Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (4) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

The equilibrium thinking: challenges related to management of community ranching in East Africa; review paper

Ismail Saidi Selemani

Department of Animal, Aquaculture and Range Sciences, Sokoine University of Agriculture, P O Box 3004, Morogoro, Tanzania.


The idea of community ranching in the East Africa (EA) was based on an equilibrium model which stresses the importance of density-dependent regulation of livestock population on rangeland productivity and livestock performance. The community ranching in EA has been introduced as an attempt to restore degraded rangelands and securing the livelihood of pastoral communities through increasing household income, minimizing conflicts over land uses, and increasing security to land among pastoral groups. However, community ranching had been implemented without sufficient broad ecological knowledge within which pastoralists operate. As a consequence, most of these community ranches were not successfully because of failure to take into account the considerable spatial heterogeneity and climatic variability in arid and semi-arid environment. Following high climatic variability in East Africa regions, the reviwed case study of ngitili management in the Sukumaland which relies on non-equilibrium theory, provides some options on how to manage livestock under variable and unpredictable rainfall. For successful and sustainable rangeland management in EA, an integration of opportunistic management strategies is recommended.

Key words: mobility, ngitili, non-equilibrium model, pastoral communities, spatial heterogeneity


The key characteristics of pastoral communities in EA include, high dependency on livestock, highly mobile, live in marginal land (unproductive land for crop cultivation), and communally grazing. Unfortunately, due to persistence drought and heavy grazing pressure, the natural communal pastures where pastoralists grazed for most part of year are characterized by low nutritive value especially in dry season (Katongole et al. 2012; Ondiek et al. 2013; Selemani, 2014). Most of pastoralists in EA are operating in very low and highly variable rainfall of which, more than 50 % of ecological zones in this region are covered by arid and semi-arid environment (FAO, 2012). Mwilawa et al. (2008) held that, availability and quality of native forage remains high only for short period of rainy season because natural pastures reach maturity rapidly.

Various intervention programmes have been initiated in EA to improve pastoral production systems. Most of the initiatives attempted (such as resettlement scheme, land tenure and community ranching) were based on manipulation of stocking rate in relation to the carrying capacity of grazing land. Nevertheless, neither of the intervention programmes were fully successfully no community livelihoods were improved through such initiatives. However, the reasons for such failure are not well documented. Information regarding to the current status of pastoral communities in EA, management challenges and recommended alternative coping strategies is imperative. This paper therefore, review the status of pastoralism in EA, challenges facing pastoral communities, various initiatives attempted to improve pastoral model of production and the non-equilibrium theory as an alternative management option. Lastly the briefly case study of ngitili in the northwest part of Tanzania as opportunistic management strategy is highlighted.

Pastoralism in East Africa

East Africa region is largely covered with arid and semi-arid lands where the pastoral and agro-pastoral are the dominant mode of livestock production systems (Figure 1). In the arid and semi-arid land of EA, the household income is largely derived from livestock. At national level livestock provide 20 to 30% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while at farmer level, as much as 70% of cash income is generated from livestock (EAFF 2012). According to Ondiek et al. (2013) the human population of the arid and semi-arid areas of EA comprised more than 80% of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists which depend on subsistence ruminant livestock production system.

Figure 1. Geographic distribution of livestock production systems in Eastern Africa. (Source: Cecchi et al. 2010 )

Due to unpredictable climate in EA, the transition from pure pastoralism to Agro-pastorallivestock production (which combines livestock keeping and crop production), is currently conspicuously among EA communities such as Karimonjong, Kuria, Sukuma, Gogo and Nyamwezi (Table 1). In addition to climate variability, mobile livestock herders have long been seen as the main culprits of overstocking and rangeland degradation, and thus in EA the emphasis was on resettlement schemes for pastoral groups (Bollig and Schulte 1999). These changes however, had ecological consequences leading to environmental degradation and thus increased vulnerability of EA pastoral economies. For examples Fratkin (2001) demonstrated that EA pastoralists such as Maasai, Boran, and Rendille are responding to challenges related to increased economic diversification including agro-pastoralism, wage labor, and increased market integration. According to the author, these changes resulted in increased social and economic stratification, urban migration, and diminished nutrition for women and children.

Table 1. Livestock production systems commonly practices in EA

Livestock production system



Pure pastoralism

> 80% of their dietary energy is from pastoral products

Turkana and Masaai

Highly mobile

Common in EA



Combine livestock keeping and farming

Karimonjong, Sukuma,

Extensive use of livestock as wealth store, draft power and manure

Kuria, Nyamwezi, Gogo

Very common in EA

Limited mobility


Intensive farming

High input-output based


Sedentary, zero-grazing stock

Feedlot systems

Animal receiving improved feed

less practice in EA

Source: Homewood 2008

The Eastern Africa region has noted to have substantial increase in livestock population (Table 2). More recently, the East Africa Community Secretariat (EACS) report of 2014 indicated that, the total population of cattle increased by 6.5 % within one year, from 2012 to 2013, while goats and sheep were noted to increase by 3.1 % and 9.3 % respectively. However, most pastoralists in these regions are extremely poor, of which more than 50 % of the world poorest pastoralists found to reside in EA (Homewood et al. 2012). The pastoralists’ poverty in EA is mainly associated to the inadequate livestock feed supply due to many interacting factors, which include among others land shortage, high cost of feeds, climate risks and poor quality of feeds (Katongole et al. 2012).

Table 2. Livestock population trends in some Eastern Africa countries recorded in three years


Type of

Number of animals (in million) per year









Goat and sheep









Goat and sheep









Goat and sheep









Goat and sheep









Goat and sheep




Source: FAO, 2002

In addition to high livestock stocking rate, pastoralists in EA are facing with other external dynamic processes that affect livestock keeping. These processes include intensification in crop production and change in property rights toward croplands (Kassie et al. 2013), changes in policies favoring expansion of conservation areas (Kideghesho et al. 2013), diminishing of natural pastures due to encroachment of other land uses (Thornton et al. 2007), conflicts related to pastoral mobility and diseases infestation due to migration to new habitats (Selemani, 2014). According to Homewood (2004), more than 18% of land cover in Masaai-Mara Ecosystem has changed (vegetation decreased) due to agricultural intensification following subdivision of group ranches in Kenya. In the more arid regions such as northern Kenya, northern Uganda and north western region of Tanzania, pastoralists have faced with problems of drought, famine, ethnic conflicts and political insecurities which increasing placing burdens on the ecological, economic and social integrity of rangelands in EA (Nelson, 2012; Thornton et al. 2007).

Despite many challenges facing pastoral communities, pastoralism has been increasingly become resilient as results of wide variety adaptations shown by pastoralists (Goldman and Riosmena, 2013). They respond to highly variable and unpredictable conditions by moving between different local pastures depending on where rain has fallen at a given time and availability in plant nutrient and mineral contents (Thornton et al. 2007). Efficient utilization of the variable and heterogeneous forage resources produced in arid and semi-arid areas usually requires more frequent and flexible herd movement. Therefore pastoral mobility is considered as drought coping strategy which manage many pastoral uncertainties and risks in drylands and also addresses socio-economic issues such as access to diverse range of market opportunities (Selemani 2014). For that matter, Hoffman (2006) cautions that the recent sedentarization schemes in EA and limitation of pastoral mobility can have a detrimental effect on the environment.

Various initiatives attempted to improve pastoralism in EA

Several initiatives for sustainable livestock production have been attempted in EA to improve the livelihood of pastoral communalities. Emphasis has been placed on development of production systems which aim to reduce stocking number and subsequently lead to reduced land degdradation and improved welfare of pastoral communities. For example in 1940's, EA countries adopted the ten years African Land Development Programe (1946 to 1955) aimed to restore degraded areas through resettlement (Mutsotso et al. 2014). In such programme human resettlement was emphasized throguh formulation of large grazing schemes, provision of veterinary services, soil conservation and development of proper marketing nertwork. The resetlement scheme also emphases on reducing the number of livestock to the manageable size of areas allocated (Veit, 2011). Although pastoralists accepted the short-term benefits through this programme, but during periods of hardship they continued to move outside the schemes and migrate in search of pasture and water (UNEP 2014). In 1955, the new plan called ˝the Swynnerton Plan for the Reform of African Land Tenure˝ initiated which intended to limit stocking number, reduce overgrazing of vegetation and conserve soil (Veit, 2011).

Initiation of Community Ranching in EA

Livestock community ranching is a specilized production system, characterized by grazing specified number of livestock unit within fixed boundaries by provision of veterinary services and watering resources. The comunity ranching in EA implemeted through various ways in different countries. For exampe in Kenya Community ranches were well known as group ranches, while in Uganda and Tanzania they were common referred to communal grazing lands and ujamaa ranches respectively (Fratkin 2001; Ibhawaoh and Dibua, 2003; Muhereza 2001). Many of these community ranches were enforced by established policies and in most cases governments intervine their implementations. For example in Kenya, goverment was responsible for provision of land rights to the group ranches, registration of group members and allocation of grazing quotas (Veit, 2011). All ujamaa ranches in Tanzania had been established by government and the government was responsible for all operation processes (Ibhawaoh and Dibua, 2003).

The problems related to the securing rights for grazing lands were addressed well by introduction of group ranches in Kenya. Indeed, the pastoralism in Kenya and elsewhere in EA was not considered as legitimate form of land use relative to farming (Mwangi, 2008). Therefore, the kenyan government introduced group ranches in mid 1960s' which allow pastoralists to secure grazing lands in groups. According to Veit (2011), it was believed that, land security could reduce pastoral mobility and the tendency of pastoralists to overstock the range. The whole idea of group ranches was aimed to restore severely degraded rangelands and sebsequently improve livestock productivity and welfare of pastoral communities in Kenya. Out of 159 group ranches establised in Kenya, 51 group ranches were from Kajiado (Stabach and Boone 2011), most probably because this region was inhabited by Masaai pastoralists with well-organized social organization.

In Tanzania, the Ujamaa Ranching was based on socialism philosophy experimented in Tanzania by the late Julius Kambarage Nyerere, that emphasises on famillyhood and communalism of traditional African Societies (Ibhawaoh and Dibua, 2003). The idea of ujamaa ranching was originated as an opportunity to utilize ujamaa philosophy for organization and improvement of livestock production. This was particularly very important with respect to the pastoralists in Tanzania, who lack clear-cut nuclear settlements and the poor kind of social organization they had due to mobility. Following ujamaa villagization scheme, many pastoralists such as Masaai were forcibly relocated from non-nucleated settlements to the government demarcated villages (Hodgson et al. 2002). The main objective of ujamaa ranches was therefore to improve livelihood of pastoralists through increasing livestock output and conserving environment by limiting pastoral mobility. Since most of rural people particularly pastoralists, were reluctant to adopt ujamaa villagization scheme, introduction of ujamaa ranching with many promises such as security to grazing lands, provision of infrastructures and handling facilities for livestock keeping and provision of loans to pastoralists, was important strategy to mobilize people to settle in ujamaa villages.

Failure of community ranching in EA

In mid 1970's most of community ranching in EA were not successful (Veit, 2011), most likely because they did not take into account the considerable spatial heterogeneity and climatic variability in arid and semi-arid environment. Although, the reasons for such failure are complex and vary from country to country, but the most cited ones were associated with political and socio-ecological issues (Mwangi, 2008). The failure of community ranching model in EA might partly be due to lack of broader knowledge regarding ecological aspects and poor management of common pool property. In addition to the lack of awareness, poor participation of pastoral groups in decision making and governments' bureaucratic procedures in management of community ranches are among cited factors lead to such failure (Mwangi, 2008).

Because of the highly variable and unpredictable rainfall in most of pastoral regions, the strict community ranch boundaries were not ecologically feasible. Confining pastoralists in grazing block or ranches reduces the spatial scale of resources exploitation (Brottem et al. 2014). Mobility allows herders to exploit multiple niches distributed across space and time (Mwangi 2008). Many pastoralists in EA were not willing to abandon their previous home and resettle in community ranches (Ibhawoh and Dibua, 2003). In addition, most of these community ranches were situated in densely populated villages and most of these villages were small in size resulting in shortage of adequate pastures for livestock. Shortage of forage resources, coupled to the government bureaucratic procedures in provision of infrastructures and the loans to the members of groups contributed to the failure of community ranches in EA.

Non-equilibrium Theory as an alternative approach

Establishment of community ranching in EA was based on equilibrium thinking which focuses on reducing stocking rates for the purpose of increasing rangeland stability. The equilibrium model believes that, animal performance is regulated by environmental carrying capacity in the manner that, their viability (reproductive potential) decrases with increasing stocking rate (Derry and Boone, 2010). While equilibrium model stresses that the response of vegetation to grazing pressure is linear and reversible, and can be manipulated predictably with stocking rates (Sullivan and Rohde, 2006), the non-equilibrium model emphasizes on opportunistic land use management especially in very unpredictable climatic condition (Table 3). Arid and semi-arid ecosystems dominating the EA are characterized by extreme variability in rainfall (Homewood, 2008), and thus relaying on density-dependent factor as regulating mechanism may not be appropriate. Since non-equilibrium model suggests that rangeland ecosystem dynamics are primarily driven by unpredictable and extreme fluctuation in abiotic factors (rainfall, fire, floods, volcanic eruption, diseases), therefore, the pastoral mobility and opportunistic management could offer efficient strategies for coping with arid and semi-arid environment (Turner, 2011).

Table 3. Production and management implication of Equilibrium and Non-equilibrium model

Equilibrium model

Non-equilibrium model

Ecological implication

Operate in stable climate

More suited in unpredictable climate

Plant production

Relatively stable and predictable

Vary unpredictably

Livestock population




Restrict stocking rate

Opportunistic land use is more suited

Economic objective


More subsistence

Source: Oba et al. 2000

A case study of ngitili as an opportunistic management

Ngitili is a sukuma words which refers to a piece of land temporary protected from grazing especially in rainy season and open up for grazing during scarcity of forage which normally occurred in the peak of dry season (Kamwenda, 2002). The word ngitili is synonymous to temporary reserved pastures or standing hay that is used by pastoralists as folder bank or deferred feeds in harsh conditions. These ngitili can be managed collectively as communal grazing land or under private management. In sukumaland, communal ngitili are common and they are normally demarcated with mutual consent of community members (Kamwenda, 2002). Communal ngitili have been practiced for many years as drought coping strategy among Sukuma people before abandoned in 1970s' as results of ujamaa villagization programme (Pye-Smith, 2010). In 1980s' communal ngitili practice was revived in response to acute shortage of forage resources (Barrow and Mlenge, 2003). The Environmental and Soil Conservation Programme, well known in Swahili as ʺHifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga (HASHI) ʺ play decisive role in reviving ngitili practice in the northern regions of Tanzania (Barrow and Mlenge, 2003).

Unlike the equilibrium model which believes on density-dependent regulation mechanism and limited mobility, ngitili management practice involves partial withdraw of grazing animals from ngitili during rainy season to facilitates the vegetation recovery which are subsequently being utilized during the peak of dry season. During the rainy season, pastoralists in the Sukuma semi-arid region, have the tendency of moving their animals away from their ngitili sites to others areas with varying ecological and climatic condition, the practice commonly known as Lugundega in the Sukuma language. This practice has a great potential of improving the ecology of the soils and biodiversity of the sites, where trees, grasses, herbs and forbs grow together. Kamwenda (2002) reported that, ngitili has successfully improved the livelihood of pastoral communities in Shinyanga region through improving livestock feed in the northwestern region of Tanzania. Selemani et al. (2013) found that, the mean above ground biomass and percentage vegetation covers in ngitili sites were almost double that of continuous grazing land which subsequently reduced livestock mortality.

Degraded rangelands in EA could sustainably be restored through up-scaling of ngitili practice in wide range of arid and semi-arid ecological zones. The partial withdraw of livestock from grazing and seasonal utilization rangeland resources has proven to improve herbaceous above ground biomass, herbaceous grass cover, herbaceous species abundance and species diversity in semi-arid rangelands (Angassa 2010). Therefore, integration of local knowledge such as ngitili management is very useful tool not only on improvement of quality of rangelands but also is cost effective practice which is affordable to small scale pastoralists.


Community ranching in EA has been based on oversimplified equilibrium model which believes that pastoral ecosystems are potentially equilibrial grazing systems and only overstocking destabilized these systems. Introduction of community ranching in EA was focused on reducing stocking rate and stabilizing rangeland equilibrium. However, most rangeland ecosystems in EA are characterized by spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in forage resources, and thus making complex ecosystems that cannot be predicted linearly. The advocates of non-equilibrium model believed that the more arid and semi-arid rangeland ecosystems are driven primarily by stochastic abiotic factors, such as variable and unpredictable rainfall and therefore, destocking in the name of community ranching could not solve the problems. Adoption of tradition rangeland management practices such as ngitili which involve partial withdraw of livestock and temporary conservation of standing hay is suggested as sustainable production system. For that matter, an integration of both ecological and social knowledge as pre-requisites for sustainable community ranching in EA is recommended.

A case study of ngitili management in Sukumaland provides alternative coping strategies in arid and semi-arid regions where rainfall is unpredictable. In more heterogeneous environment, a well managed grazing land (like ngitili management) and flexibility of pastoralists movement for searching high quality pasture may secure the livelihood of pastoral communities. Establishement of ngitili and seasonal moblitiy found to reduce risk of livestock mortality in Sukumaland. It is recommended to upscale and out-scale this traditional practice to the wide areas of similar ecological conditions.


The manuscript was prepared following the presentation topic given as trial lecture during my PhD defense at University of Life Sciences, Norway. My sincerely thanks should go to Prof. Lars Eik for guidance during preparation of the trial lecture.

Conflict of interest statement

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Received 5 February 2017; Accepted 17 February 2017; Published 1 April 2017

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