Access, Livelihood-vulnerability, and Landscape-level Vegetation Change in Laikipia, Kenya
Unks, Ryan Robert
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Mobility in semi-arid lands is essential for wildlife and herders alike to buffer spatially and temporally variable key resources. On the Laikipia Plateau, recent decreases in pastoralists’ seasonal grazing access are related to shifts in land tenure, decreasing porosity of boundary lines, wildlife conservation, and increasing intensity of conflicts in surrounding lands. Interrelated to these changes are the influences of wildlife NGOs in pastoralist governance and as employers. We used an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from ethnographic and landscape ecological methods, to ask how changes in informal and formal institutions have impacted herding ecology over the past 30 years. Using qualitative and quantitative methods we explored how the restricted mobility of pastoralist herding at one group ranch has led to cascading social and livelihood changes, and how today both institutional and biophysical factors create new compounded stressors that are experienced unevenly. Institutional change has led to reserve forage access being available in very few areas, requiring either numerous household assets, or relationships with private land owners to gain access. Shifting norms of cooperative herding, new institutions shaping access, and employment all appear to be exacerbating inequality and stratifying herding strategies, with most relying on small amounts of goats, or illicit grazing, to subsist. We built upon this understanding of reorganization of herding to analyze how novel pressure relates to vegetation changes that are frequently attributed to livestock, in contrast with pastoralists’ own accounts. We used GIS methods to estimate pressure and test correlations between metrics of vegetation change. Most changes did not show meaningful correlations to livestock. There was little evidence that the most dramatic changes detected, with 18% of the area experiencing loss of Euphorbia spp. canopy, and 37% of the land experiencing shrub encroachment, were related to livestock. Correlations with livestock pressure implied that cattle may have had impacts on grasses during the dry season and contributed to increases in two encroaching understory species. Smalll stock estimates were correlated with some decreases in shrubs, vines, and grasses. We interpret human-environment interactions as embedded in complex social, political, and economic context and make recommendations to inform livelihood and conservation policy.