Livestock Research for Rural Development 26 (5) 2014 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Communal rangelands management and challenges underpinning pastoral mobility in Tanzania: a review

Ismail Saidi Selemani

Department of Animal Science and Production, Sokoine University of Agriculture.
P. O. Box 3004, Morogoro, Tanzania.


Most recently, there has been a concern about sustainability of communal rangelands in Africa. Most of these communal rangelands are perceived to be degraded and unproductive and hence characterized by conflicts related to land uses. In Tanzania, rapid increase in human and livestock population has increased pressure on communal rangelands. The demand of land for grazing, crop production and conservation areas, has inevitably led to land use conflicts. Although, enclosures have been used in different parts of the country as coping strategy following declined pastoral mobility due to scarcity of grazing land, may enclosures have resulted into social conflicts and caused communal rangeland’s degradation rather than contributing to rehabilitation. This paper reviewed the social dynamic behind management of common resource pool as a vital for sustainable management of communal rangeland resources.

The poor communal rangeland conditions and land use conflicts have been associated to the decline in the previously traditional rangeland management practices and changes in customary rights to official land use policies. The pastoral marginalization has resulted into land use conflicts between herders and farmers. Moreover, competition for scarce grazing land and water resources has increased the conflicts between wildlife managers and livestock owners. It is recommended to maintain good relationship among the multiple land users for sustainability of pastoral production system, crop production and conservation of natural resources. Land policy reform and decision making power are recommended to be participatory and should engage pastoral groups in all the process.

Key words: common property, conflicts, pastoral mobility, land uses, forage


Most recently, there has been a concern about sustainability of communal rangelands in Africa. Many of these rangelands are considered as overstocked, degraded and unproductive (Snyman and du Preez 2005; Tefera et al 2007; Vetter 2005). Causes of these degradations are generally attributed to combination of factors of which most of them are associated to human activities. The consequences of human based activities lead to climate change, that subsequently affect rangeland condition (Harris 2010). Loss of rangeland vegetation and decline in quality of rangeland forage are mainly associated to the negative effects of human activities such as overstocking, expansion of crop cultivation, vegetation clearing, fire incidences and urbanization. Over-utilization of communal rangeland has always lead to reduction in plant cover (Oztas et al 2003) and above ground biomass production ( Yayneshet et al 2008). For example, stocking livestock beyond sustainable carrying capacity most often leads to an increase in undesirable plant species and depletion of soil quality (Kassahun et al 2008). This is because heavy grazing pressure causes selection of preferential forage species and thus leads to an increase of species less valuable as forages for livestock (Retzer 2006).

Increase in human and livestock population raise a serious competition and conflicts over land resources in Africa and thus call for a quick land conflict resolution. Peters (2004) emphasizes the need for reveal process of land exclusion by analyzing who benefits and who loses from instances of accessibility to land, ownership and management of communal lands . Establishment of communal enclosures in most African rangelands has been an important coping strategy in response to declining grazing lands and diminishing patterns of livestock mobility due to human population increase (Beyene 2009). Despite, the important role played by enclosures in the restoration of degraded rangeland, Selemani et al (2013) and Verdoodt et al ( 2010) indicate that enclosing communal rangelands may result in social conflicts and cause range degradation rather than contributing to rehabilitation. The consequences of establishment of enclosures may result in allocation of poor pasture to some groups and better pasture to others, creating inequality and social tension (Beyene 2010). Understanding the social dynamic behind management of common resource pool is a vital for sustainable management of communal rangeland resources.

Poor management of common resources pool has often resulted into negative effects on sustainability of communal rangelands. Centralized and local control over resources is believed to have detrimental consequences on the sustainability of communal rangeland resources ( Schafer and Bell 2002). Hardin (1968) believed that, degradation of common properties is inevitable unless the property is converted to private or public property where the rights to entry can be restricted. Schafer and Bell (2002) argued that if communities are allowed to control their own resources, they should have strong incentives to manage resources sustainably. In most of common property resources, the right to land has been granted to clan leaders and enforced by community elders (Selemani et al 2013). The gradual dismantling of communal rangelands is therefore attributed to poor organization of institutions managing communal rangelands and shift in land tenure policies ( Beyene 2009).

The communal rangelands in Africa are characterized by conflicts related to land uses, of which Tanzania is not an exception. The rapid increase in human population and livestock in Tanzania has raised a demand of land for grazing and crop production, which inevitably has led to land use conflicts. Human population saturation in high fertile lands and reliable rainfall areas has motivated in-migration to communal rangelands where people can access land for cultivation (Kideghesho et al 2013). Establishment and expansion of conservation areas in Tanzania has often face resistance from agro-pastoral communities. This is the case when the process involve eviction of people from communal rangelands and denying access to the resources crucial for their livelihood (Benjaminsen et al 2009). On the other hand, increase grazing pressure from the local people to the conservation areas has raised serious conflict between conservation authorities and communities adjacent to the conservation areas. In his survey, Newmark et al (1994) established that, more than 70 % of local people adjacent conservation areas reported conflicts between wildlife authorities versus livestock keepers and/or crop producers.

Most traditional pastoralists in Tanzania are highly mobile. They respond to the variable and unpredictable environments by moving across to access the available forage resources. The rapid population dynamic of both livestock and human population motivated herders’ migration that consequently led to resources conflict by the convergence of pastoralists and farmers (Mbonile 2005). Although livestock mobility is considered as environmentally destructive, it is an important adaptation mechanism that enables pastoralists to manage disease risk by avoiding areas of high infestations. Homewood and Rodger (1991) pointed out that, pastoralists must possess a high degree of resources utilization mobility in order to respond to temporal and spatial resource variation in the distribution and variation of forage resources. Despite, the government effort to establish village grazing areas where livestock keepers can be confined, lack of sufficient pasture and water supplies motivate herders to move around searching for such resources elsewhere ( Benjaminsen et al 2009). Under such circumstances, land use conflicts and violent between crop producers and pastoralists are frequently reported. This paper review some critical challenges related to management of communal rangelands and land use conflicts particularly between pastoralists against farmers and natural resources conservation authorities.

Historical background of rangelands in Tanzania

Tanzania has a total land area of about 88.6 million hectares of which over 74 % are rangelands ( Mwilawa et al 2008). The country has a spectacular landscape where two-third of the land is covered by highland plateau (Wiskerke 2008). The climate varies from tropical, with relatively high humidity along the coast to semi-arid on the central plateau, receiving less than 500 mm rainfall per annum. Approximately, 80 % of the total land area in Tanzania is classified as semi-arid with highly variable rainfall falls in one or two seasons separated with long dry season ( Quinn et al 2003). According to Slegers (2008), rainfall in Tanzania is generally erratic and when it falls, it often comes in highly erosive showers. Two rainfall regimes exists namely; bimodal and unimodal rainfall. The coast areas and the northern part of the country experienced bimodal rainfall regimes where central parts, south, south-west and western part of the country receive one rainy season per year. The mean monthly temperature is over 18oC and the evapotranspiration normally exceeds precipitation (Quinn et al 2003).

Most of rangeland areas in Tanzania are covered by grassland, dense thicket and woodland and gallery forests. However, there is high variation in vegetation types because of high variation in climate, soil characteristics and management conditions. The main sources of livelihood in semi-arid rangelands are pastoralism and agro-pastoralism. Tanzania is highly populated with domesticated ruminant livestock, a third country in Africa with highest number of livestock after Sudan and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Tanzania has about 21.3 million cattle, 15.1 million goats and 5.7 million sheep ( URT 2012). The regions with highest livestock population particularly with high number of cattle are Shinyanga, Tabora, Mwanza, Arusha, Mara, Singida and Dodoma (Figure 1). However, the rangelands that are ideal for livestock grazing has the capacity to carry about 20 million animal units (Mwilawa et al 2008). Currently, a wide spread expansion of crop cultivation and increasing conservation areas increases more pressure on grazing lands and subsequently causes land conflicts between multiple land users.

Figure 1. The map of Tanzania indicating number of cattle per region (Sources: URT 2012)

Management of communal rangelands in Tanzania

Recently, there has been shift from centralized control over land resources back toward community management in many African countries including Tanzania ( Quinn et al 2007). This structural reform reflects the theoretical notion that communities are more likely to conserve common property sustainably if they are involved in management and derive benefits from the resources. Traditional management of communal rangelands in Tanzania is based on customary rights to resources. However, there has been deliberate move by government to discourage customary land tenure system and attempts to replace it with communal land ownership system controlled by the state. Despite the attempts by the government to integrate customary rights into the land statute in Tanzania , the implementation has been limited because of limited capacity of the state ( Manji 2001). The Village Land Act of 1999, gives authority over land administration, land management and dispute resolution to the community level (Wily 2003). Although the act provides strong basis for community-based rights to secure common areas as common property (Mwangi and Dohrn 2008), it offers relatively less protection to the commons as a consequences grazing land is made communal and is open to access by all ( Mwilawa 2000).

Land acquisition and ownership for communal rangelands in Tanzania is mainly based on birth-rights, close family ties, land acquired from village governments and purchased lands. More than 50 % of communal lands have been acquired through inheritance based on birth-rights or close family ties ( Kadigi et al 2007). Most of these rangelands historically were not fenced and their resources are freely access to all communities. However, due to the instances of diminishing grazing lands in most of regions the rights of entry and access to common resources are strictly restricted to the community members managing such particular rangeland. For example, in the north-western semi-arid regions of Tanzania, communal rangelands are strictly protected by village guards (sungusungu) and village assemblies (dagashida) so much so that, the accessibility to the resources are open only to the members of community belong to the particular rangeland ( Kamwenda 2002).

Generally, the communal semi-arid rangelands in Tanzania are constrained with several challenges. Poor quality and availability of forage are characteristics of most communal rangelands in Tanzania. The forage in most of communal rangelands is characterized by seasonal variation in quantity and quality. Availability of high quality forage remains for a short period of the rainy season and livestock are frequently exposed to periods of prolonged under-nutrition in dry seasons (Kakengi et al 2001;Kanuya et al 2006). The range condition assessment in Shinyanga and Simiyu regions by Selemani et al ( 2013) revealed significant low yield in herbaceous above ground biomass and poor vegetation cover in communal rangelands compared to those managed privately. Degradation of communal rangelands in Tanzania is associated with the wide spread conventional theory of commons (Garrett Hardin’s tragedy of common) which held that, resources managed in common are subject of massive degradation ( Hardin 1968). Management of these rangelands is not participatory and the benefits accrued from common properties are not shared equally. Decision-making powers are vested to few influential people in the community who are not necessary representative of the whole community (Selemani et al 2013). According to Bajema ( 1991) human behavior is always based on self-interest, thus decisions made from common properties normally are irrational.

The decline in the previously traditional rangeland management practices is considered as an important constraint to the management of communal rangelands in Tanzania. For example, the traditional land use system in the country has been transformed by official land policies related to expansion of cultivation and conservation areas and transformation of communal land use to private ranches (Oba and Kaitira 2006). These changes have disrupted the traditional transhumance systems, resulting in the greater pressure on communal grazing lands. According to Lane ( 1990), changes in traditional mobility of the Barabag pastoralists in Manyara region due to imposition of policies and orders from the state, has led to destruction of communal grazing lands. Shrinkage of grazing lands contributed to change in the grazing management from the previously strategy of rotational resting to more intensively grazing regime that resulted in the decline of quality and quantity of the pasture, increased soil compaction, declined of perennial grasses and increased annual herbs in the pasture. Decline in traditional mobility in many parts of the country has limited exploitation of spatial availability of high quality forage. In the Maasai pastoral community, the traditional movement of livestock across, for searching high quality forage has been hindered by expansion of agriculture ( Oba and Kaitira 2006). Shortage of forage, deforestation, fodder scarcity and severe soil erosion in the Sukuma land has also been attributed to villagization programme in 1970’s, that resulted in abandonment of the tradition communal rangeland management practices (Pye-Smith 2010). Maintaining traditional grazing practice would reduce pressure on range vegetation, improve rangeland condition and maximize animals’ gains.

Farmer-livestock conflicts in relation to pastoral mobility

Pastoral mobility is a drought coping strategy which historically helped many pastoralists to manage uncertainty and risk in arid lands ( Nkedianye et al 2011). Since the arid ecosystem is spatially and temporally variable and to a large degree unpredictable, mobility enables the opportunistic use of resources. In Tanzania, pastoralists reduce risk of livestock mortality by seasonal movement of livestock to the productive and high rainfall areas. Moreover, the pastoral mobility addresses socio-economic objectives such as an access to the diverse range of market opportunities. It also serves as symbiotic interaction with farmers, whereas livestock supply manure to the farmers and farmers provide crop residues for livestock feeds. Evidence indicates that, pastoral mobility is economic effective (i.e. less costly) because it requires minimal labor and inputs compared to stall feeding system (Scoones 1993). However, livestock mobility in African has been portrayed by scholars, government officials, conservationists and development professionals as unproductive and ecologically damaging livelihood (Turner 2011). In pastoral ecosystems, environmental degradation is considered to be inevitable because people thought to keep more livestock beyond an acceptable ecological carrying capacity ( Vetter 2005).

Despite the extensive documentation regarding the benefits related to pastoral mobility in Africa, negative perceptions pervade pastoral policy and management in Tanzania (Mattee and Shem 2006). National legislation tend to favor agriculture and leaves pastoral model of production invisible (Benjaminsen et al 2009). This pastoral marginalization has resulted into land use conflicts between herders and farmers. According to the National Land Policy of 1995, growth of livestock population has been thought to raise a demand for grazing land and created a serious problem of soil erosion due to overgrazing ( Mattee and Shem 2006). Pastoral mobility in the country is viewed as causes of degradation of arable land for agriculture and sources of conflicts between farmers and livestock keepers. Competition for grazing land and water between livestock and farmers are major concern related to farmer-livestock conflicts. Destruction of crops by livestock has also been reported elsewhere in the country as main source of conflicts.

The typical example of farmer-livestock conflicts in Tanzania is the local conflict in the Kilosa District, which ended up in killing of thirty eights people and wounded several others. Benjaminsen et al (2009), explained two main causes of such conflicts as being scarcity of grazing land and effect of villagization programme in 1970s’. Scarcity of grazing land in Kilosa was caused by number of factors including establishment of large estate such as sisal plantations. Human population increased tremendously because of high population of immigrants from nearby regions seeking jobs in the estate farms and thus put pressure on grazing lands. More than one-third of total land in the Kilosa district is covered by conservation areas such as Mikumi National Park and forest reserves. Moreover, villagization programme located most of pastoral villages to bushlands infested by tsetse flies and ticks leading herders to search for pasture outside pastoral villages. On the other hand, farmers formed the tradition guards known as sungusungu for defending their farms that most often resulted into battle against Maasai pastoralists in the Kilosa district (Benjaminsen et al 2009).

Eviction of pastoralists from the Hanang district in 1970-1980s’ following establishment of large scale agricultural development scheme, caused a serious conflicts among the Barbag pastoral communities against farmers. It was reported that about 100,000 ha of productive grazing land were taken by the parastatal National Agriculture and Food Cooperation (NAFCO) for wheat production scheme and the Barabag herders were evicted and forbidden crossing the boundaries of the farm (Fratkin 1997). In 1984, the conflict was so serious in the extend that the residents in the Basotu and Mulbadaw villages took NAFCO to court, contested for the appropriation of their land ( Lane 1990). Despite the fact that, the Barabag had customary rights for the land, the conflict was not resolved, and as consequences pastoralists were evicted and forced to migrate to other areas. Such pastoral migration resulted into farmer-livestock conflicts in several parts of the country including the Kilosa district (Benjaminsen et al 2009).

Pastoralism-wildlife conflicts

Pastoralists and wildlife have coexisted in African rangelands for hundreds of years. In the past the conflicts between livestock and wildlife were minimal because the human and livestock population was small and widely dispersed. However, competition for scarce grazing land and water resources is increasing and potential for conflicts between wildlife managers and livestock owners is growing. Most protected areas in Tanzania are situated in rangelands, and due to multiple uses of rangelands, decision for allocation of lands for conservation has often faced resistance from pastoralists ( Kideghesho et al 2007). About 29.7 % of total land in Tanzania is protected areas and large pastoral herds have generally been excluded from these protected areas (Boyd et al 1999). Resistance from pastoral communities against conservation authorities normally became intense especially when establishment or expansion of conservation areas involves eviction of pastoralists from the areas critical for livestock grazing. For example, the eviction of Maasai pastoralists from the Mkomazi Game Reserve in 1986 (Boyd et al 1999) and the Tarangire National Park in 1996 ( Kideghesho et al 2013) has created tension between park managers and pastoralists whose productive grazing areas have been taken. Despite the legal ban on grazing in the conservation areas, some pastoralists defy the order and continue to graze in the protected areas and thus magnify conflicts between themselves and conservation authorities. Moreover, most evicted pastoralists are normally allocated to new areas which most often resulted in loss of large number of livestock due to diseases, inadequate forage and water resources and unsuitable condition for livestock keeping. According to Ngailo (2011) over 50 % of evicted pastoralists from the Usangu wetland in Tanzania suffered food insecurity due to loss of huge number of their livestock following unplanned eviction.

In Tanzania there are negative conservation attitudes among people living adjacent to conservation areas due to everlasting conflicts between local people against protected areas (Newmark et al 1994). For example, traditional pastoralists adjacent to protected areas suffer from wildlife, and tended to have negative attitudes towards employee of protected areas. A survey conducted to local people adjacent to the Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Manyara and Mikumi National Parks indicated that more than 70 % of local people had negative attitude toward conservation (Newmark et al 1994a). Livestock-carnivores conflict is also a serious managerial issue often causing opposition toward conservation efforts. In the survey conducted by Holmern et al (2007) from seven villages outside the Serengeti Nation Park, the loss of livestock because of wildlife predators was equated to an average annual financial loss of 19.2 % of their cash income. The author reported the livestock depredation was most often caused by spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), leopard ( Panthera pardus), baboon (Papio cynocephalus), lion (Panthera leo) and black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas). According to Gillingham and Lee (2003), local people cannot be expected to provide conservation support if the cost of doing so is outweigh the benefits. Therefore, maintaining good relationship between local communities surrounding is protected areas imperative for sustainable conservation of natural resources.

Conclusion and recommendations


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Received 19 February 2014; Accepted 29 March 2014; Published 1 May 2014

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