Trade-offs for climate-resilient pastoral livelihoods in wildlife conservancies in the Mara ecosystem, Kenya

Pastoralists in the wildlife-rich East African rangelands use diversification into conservation and tourism as a strategy to supplement livestock-based livelihoods and to spread risk. Tourism incomes are an important alternative source during drought, when livestock incomes decline. However, tourism may also reduce access to rangeland resources, and an abundant wildlife may destroy crops and injure, kill or transmit disease to livestock or people. This paper investigates the ability of wildlife conservancies in the Mara, Kenya, to act as an alternative for pastoralists that mitigates risks and maintains resilience in a changing climate. It analyses data to examine how conservancies contribute to and integrate with pastoral livelihoods, and to understand how pastoralists are managing their livestock herds in response to conservancies. It finds conservancy payments can provide an important, reliable, all-year-round source of income and prevent households from selling their animals during stress and for cash needs. Conservancies also retain grass banks during the dry season and provide opportunities for pastoralists to access good-quality forage. However, they reduce access to large areas of former grazing land and impose restrictions on livestock mobility. This affects the ability of pastoralists to remain flexible and able to access seasonally variable resources. Conflicts between grazing and conservancies may also heighten during drought times. Furthermore, income from land leases is not more than the contribution of livestock, meaning conservancy land leases create trade-offs for livestock-based livelihoods. Also, income is based on land ownership, which has inequity implications: women and other marginalised groups are left out.