“You have nice grass—I’m coming”: Challenges of pastoral land governance in East Africa
“You have nice grass—I’m coming”: Challenges of
pastoral land governance in East Africa
Lance W. Robinson
Expérience tunisienne et de valorisation des acquis dans le domaine du
développement de territoires pastoraux
27-29 March 2019
Garba Tula, Kenya
~350-500 mm. p.a.
A reinvigorated traditional governance system
“You have nice grass—I’m coming”
The challenge of tenure security & management rights
• Without tenure security and management rights, little
incentive to invest in management
• Obvious solution? Create/strengthen commons.
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM)
• Commons theory (e.g. E. Ostrom) suggests 4 property
o Private property
o State property
o Open access
Design principles for effective governance of commons
• Clearly defined territorial boundaries and
social group boundaries
• Collective choice arrangements for the
social group to create its own rules
• Graduated sanctions for infractions
• Recognition from higher levels of
community rights to organize
New legal developments
• Kenya: Community Land Act (2016)
• Ethiopia: Communal land registration
~150 – 350 mm. p.a. in the lowlands (~1400 mm in the
A mix of ethnic groups, diverse local governance systems
“It’s not ‘my land here and their land there’. We
are within each other.”
The challenge of understanding pastoralist flexibility
• Most pastoralist systems put little emphasis on
• Almost all resources are “shared” with other groups.
• The social group boundaries are also flexible and
• These are all adaptations to extreme variability.
• This creates a paradox.
The paradox of pastoral tenure
Security of tenure
Sense of ownership
“If we sacrifice now
will we be the ones to
get the benefit?”
“Each year, the rain and
pasture may be found in
different places. We
pastoralists don’t keep
on animals on tiny
~550 mm. p.a.
“I sold you the land but I didn’t sell you the grass”
The right of access supersedes any right of ownership
• The right of access is strong in pastoralist
norms and cultures.
• And in pastoralist institutions.
• Mainstream thinking: “open access” is a lack
• For many pastoralists: open access is the rule
Traditional pastoralist governance: a clue
to overcoming the paradox?
• Rights unbundled by timing and mode of use, and
allocated to different governance mechanisms
• Overlapping rights
• Rights well-defined for some resources, hardly at
all for others
• Multi-level decision-making
• Complex tenure mosaics do not function only
through tenure: reliance on other governance
• Based on negotiation more than rules
Governance interventions to address the
• Promoting platforms and networks for
deliberation and negotiation.
• Addressing challenges with carrots more
than sticks (incentives for sustainable
• Land use planning
DESIGN PRINCIPLES FOR GOVERNANCE OF COMMONS: Ostrom,
E. (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions
for Collective Action. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
THE PARADOX: Fernández-Giménez, M. E. (2002). Spatial and
Social Boundaries and the Paradox of Pastoral Land Tenure: A
Case Study From Postsocialist Mongolia. Human Ecology,
OPEN ACCESS REGIMES: Moritz, M. (2016). Open property
regimes. International Journal of the Commons, 10(2), 688–
This work benefitted from funding from the
CGIAR Research Program on Livestock led by the
International Livestock Research Institute, and
from the International Fund for Agricultural
Development and the European Commission
through the “Taking Successes in Land
Restoration to Scale” project.
CGIAR Research Program on Livestock
The CGIAR Research Program on Livestock aims to increase the productivity and profitability of livestock agri-food
systems in sustainable ways, making meat, milk and eggs more available and affordable across the developing world.
This presentation is licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.
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