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

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Abstract

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.

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Notes

  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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Paul W. Leslie.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-010-9312-8

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