Kenya’s governments, from colonial times to today, have attempted to regulate traditional pastoral practices of herding cattle across the country’s vast arid and semi-arid lands. Fourteen million people live in these areas, herding more than 30 million cattle, sheep, goats and camels. Over centuries, pastoralists crafted practices that allowed them, their animals, wildlife, and the rangeland itself to survive.
In the 1960s, the Kenyan government instituted group ranches, with the goal of improving pastoral livelihoods and environmental sustainability; modernizing livestock husbandry; and inducing pastoralists to settle in one place. Group ranches were defined as a livestock production system where a group of people jointly hold title to land, maintain agreed herd sizes, and own livestock individually but herd them together. Boundaries are demarcated and members are registered.
In 1964, the government’s Range Management Division established the prototype Poka Group Ranch in the Kajiado district. Between 1968 and 1970, 14 new group ranches were established. Although the largest pastoral group, the Maasai, anticipated many benefits from group ranches, those benefits largely failed to materialize.
Ranch boundaries often proved impractical, as herders moved out of group ranches in search of pastures and water, especially during the dry season and droughts. A disregard for boundaries led to environmental degradation, competition and increased conflict over scarce pasture.
Over time, group members increasingly opted to subdivide their ranches into equal shares of land, and to obtain individual titles of ownership. But subdivision led to land allotments too small for traditional livestock production, increased cultivation, and increased land sales.
Today the original Poka Group Ranch no longer exists, and few, if any group ranches remain.
The Kenyan government has examined the socioeconomic problems associated with group ranches, and Kenya’s new Constitution (2010) supports the rights of groups and individuals that hold common land. Advocates hope that the Constitution and implementing legislation will give communities that hold common property the security they need to sustain livelihoods, protect their resource base, and promote local development.