is growing onions on it and sold 60 of them to a sacco from Nairobi which bought for its members and subdivided it.

The money he got from the deal he used part to sink a borehole on his land and fenced off the remainder where he is now growing Boma Rhodes grass for his animals.

“Things have changed. We cannot afford to move from one place to another looking for pasture and water,” he said, noting he offers the water freely to the community but sales hay at 3 U.S. dollars per bale.

But by fencing off his land, members of the community who still practice pastoralism cannot graze their animals on his land as was in the past.

Rolorker noted that the region is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts.

Studies have shown that the changing usage of land and climate change have shrunk cattle population significantly in Kajiado and Narok, counties where the Masais live. However, they noted that even as the communal culture of the community dies, new opportunities in land use are coming up.

“With the rapidly changing climate and land usage in pastoralist communities, it is certain that the free-range form of cattle keeping is untenable. The pastoralists must now adopt intensive cattle keeping. Sinking boreholes and growing fodder would work best for the community as opposed to moving their animals which is an impossible feat in towns in their regions,” said Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi.



Remember: you read it first at !


Please contact

MOMBASA - GULSHAN JIVRAJ, Mobile: 0722 775164 Tel: (+254) (41) 2230130 /
Wireless: 020 3549187 e-mail:

NAIROBI - ANJUM H. ASODIA, Mobile: 0733 775446 Tel: (+254) (020) 3744459

    © Coastweek Newspapers Limited               Tel: (+254) (41) 2230130  |  Wireless: 020 3549187  |  E-mail: