Human Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 589–612 | Cite as

Efficacy of Integrating Herder Knowledge and Ecological Methods for Monitoring Rangeland Degradation in Northern Kenya

  • Hassan G. Roba
  • Gufu ObaEmail author


The world-wide debate on land degradation in arid lands, usually linked to local land use practices, does not reflect methodological advancements in terms of assessments and monitoring that integrate local communities’ knowledge with ecological methods. In this paper, we evaluated the efficacy of three different methods related to herder assessments and monitoring of land degradation; herder knowledge and ecological methods of assessing impacts of livestock grazing along gradients of land use from settlement and joint monitoring of selected marked transects to understand long-term vegetation changes in southwestern Marsabit northern Kenya. The performance of each method was carefully evaluated and interpreted in terms of the indicators used by herders and ecologists. Herder interpretations were then related to ecologists’ empirical analysis of land degradation. The Rendille nomads have a complex understanding of land degradation which combines environmental and livestock productivity indicators, compared to conventional scientific approaches that use plant-based indicators alone. According to the herders, the grazing preference of various livestock species (e.g., grazers versus browsers) influences perceptions of land degradation, suggesting degradation is a relative term. The herders distinguished short-term changes in vegetation cover from long-term changes associated with over-exploitation. They attributed current environmental degradation around pastoral camps, which shift land use between the alternating wet and dry seasons, to year-round grazing. We deduced from long-term observation that herders interpret vegetation changes in terms of rainfall variability, utilitarian values and intensification of land use. Long-term empirical data (23 years) from repeated sampling corroborated herder interpretations. Land degradation was mostly expressed in terms of declines in woody plant species, while spatial and temporal dynamics of herbaceous species reflected the effects of seasonality. The efficacy of the three methods were inferred using explanatory strengths of ecological theory; insightfulness of the methods for describing land degradation and the likelihood of using the methods for promoting local community participation in the implementation of the UN Convention on Combating Desertification (CCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).


Ecological indicators Herder knowledge Land degradation Monitoring Northern Kenya Rendille 



This work was part of a PhD project completed by Hassan Guyo Roba on the integration of indigenous knowledge and ecological methods. The work was supervised by Professor Gufu Oba of the Department of International Environment and Development Studies, at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Noragric. The Norwegian Research Council funded the research work under project no: 161359/S30. Hassan acknowledges the assistance of Hussein Walaga, Peter Geykuku and Diba Guyo of the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) in Marsabit for their assistance with the fieldwork. Lesuper Joseph is acknowledged for language translation and conducting interviews. The authors acknowledge with appreciation the constructive comments by two referees on the earlier version of the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NORAGRIC, Department of International Environment and Development StudiesNorwegian University of Life ScienceÅsNorway

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