Skip to main content
Log in

Adopting Cultivation to Remain Pastoralists: The Diversification of Maasai Livelihoods in Northern Tanzania

  • Published:
Human Ecology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Over the past four decades, Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania have adopted agriculture, integrating it with their traditional pastoralism. This livelihood diversification has complex origins and profound implications for Maasai social organization, culture, and demography, and ultimately for their health and well being and for the local and regional environment. In this paper, we examine the process by which this engagement with, and increasing dependence upon, agriculture came about in Ngorongoro District, northern Tanzania. The process there was more complex and influenced by a wider variety of factors than has been reported by previous descriptions of Maasai livelihood diversification. It generally involved two stages: planting a garden first, and later expanding the garden to a farm. We found that some households adopted cultivation out of necessity, but far more did so by choice. Among the latter, some adopted cultivation to reduce risk, while for others it was a reflection of changing cultural and social norms. Motivations for adopting cultivation differed among people of different wealth categories. Diversification was part of wider cultural changes, and was also influenced by power differentials among Maasai age sets and by government policies.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Pure pastoralism is generally understood as meaning that the human population depends exclusively on livestock as their means of subsistence—this may mean that the people consume only livestock products or that livestock provide the means for acquiring grains and other goods through trade, in addition to providing livestock based foods.

  2. Although East African pastoralists have only very recently begun to invest in real estate, this process was reported on as typical for wealthy Middle Eastern pastoral peoples decades ago (Barth 1961).

  3. In many villages plots of land are being allocated to individuals, often in 3–10 acre allotments. Although individuals have rights to use these allocations they are legally not allowed to sell them.

  4. Tropical Livestock Units were derived by multiplying total cattle numbers by 0.72 and small stock numbers by 0.17. This follows the procedure used by Grandin 1988 and Homewood et al. 2009.

  5. The sharp decline in livestock numbers could also be considered a pull factor, especially if herd-owners witnessed sharp declines in others herds but were not personally affected.


  • Barth, F. (1961). Nomads of South Persia: The Basseri Tribe of the Khamseh Confederacy. Little Brown and Company, Boston.

    Google Scholar 

  • Batterbury, S. (2001). Landscapes of Diversity: A Local Political Ecology of Livelihood Diversification in South-Western Niger. Ecumene 8(4): 437–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernard, H. R. (2006). Research Methods in Anthropology. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 4th ed. Altamira, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brockington, D. (2001). Fortress Conservation. The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve. James Currey, African Issues series.

  • Burnsilver, S. (2007). Pathways of Continuity and Change: Diversification, Intensification and Mobility in Maasailand Kenya. Ph.D dissertation. Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Colorado State University.

  • Ensminger, J. (1992). Making a market: The Institutional Transition of an African Society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fernandez-Gimenez, M. (2002). Spatial and Social Boundaries and the Paradox of Pastoral Land Tenure: A Case Study for Postsocialist Mongolia. Human Ecology 30(1): 49–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Field, C. R., Moll, G., and ole Sonkoi, C. (1997). Livestock development. In Thompson, S. M. (ed.), Multiple Land Use: The Experience of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Tanzania. IUCN, Geneva, pp. 181–199.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fratkin, E., and Mearns, R. (2003). Sustainablity and pastoral livelihoods: Lessons from East African Maasai and Mongolia. Human Organization 62(2): 112–122.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fratkin, E., and Roth, E. (1990). Drought and Economic Differentiation among Ariaal Pastoralists of Kenya. Human Ecology 18(4):385–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fratkin, E., and Roth, E. (2005). As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of the Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District. Kluwer Academic, Kenya.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galaty, J. (1994) Rangeland Tenure and Pastoralism in Africa. In Fratkin, E., Galvin, K., & Roth, E. A. (eds.), 1994. African Pastoral Systems: an integrated approach. Lynne Rienner, pp 185–204.

  • Galaty, J. (1999). Grounding Pastoralists: Law, Politics and Dispossession in East Africa. Nomadic Peoples 3(2): 56–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldman, M. (2003). Partitioned nature, privileged knowledge,: community based conservation in Tanzania. Development and Change 34(5): 833–862.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grandin, B. (1988). Wealth and Pastoral Dairy Production: A Case Study of Maasailand. Human Ecology 16: 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hampshire, K., and Randall, S. (2000). Pastoralists, Agropastoralists and Migrants: Interactions Between Fertility and Mobility in Northern Burkina Faso. Population Studies 54: 247–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Homewood, K. (2004). Policy, Environment and development in African rangelands. Environmental Science and Policy 7: 125–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Homewood, K. (2008). Ecology of African Pastoral Societies. James Currey Ltd., Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Homewood, K., and Brockington, D. (1999). Biodiversity, Conservation And Development in Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania. Global Ecology and Biogeography 8: 301–313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Homewood, K. M., Thompson, P. T., Kiruswa, S., and Coast, E. (2005). Community- and State-based Natural Resource Management and Local Livelihoods in Maasailand. Special issue on Community Based Natural Resource Management. Afriche e Orienti 2: 84–101.

    Google Scholar 

  • Homewood, K., Patti, K., and Pippa, T. (eds.) (2009). Staying Maasai: Livelihoods, Conservation and Development in East African Rangelands. Springer, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Igoe, J. (2003a). Scaling Up Civil Society: Donor Money, NGOs and the Pastoralist Land Rights Movement in Tanzania. Development and Change 34(5): 863–885.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Igoe, J. (2003b). Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota. Wadsworth, Belmont.

    Google Scholar 

  • LaRovere, R., Hieraux, P., Van Keulen, H., Schiere, J. B., and Szonyo, J. A. (2005). Co-evolutionary Scenarios of Intensification and Privatization of Resource use in Rural Communities of South-Western Niger. Agricultural Systems 83(3): 251–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leserogol, C. (2008). Contesting the Commons: Privatizing Pastoral Lands in Kenya. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leslie, P., and Dyson-Hudson, R. (1999). People and herds. In Little, M. A., and Leslie, P. W. (eds.), Turkana Herders of the Dry Savanna. Ecology and Biobehavioral Response of Nomads to an Uncertain Environment. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 233–247.

    Google Scholar 

  • Little, P. (2003). Somalia: Economy Without a State. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

    Google Scholar 

  • Little, P., Smith, K., Cellarius, B., Coppock, D., and Barrett, C. (2001). Avoiding Disaster: Diversification and Risk Management Among East African Herders. Development and Change 32: 410–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marin, A. (2008). Between Cash Cows and Golden Calves: Adaptations of Mongolian Pastoralism in the “Age of the Market”. Nomadic Peoples 12(2): 75–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marshall, F. (1990). Origins of Specialized Pastoral Production in East Africa. American Anthropologist 92: 873–894.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCabe, J. T. (1997). Risk and Uncertainty Among the Maasai of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania: A Case Study in Economic Change. Nomadic Peoples 1(1): 54–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCabe, J. T. (2003). Sustainability and Livelihood Diversification Among the Maasai of Northern Tanzania. Human Organization 62(3): 100–111.

    Google Scholar 

  • May, A., and McCabe, J. T. (2004). City Work in a Time of AIDS: Maasai Labor Migration in Tanzania. Africa Today 51(2): 3–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O’Malley, M. E. (2000). Cattle and Cultivation: Changing Land Use Patterns in Pastoral Maasai Livelihoods, Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District, Tanzania. Ph.D dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado.

  • Potkanski, T. (1997). Pastoral Economy, Property Rights and Traditional Assistant Mechanisms Among the Ngorongoro and Salei Maasai of Tanzania. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, Pastoral Land Tenure Series Monograph 2.

  • Spear, T. (1993). Being “Maasai” but not “People of the Cattle.” Arusha Agricultural Maasai in the Nineteenth Century. In Spear, T., and Waller, R. (eds.), Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in East Africa. James Currey, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thebaud, B., and Batterbury, S. (2001). Sahel Pastoralists: Opportunism, Struggle, Conflict and Negation. A Case Study from Eastern Niger. Global Environmental Change 11: 69–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waller, R. D. (1988) Emutai : Crisis and Response in Maasailand 1883–1902. In Johnson, D., and Anderson, D. (eds.), The Ecology of Survival: Case Studies from Northeast African History. Lester Crook Academic Publishing/ Westview Press, pp73–114.

  • Western, D. (1997). In the Dust of Kilimanjaro. Island, Washington.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by NSF Grants BCS-0351462, BCS-0349825, BCS-0624343, BCS-0624265, and a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Reviewers of the manuscript made several useful suggestions and forced us to make aspects of our argument clearer.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul W. Leslie.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

McCabe, J.T., Leslie, P.W. & DeLuca, L. Adopting Cultivation to Remain Pastoralists: The Diversification of Maasai Livelihoods in Northern Tanzania. Hum Ecol 38, 321–334 (2010).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: