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The Bio-Cultural Protocols will need to be adopted and ratified to protect a new generation of Masaai pastoralists...

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Ecologist Special Report - Protecting the Masaai Pastoralists

Thembi Mutch & Ebe Daems

20th December, 2016

The proposed Bio-Cultural and Nagoya Protocols should help better protect the livelihoods and inherent value of Tanzania's pastoralists but only if they are ratified and actually incorporated into Tanzanian law. THEMBI MUTCH & EBE DAEMS report

The issue of placing value on other facets of pastoralists' life - their role as custodians of complex ecosystems, their decision-making strategies, their medicinal abilities, is extremely tricky

Laikipia and Samuel have travelled five hours on the bus, they're clutching a sheaf of receipts. These are the latest proofs of the cattle they've had confiscated earlier this year (2016). They claim that they've lost thousands of cattle, sequestered by government and police, herded into compounds miles away and then sold. The communities are lucky if they get the chance to ‘buy back' their own cattle for millions of Tanzanian shillings (several thousand dollars) but receive nothing if their cattle are sold on. These nomadic communities, a collection of different tribes including Maasai, are called pastoralists.

A recent report funded by the Danish government reveals that thousands of pastoralists are being systematically evicted, with government, army and private militia's collusion, in order to free up land for local elite and foreign investors[i].

Pastoralist groups are constantly harassed, their leaders arrested or killed and routinely have complete villages de-registered, their houses burnt, and are moved off land in violent, fatal conflicts - land that has traditionally been used by their communities for hundreds of years. Recently there have been calls for them to increase productivity, of their cattle, and of their land, and as part of this a new call to tag and identify their beloved cows. Now more than ever it's vital their value is recognised.

One of the reasons for the conflict is the lack of value placed on pastoralists' ways of life and their land tenure (which is communal). "They're jealous of the high quality of our cattle and the fact that they are never fenced in, and we love them and they obey us like children" says Samuel. He is not joking. Pastoralists play a dominant role in the livestock sector, contributing greatly to Tanzania's economy: according to government records, pastoralists and agro pastoralists today rear 98% of the country's 21 million cattle and 22 million small stock; and produce most of the milk and meat consumed nationally[ii]. They also contribute 80% of the meat and livestock products in Tanzania[iii] and contribute to 13% of Ethiopia's GDP.

But the issue of placing value on other facets of pastoralists' life - their role as custodians of complex ecosystems, their decision-making strategies, their medicinal abilities, is extremely tricky. The Bio-Cultural Protocols and Nagoya protocols may change this if they are ratified and domesticated: actually incorporated into Tanzanian law.

In Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania where Pastoralists are the most common, there is a general ignorance amongst mainstream populations about their ways of life. Colourful Maasai warriors may advertise Kenyan Airways, but they don't receive any real social, political or legal recognition.

Paola de Meo of Hands off the Land and Terra Nuova is keen to change this. She believes one way this can happen is by introducing Bio-cultural Protocols, which will put value on their lifestyles. She says " Pastoralists are amongst the most vulnerable and affected groups, because grazing lands are perceived as unused, and their way of life as unproductive from an industrial point of view".

In the wider context, their ability to travel enormous distances in very extreme conditions, to read the land, to make ropes, snares and traps from plants and trees, and to survive using phyto-medicinal products (Maasai medicine is allegedly able to cure everything - from cancer, to miscarriages to malaria), has only just begun to be noticed, let alone systematically chronicled.

Pascal* is a senior leader, representing several thousand Masaai in Southern Tanzania. He believes that the situation has to change. Gesturing around to the grasslands with zebra, gazelle, and elephants in the bush he says: "We have been here since the 1700's. The mountains and the steppes  have Maasai names, and we have to be valued as people who are custodians of the land. We manage it; seeding, weeding, and using our cattle constructively. When you look at the conservation areas and game parks in Tanzania, these are all former pastoralists' lands. We were displaced, we aren't legally allowed to keep our cattle on them now, but we looked after them, which is why they are such important biodiverse places now."

There is widespread stereotyping and misinformation about the pastoralists, particularly the damage they do to wildlife. Despite the propaganda, there is not a single study that proves that cattle impact negatively with wildlife, in fact there's a body of scientific evidence that pastoralist cattle in particular (whose genetic lineages are robust, diverse and long), graze in ways to encourage browsers - animals that eat the higher foliage - to thrive. And their dung spreads diverse grass seeds.

In Mvomero district, in Southern Tanzania, several hundreds of Paracuyo  Masaii are gathering together for a rare aging ceremony; the elders sit on plastic chairs in the dusk - these meetings go on for days - discussing the latest move by regional government to tag their beloved cattle. This is part of a wider scheme to monetise the cattle, which represent the assets and wealth of the pastoralists' communities.

For Paola De Meo it is now time for this to stop: "We must stop the EU support for African agriculture[iv] unleashing the power of the private sector - it is part of a process of commodification of food, land, water, seeds and nature in Africa. Framed through the industrial system's "productivity" lens, increasingly governments, donors, transnational corporations, private and financial capital companies try to take advantage of policies and gain control of resources through supply chains. This is destructive and inefficient".

The recent (2014) Nagoyo Protocol (NP)[v] could radically change the game. It is a mechanism to provide a transparent legal framework for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. It builds on the UNEP Natural Justice laws of 2009[vi] and the Bio-Cultural Protocols (BCP's) that were conceptualised there. Fundamentally NP challenges the Global North's practice of looting traditional medicinal systems/land/knowledge, patenting it, earning from it, and then restricting access. The German government[vii] has been the most forward-thinking when it comes to implementing BCP's. It has written the BCP's into its binding action strategies in Tanzania. The Danish government is the only donor actively supporting pastoralists' ways of life.

For the first time community-based natural resource management systems, knowledge, innovations, rights and practices (i.e. in situ conservation and sustainable use) of indigenous flora and fauna, and details of those natural resources is potentially being institutionally recognized. And internationally, legally-binding conditions are being set out by the community for granting access to their lands, including  procedures for Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Where there are still massive gaps is regarding implementation: at a regional and district level Tanzanian governmental authorities

The pastoralist Samburu could potentially protect their knowledge of the selective raising and breeding of East African Zebu cattle, Red Masaai sheep and East African goats. Exotic cattle breeds include the Boran, Sahiwal, Friesian and Ayrshire and Jersey will be acknowledged too.

The spotlight on the illegality of land grabs, the human rights abuses and the marginalisation of the pastoralists and indigenous communities is being chronicled by international NGO's such as Oxfam, the Danish NGO IWGIA, Terra Nuova, Hands off the Land, CELEP, and the UN special Rapporteur Oliver De Schutter. However there are still key wins to be had  - notably with the World Bank, which is allowing countries such as Tanzania to opt out of their clauses that protect their indigenous peoples.

Deogracias Tokai* is a leading (and currently very vulnerable) indigenous leader in Tanzania. He is also angry; "We do not want to be romanticised or fetishized or exploited as a tourist attraction. We need the value of our meat, milk and cattle production to be acknowledged. But more than this we need our rights as people who have the choice to move to be absolutely recognised. Sure, I actually live in a city house, that's not the point. The point is I chose it."


* All the names of the people in this article have been changed at their request.








[i] IWIGIA  report 23 TANZANIAN PASTORALISTS THREATENED: Evictions, Human Rights and Loss of Livliehood Copyright: IWGIA Published by: IWGIA in collaboration with PINGO's Forum, PAICODEO and UCRT

Editors: IWGIA, Carol Sørensen and Diana Vinding; May 2016 Denmark

[ii] Source IWIGIA  report 23 TANZANIAN PASTORALISTS THREATENED: Evictions, Human Rights and Loss of Livliehood Copyright: IWGIA Published by: IWGIA in collaboration with PINGO's Forum, PAICODEO and UCRT

Editors: IWGIA, Carol Sørensen and Diana Vinding; May 2016 Denmark

[iii] Source. Ibid. And Fiona Flinton, Senior scientist ILRI

[iv] European, US and DFID funds are currently putting over 8billion US towards various agricultural initiatives, including the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and SAGCOT; which are directly implicated in the land grabs described in this story


[vi] Excerpt from UNEP laws: "We uphold the sacredness of life and oppose ideas, systems, world views and practices, including global finance and patent laws, which define the natural world, its life forms and the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples as property or "commodities"

[vii] GTZ, 2012, author Barbara Lassen, Bio Community Protocols +protocols +GTZ&src=IE-SearchBox&FORM=IENTTR&conversationid=








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