Harnessing pastoralists' indigenous knowledge for rangeland management: three African case studies

This article reports a rapid method for rangeland assessments in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda by harnessing pastoralists' indigenous knowledge among the Orma, Afar and Karamojong pastoralists. The study developed and evaluated a methodological framework for conducting joint assessments with pastoralist range scouts. The framework has four components: selection of ecological and anthropogenic indicators, indicator integration, evaluation of indicator outcomes and regional decision-making systems.
© 2012 Oba

The feedbacks between different components were used for information transfer. The framework was applied to the three case studies (using participatory methods). The scouts conducted rangeland assessments using ecological and anthropogenic indicators. Soils, and then vegetation, and finally livestock production were used as the main indicators for understanding rangeland degradation. In addition, pastoralists used key-plant species to assess landscape-grazing suitability and soils to assess landscape-grazing potential. The latter is critical for evaluating potential stocking densities that each landscape could support during the wet or dry grazing seasons. For anthropogenic indicators herders used milk yield, body hair condition, weight gain and mating frequency to assess livestock production performances. Pastoralist scouts assessed rangeland degradation and trends using historical knowledge of the landscapes. The findings confirmed comparable knowledge systems among the three pastoral communities. The methods can be applied across regions where pastoralism still dominates the rural economy. The system of indigenous rangeland assessments and monitoring could rapidly provide information needed by policy makers. Harnessing pastoralists' indigenous rangeland knowledge has implications for participatory research, for verifying and testing methods, as well as for sharing information in order to promote practical rangeland management.

'A camel is a better judge of soils than a herder' (an Afar elder).

Gufu Oba

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Cross cutting

Indigenous knowledge
Awareness Raising


Anthropogenic indicators
Ecological indicators
Indigenous knowledge
Landscape grazing potential
Rangeland management


Eastern Africa

Geographic Coverage