Nutritional Status of Maasai Pastoralists under Change
This study assesses the nutritional status of Maasai pastoralists living in a period of great social, economic and ecological changes in Kajiado County, southern Kenya. Data on weight, height, skinfolds, and circumferences were collected from 534 individuals in the year 2000. The data were used to describe mean differences in human nutrition between ages, sexes, and within and among three Group Ranches. Nutritional data and diet recall data were compared with past studies of Maasai nutrition from 1930 to 2000. Results indicate that nutritional status is poor and has remained so despite numerous changes to the social-ecological system including livelihood diversification, sedentarization, human population growth and decreased access to vegetation heterogeneity. Imbirikani Group Ranch had better access to infrastructure and markets and some measures of nutritional status were better than for individuals in other group ranches. However, nutritional status remains poor despite transitioning to greater market integration.
KeywordsHuman nutrition Anthropometry Social-ecological change Nutrition transition Maasai pastoralists Southern Kenya
The food production systems of the peoples of the drylands of East Africa are based on livestock and, rainfall permitting, some cultivation. However, recurrent and extreme weather events and changes in markets, land tenure, population and urban growth have greatly affected these production systems (Galvin 2009; Reid et al.2014). The 2000 decade saw several severe droughts, in 2000, 2005–6 and in 2009. There was an increased reliance on market involvement and cash transactions—what would be expected of a population experiencing a transition from subsistence production to increasing dependence on market-driven goods and services including purchased foods, clothing, household articles, health care, and veterinary services. Processes of increased subdivision of land and sedentarization have fragmented the landscape making it difficult for herders to move their livestock, the primary management strategy of pastoralists (BurnSilver et al. 2008; Hobbs et al.2008). As human populations have grown, livestock to human ratios have decreased, spurring the need for livelihood diversification. Settlements are increasingly closer to villages as people seek better access to schools, health care, jobs and water.
This study documents the nutritional status of Maasai pastoralists within its changing social, economic and ecological context. Economic change and its attendant social-ecological effects such as livelihood diversification, new settlement patterns and land fragmentation influence food production patterns. There is an important and complex relationship between the environment, economic status, lifestyle and nutritional status. Accompanying environmental, economic and social changes is often a change in labor and work tasks with an increased reliance on purchased foods. This is accompanied by a shift in diet and a reduction in physical activity, both of which affect people’s nutritional status. This process is termed a nutrition transition (Popkin 2004, 2006). The present study uses anthropometry to assess if a nutrition transition is occurring among Maasai pastoralists.
Anthropometric indices are highly reliable and sensitive indicators of growth and body composition. They are the single most widely used measure of nutritional status because of their precision, replicative nature and the availability of accurate standards for comparison. Therefore, relatively simple measures of weight and height, with information on age and sex can yield reliable information on nutritional status (Frisancho 2011). For example, height compared to age is a good indicator of the long-term nutritional status of a child, whereas weight compared to height is thought to be a good assessment of the current health status of a child. Triceps skinfolds is a simple measure of the body’s fat stores whereas upper arm circumference combined with triceps skinfold provides an indicator of protein stocks.
We utilize two frameworks to understand the nutritional state of Maasai pastoralists. They include the nutrition transition model for understanding the effects of change on nutrition and a social-ecological systems framework for conceptualizing the important components of change and how they interact to affect nutritional status.
A nutrition transitions framework examines diet and nutrition within the context of shifts in land tenure and land use changes, human population growth, livelihood diversification, rural-to-urban migration, sedentarization and climate change (e.g., Dufour and Piperata 2004; Olszowy et al. 2012; Piperata et al.2011b; Popkin 1993, 2004). The nutrition transition framework encapsulates two interrelated phenomena, the demographic transition, where there is a shift from high fertility and high mortality to low fertility and aging populations, and an epidemiological transition, where systems change from populations characterized by high rates of infectious disease to a system characterized by increases in non-communicable and degenerative diseases (Popkin 1993; Popkin 2004). Obviously, these scenarios are two ends of a spectrum and there are undoubtedly situations in which populations are experiencing any degree of these transitions. Many of the case studies that test the nutrition transition do so in the context of highly industrialized urban environments (Popkin 1993, 2004), wherein links have been made to changes in physical activity and diet composition to increased rates of obesity, Type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. However, there are also several studies that address nutritional changes that are occurring in traditionally rural communities that may not be experiencing truly urbanized or industrialized circumstances, but whose members’ nutritional status is influenced by social and economic changes (e.g., Dufour and Piperata 2004; Olszowy et al. 2012; Piperata et al. 2011b). Studies focused on market integration address market impact on nutritional status, with increased market integration associated with increased rates of overweight and obesity, whereby reductions in physical activity levels are manifested in reduction in muscle mass and an increase in arm fatness (Piperata et al.2011a, b).
Abandoning traditional lifestyles or greatly altering them while increasing access to markets results in an increased dependency on purchased foods (Ianniotti and Lesorogol 2014). Concomitant with lifestyle changes, nutrient dense diets may decrease while consumption of carbohydrate-rich, fatty, and low-fiber foods increases, as a result from a shift away from local food production to a greater reliance on purchased goods. It is suggested that in some cases as people move closer to town they become worse off (Dufour and Piperata 2004; Fratkin et al. 1999). They are typically in a poorer social-economic situation in urban and peri-urban environments and may in fact share a double burden of disease, meaning that these individuals are susceptible to both infectious disease and non-communicable diseases. Their nutritional status is thought to be lower than those who have not experienced the nutritional transition and those who are long-term urban dwellers (Dufour and Piperata 2004).
We also use a social-ecological framework which recognizes that human and ecological well-being is tightly linked, especially in systems where people are reliant directly on the environment for their livelihoods (Myers and Patz 2009). Grace et al. (2012) found that variability in climate across Kenya was correlated to malnutrition. Further, diversifying incomes and loss of landscape complexity were linked to lower nutritional status in Brazil (Adams et al.2013). We acknowledge that the link between social-ecological changes and human health are complex. We cannot directly link human health to specific social or environmental changes in a direct cause and effect relationship, but we describe a series of ecological and social changes and document nutritional status through time. Land use and livestock management strategies provide services (food, forage and water) that sustain human health, but there is little research to date linking them at the household level (Myers and Patz 2009; Tallis et al.2013). We try to do this indirectly.
Nutritional research was conducted in May and June 2000 as part of a broader study to assess livelihood strategies and human wellbeing of Maasai pastoralists under change (see BurnSilver 2009; BurnSilver et al. 2008), under the auspices of the Livestock-Climate Change Collaborative Research Support Program (Boone et al. 2002; Galvin et al. 2002; BurnSilver et al. 2003; Thornton et al. 2003; Galvin et al. 2004). The many changes in Kajiado County, such as an increased reliance on cash, greater market involvement, and division of communal lands into group ranches (GR) and their further subdivision into individually owned parcels, have affected the economic strategies, lifestyles and living conditions of the Maasai people similar to what would be expected of a population experiencing a nutrition transition.
Nutritional status is poor for all age/sex groups.
Nutritional status in un-subdivided and subdivided GRs is similar.
Nutritional status remains relatively stable over time (1930–2000) despite significant, diverging social, economic and environmental changes across Maasailand.
Pastoral diets vary between GRs. Those GRs closer to towns have more diverse diets.
Kajiado County under change: Populations, livelihood diversification, land use/tenure changes, market changes, climate, ecology
Kajiado County is an area of mixed grassland-shrub on volcanic soils. Precipitation ranges between 400 to 800 mm and occurs in a bimodal pattern over two rainy seasons and two dry seasons. This semi-arid to arid region has a south to north rainfall gradient with recurring droughts, and rainfall patterns even in good years are spatially and temporally variable. Once governed by communal land tenure and use, Kajiado County (when this study was conducted it was a district but became a county under the new Kenyan constitution of 2010) was adjudicated into GRs beginning in the 1960s. This effort was applied to communal lands nationwide, led by the Kenyan government and supported by the World Bank under the assumption that private property would be a more rational and productive basis to support the transition from subsistence pastoralism to a system of intensive livestock production (Oxby 1982, Nkedianye 2009). What had been divided into eight sections historically recognized by the Maasai was divided into about 54 GRs and groups of registered pastoral households were granted leasehold tenure under a framework of group freehold tenure (Kimani and Pickard 1998). Maasai pastoralists conversely viewed the GR scheme as a means to maintain control over their land (Galaty 1980). Early in the creation of GRs, influential people (Maasai and some non-Maasai) acquired title to individual parcels. Ownership of individual parcels was condoned by the government in the 1980s, and subdivision commenced. The initial result was fragmentation of the landscape into GRs interspersed with private parcels. Even as the process of GR formation in Kajiado continued through the 1980s, the process of subdivision of GR land into private parcels began, particularly in the wetter (northern) areas of the district. GRs were envisioned by policymakers as an intermediate step between communal land tenure and eventual privatization of land down to the level of household parcels, predicated on the idea that limiting pastoral livestock mobility and increased provision of veterinary and market outlets would lead to a decrease in livestock stocking rates and more market oriented livestock production strategies. Much has been written regarding the failure of this larger strategy to affect intended changes (Galaty 1992), however the GR system did gradually increase infrastructure availability for pastoral households, for example leading to the establishment of permanent water points, veterinary facilities and livestock markets. While subdivision of GRs has continued, the arid regions of Kajiado have largely remained organized as GRs, although areas with access to irrigated water or higher altitude lands have been subdivided informally into agricultural plots and distributed to GR members.
A second, concurrent process of sedentarization has been ongoing even within those GRs as yet unsubdivided, as pastoral households have settled permanently around permanent water, infrastructure and agricultural zones (e.g., Namelok swamp in southern Kajiado). Thus the current pastoral landscape in Kajiado is a mosaic of sedentary agropastoralism in high potential agricultural areas, and more extensive pastoralism in unsubdivided, drier and more infrastructure poor regions (BurnSilver and Mwangi 2007). This describes the situation in the three study GRs of Imbirikani, Olgulului-Lolarashi and Eselengei when nutritional data were collected in 2000.
Social-ecological changes in Kajiado County
Mosaic of group ranches (Group Leasehold Title) and individual parcels (Private Property)
Livestock based subsistence consumption
Diversified; agropastoralism to extensive pastoralism with market engagement
BurnSilver et al. 2008
Extensive; seasonal transhumance
A mosaic of landuse: sedentary agropastoralism-->
Extensive seasonal transhumant pastoralism
BurnSilver et al. 2008
Frequency of movement
Often-entire HHs moved
Limited in subdivided areas and in sedentary areas (eg. swamps and highland agricultural areas).
Livestock herds only move seasonally with young men or hired herders
Low (few houses)
High in agricultural areas.
All HHs have permanent homes regardless of mobility patterns
Human population density
Some species in decline
Vegetation heterogeneity access
BurnSilver et al. 2008
Ogutu et al. 2007
Drought severity frequency
Ogutu et al. 2007
Group ranch characteristics for Imbirkani, Eselengei and Olgulului/Lorashi group ranches
Group ranch characteristics
Average distance to nearest village (km)
Mean TLU per AUb,c
Gross livestock income ($)
% HH with agricultural income
% HH with off-land income
Mean HH off-land income ($)
% HH with wildlife-based income
Mean HH wildlife-based income ($)
% HH mobile
Mean number of moves per year
Daily mean distance traveled (wet)
Daily mean distance traveled (dry)
Data Collection and Analysis
Age and sex distribution of study sample participants
Juveniles (♂ 7–11.9; ♀ 7–10.9)
Adolescents (♂ 12–17.9; ♀ 11–17.9)
Age and Anthropometry
Anthropometric measurements were recorded for each present member of the household; the ages of all participants were obtained by individual or family recall. Individuals were categorized according to biologically meaningful age groups: a) infants (0–1.9); b) children (2–6.9); c) juveniles (males—7–11.9, females—7–10.9); d) adolescents (males—12–17.9, females—11–17.9); and e) adults (18+) (Table 3). Measurements were obtained via standardized procedures from Lohmann et al. (1988). We used a home-made measuring board to obtain infant length to the nearest 1 mm, while a spring balance was used to record infant weights to the nearest 10 g. In a few instances, the mother was weighed holding the infant and the mother’s weight subtracted, which may have introduced some unreliability to the data by not being exactly accurate. For individuals over the age of two, we recorded heights to the nearest 1 mm, weights to the nearest 100 g, triceps skin fold (TSF) to the nearest 0.5 mm using a Lange skinfold caliper, and upper-arm circumference (UAC) to the nearest 1mm using a flexible graduated tape measure. All measurements were taken by KG.
Additional anthropometric indices were derived from the metrics listed above. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated using the comprehensive database from Frisancho (2011) as follows: BMI = (weight(kg)/(height(m))2. Upper-arm muscle area was calculated as: UMA (cm2) = [UAC – (3.1416 * TSF)]2/12.57 (Piperata et al. 2011b).
We used the anthropometric data to describe mean differences in human nutrition between ages, sexes, and also within and between GRs when applicable. Z-scores were derived from Frisancho (2011), a comprehensive database which includes standardized anthropometric scores from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES III), World Health Organization (WHO 2006), and Center for Disease Control (Kuczmarski et al. 2002). Weight-for-height (WHZ), height-for-age (HAZ), and body mass index (BMIZ) z-scores were calculated for all individuals under the age of 5 in accordance with WHO reference standards (WHO 2006). The NHANES III was used to obtain HAZ and BMIZ scores for individuals greater than 5 years old, and triceps skin fold (ZTSF), and upper-arm muscle area (ZUMA) for all individuals greater than 2 years of age. According to Frisancho (2011), the NHANES III reference standards are appropriate for individuals who are over 2 years of age if the data were collected to the nearest year, which is the case for individuals older than 2 in the present study, or for individuals older than 20 years of age. Hence, we believe that the procedures carried out here comply with standardized reference materials.
We used several z-scores as proxies of short-term and long-term nutritional status following Piperata et al. (2011b). HAZ was used to assess long-term nutritional status for all individuals; a z-score less than or equal to −2.0 indicated the prevalence of stunting (WHO 2006). WHZ was used to asess short-term nutritional status in infants, and wasting was inferred from a z-score of less than or equal to -2.0 (WHO 2006). BMIZ was used to assess short-term nutritional status in sub-adults (between 2 and 18 years of age), where individuals below the 5th percentile were considered underweight, those falling between the 85th and 95th percentile were considered overweight, and those above the 95th percentile were considered obese (de Onis et al. 2007; Must et al. 1991). Adult BMI categories were used to assess short-term nutritional status; less than 18.5 (underweight), 18.5–24.9 (normal), 25–29 (overweight), and > 30 (obese) (WHO 1995). For individuals greater than 2 years of age, we assessed fat stores and protein reserves using ZTSF and ZUMA, respectively. The prevalence of malnourishment was indicated by a ZUMA score less than or equal to -2.0 (Frisancho 2011).
We first report differences in z-scores between the sexes and age categories with all ranches combined. One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and the appropriate corresponding post-hoc procedure (Scheffe or Dunnet’s C for samples that did not conform to the homogeneity of variance assumption) were used to identify differences between age categories among male and female participants, while significant gender differences for each age category were interpreted using an independent sample t-tests. Significant gender effects in stunting, wasting/underweight, overweight/obese, and malnutrition in sub-adults, in addition to adult BMI categories were tested using the chi-square test.
Adult only sample by sex and group ranch
Maasai Nutritional Status: 1930–2000
We present results from previous studies on Maasai in Tanzania (McCabe et al. 1989; Orr and Gilks 1931) and Kenya (Nestel 1986) over the course of the last 85 years as a means to compare whether substantial changes in nutritional status have occurred. The data consist of published aggregate data only, and therefore preclude testing for significant differences using inferential statistical procedures. However, we can compare basic descriptive statistics between individual data sets with reference to CDC (Kuczmarski et al. 2002) and WHO (2006) standards.
Twenty-four hour diet recall data were collected from a subsample of households (n = 20). Eighty-six interviews were conducted, where respondents were asked the types of foods consumed the day before. We know that urbanization and peri-urbanization can lead to a dietary transition. For agriculture, the nutritional transition is normally a move from a locally-produced diet to a modern diet high in refined carbohydrates (Lourenco et al. 2008; Santos et al. 2013). For pastoralists however, the transition may be from a diet high in protein and low in energy to a higher carbohydrate diet but lower protein intake. We do not have the diet intake data to test this however. Instead, we compare diets by GR to distance to market centers. We test the simple assumption that pastoralists who live closer to towns have a more diverse diet.
Mean comparison of height-for-age (HAZ), weight-for-height (WHZ), body-mass index (BMIZ), under arm muscle area (ZUMA), and tricep skin fold (ZTSF) z-scores by age and sex across all group ranches
Differences Between Age Groups
Mean HAZ differed between age groups for both males and females. Males satisfy the test for homogeneity of variance, therefore the ANOVA P-value can be considered accurate. Although the female subgroup does not satisfy the assumption of homogenous variances, the Brown-Forsythe and Welch test for equality of means offer confidence in the conclusion that there is a significant difference in female HAZ between age groups. The Scheffe post-hoc tests suggest that male adults have higher HAZ than all male groups except for the juvenile cohort, while female adults exhibit significantly higher HAZ than all other female groups. Adolescent and adult females have higher BMIZ scores when compared to juvenile females (F = 5.22; P < 0.05). Additionally, ZUMA differed between age groups in both male and female participants. Male adults have higher ZUMA than male adolescents. Female adults have higher ZUMA scores than any other age group and female adolescents have higher ZUMA when compared to female juveniles. With regards to ZTSF male children and adults have higher ZTSF when compared to male juveniles.
Differences Between Sexes
Independent samples t-tests identified the differences between sexes within particular age groups. Female adolescents have higher HAZ when compared to male adolescents in our sample. Additionally, BMIZ scores for female adolescents and adults were higher than male adolescents and adults. Female ZUMA scores were higher when compared to male ZUMA scores for each age group. Adult males exhibit higher ZTSF scores when compared to adult females.
Proportion of individuals by age and sex who are stunted, wasted/underweight, overweight, obese, and/or malnourished
Comparing Adult Subset Across GRs
Mean comparison of adult height-for-age (HAZ), body-mass index (BMIZ), under-arm muscle area (ZUMA), and triceps skin fold (ZTSF) z-scores by group ranch and sex
Proportion of individuals who are characterized as underweight, overweight/obese, and malnourished by group ranch and sex
Differences Between Male and Female Adults Within GRs
There are several differences that emerge when looking at average z-scores between male and females by GR. Females have higher BMIZ scores when compared to males in Imbirikani (Table 7). Second, females have higher ZUMA scores when compared to males in all three GRs (Table 7), though the limited number of male individuals with reported ZTSF in Olgulului/Lorashi GR (n = 8) reduces our confidence that the statistical results for that particular GR are accurate. Third, ZTSF is higher in males in Imbirikani GR (Table 7). The prevalence of malnourishment is gender biased; for all GRs, a higher percentage of males were classified as malnourished when compared to females (Table 8).
Differences Between GRs
Two significant differences emerged when controlling for gender. First, females in Imbirikani GR have higher BMIZ than females in Eselengei (Table 7). Second, males in Imbirikani GR have higher ZUMA than males in Eselengei GR (Table 7). There is no statistical difference in the prevalence of underweight and malnourishment between the group ranches, however it is interesting to note that Imbirikani has the fewest individuals who were classified as underweight and malnourished when compared to the other GRs (Table 8).
Maasai Nutritional Status Over Time: 1930–2000
Nutritional status is poor for all age/sex groups. We hypothesized that nutritional status would be poor for the population. All z-scores for nutritional measures were below 1 standard deviation from the mean (except for infant WHZ/BMIZ) and some measures were close to 2 SD below the mean. This was especially prevalent in all male measures of ZUMA and for male and female juvenile WHZ/BMIZ scores as well as those for adolescent boys. Juvenile and adolescent males are the main herders and away from the household during the day, expending energy herding and not available at the household when food is available. A majority of the males from age 2 to adults were malnourished and this was especially prevalent among adolescent boys. Despite socioeconomic and environmental changes, (Table 1) there has not been an improvement in nutritional status from earlier assessments. .
Nutritional status among group ranches is similar. Nutritional status of adults by group ranch did not show significant trends despite differences in any number of group ranch characteristics. All z-scores were below the norm. There were no differences among male and female z-scores except females (BMIZ) and males (ZUMA) in Imbirikani. Imbirikani has informally subdivided agricultural areas and in the southern part of the GR it is very agropastoral. This may account for why adults in Imbirikani tended to have less negative z-scores than adults in other group ranches.
Almost all individuals were underweight or malnourished, with the majority of men in Eselengei and Olugulului/Lolorashi GRs malnourished though over 40 % of sampled men in Imbirikani also had this status. Increasing sedentarization in some areas leads to a decrease in ecological connectivity, and a decrease in the scale of resource use and livestock dependency (Galvin et al. 2008; Hobbs et al. 2008). However, it is the case that household social networks allow individuals to move their livestock across the landscape, thereby keeping livestock condition high. It may be the case that people are still mobile enough when needed. The observed result is a lack of differences in nutritional status among group ranches although the fewest undernourished occurred in Imbirikani GR whose inhabitants had greatest access to agricultural products and extensive pastoralism.
Hypothesis 3 suggests that nutritional status remained stable over time, though at very poor levels. With regards to weight- and height-for-age in children, nutritional status for Kajiado Maasai and Tanzanian Maasai (McCabe et al. 1989) are similar and low despite over a decade of social, economic and environmental changes. This is also the case for the percentage of sub-adults below the 90 % reference population in weight-for-height. Though the percentage below the reference norm is about 40 % among Maasai children in 2000, it is closer to 50 % in 1985 and 1989. For juveniles and adolescents, the proportion below 90 % of the reference is almost identical at about 70 %. Comparing mean weights, heights and BMI for adults over three time periods, 1931, 1989 and 2000, there appear to be few changes. The trends are interesting though with Maasai adults generally weighing more and having higher measures of BMI in 1931, relative to later years. However, heights tended to increase through time. Though we were unable to statistically test this hypothesis because we were dealing with aggregate data, the results still show remarkable consistency through time.
Pastoral diets vary between group ranches (hypothesis 4). Imbirikani individuals generally had more non-pastoral products in their diets than in other group ranches while the Oluglului/Lolarashi sample showed diets highest in pastoral products. This outcome could be attributed entirely to the location of the anthropometric sample. The Imbirikani sample appears to be closest to local towns. However, group ranch characteristics (Table 1) tend to substantiate this result. Imbirikani has the highest infrastructure access (roads, towns), is most sedentary, has the lowest TLU per person on average, the highest agricultural income and least percent of mobile households (although those who did move, moved more often and traveled longer distances in the dry season). It is also the group ranch that has significantly higher BMI and UMA when compared to Eselengei. That difference is not seen in Olgulului/Lorashi, but overall BMI and UMA is higher in Imbirkani than other group ranches hinting at a nutrition transition.
We analyzed human nutritional data and diets within a context of change to address questions of persistence and a predicted transition of east African pastoral systems. There have been numerous changes to the social-ecological system in Kajiado in the past thirty years. Yet, human health as measured by nutritional status remains stable and poor. What does this imply for persistence or transformation of the pastoral system? It seems that the Maasai have been able to persist and adapt—their nutritional status is approximately the same as 30 years ago. Thus, Maasai do seem to be resilient by being able to absorb change and shocks. Maasai nutritional continuity seems to be operating here. But if improving and building adaptive capacity is considered, then this is not occurring, at least at the level of human health.
There has been a theoretical debate about whether ‘small but healthy’ confers functional impairment on the individual with much early literature suggesting that individuals ‘adapt’ to lower energy and protein intake at no functional cost (Seckler 1982; Sukhatme and Margen 1982). Later work of Messer (1986, 1989) and others (e.g., Martorell 1989; Vercellotti et al. 2014) refute this claim and show overwhelmingly that growth retardation is a major sign of poor health and is associated with compromised immune competence, poor psychological performance, diminished productivity and increased risk of mortality. We agree with the latter group and suggest that while Maasai have adapted, human health remains poor.
Further, pastoralists have tended to be taller than their agricultural neighbors (e.g., Galvin 1992; Hadley and Crooks 2012; Little and Johnson 1987) showing the benefits of milk-consumption to linear growth. However, milk consumption may not offset highly prevalent food insecurity and exposure to illness. Lawson et al. (2014) compared health and nutritional status among Maasai and other ethnic groups in Tanzania and showed that over half of the Maasai children were stunted compared to about 20% of agricultural children. Maasai children had much less access to carbohydrates, were at higher risk of certain illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea, and were very food insecure. They also inhabited the dry regions of Tanzania relative to the other ethnic groups. Our sample population may have similar characteristics.
Many human populations are initially buffered against the degradation of ecosystem services and there is a temporal lag between ecosystem change and the resultant impacts on humans (Myers and Patz 2009). It is difficult to show causation or even correlation between human and ecosystem health due to social, economic, political and cultural activities that buffer vulnerability to the collapse of ecosystem services. In Kajiado, the case may be that human biological change is lagging behind the socio-economic and environmental changes that are cascading through the system. It may be that Maasai nutritional state will improve in the future but it may remain vulnerable to surprise and crisis in the short term (Herrfahrdt-Pähle and Pahl-Wostl 2012).
Imbirikani group ranch has better access to infrastructure and markets and may be undergoing a dietary transition. This implies several other changes that we would expect to occur (i.e., livestock holdings decreases, sedentism increases, participation in agriculture increases). And in fact these changes are occurring. People who live closer to larger towns, markets and main roads are no longer able to live directly from their livestock and thus must sell livestock products, conduct some agriculture and purchase food to supplement their household food supply more often than those pastoralists living further away However, people are choosing to live near towns for a variety of reasons including access to schools and health care (Fratkin et al. 1999; Little et al. 2001). The result is that ecosystem services (water, forage, nutrition directly from livestock) needed for livestock production are not readily available. Yet, nutritional status, remains poor, is similar across group ranches and across age/sex groups and is similar to other pastoral nutritional studies (e.g., Galvin 1992; Galvin and Little 1999; Galvin et al. 2002; Knapp et al. 2015).
We lack data on demographic shifts and changes in epidemiological patterns, two population processes that affect and are affected by nutritional change. The focus on these shifts conceal the underlying processes of change, that is, social and economic integration in market economies as drivers of increased rates of overweight and obesity, associated with reductions in physical activity. Social and economic activities are also associated with increased dependence on purchased food. Our information also suggested, environmental changes, in addition to social and economic transformations are part of the suite of processes that affect nutritional change, especially for populations who are increasingly integrated into market economies in their local places. This paper references numerous changes in the ecological productivity and access as well and social and economic changes. Diets are changing yet there is food insecurity. Market integration is not correlated with changing nutritional status. It is likely that other measures of a transition may need to be taken into account like education, health care, infrastructure (i.e., roads and water) or that this is an early stage of a transition. However, the fact that nutritional status is similar across group ranches also suggests that Maasai values of obligatory sharing and reciprocity in food, pasture, and animals seem to still be in place. We see a pastoral system that is transforming and yet illustrates continuity under change.
We would like to give a heartfelt thank you to the Maasai of Southern Kajiado who gave us their time. This work was supported by the Global Livestock CRSP (Collaborative Research Support Program of the office of Agriculture and Food Security Global Bureau USAID under grant no. PCE-G-98-0036-000) and the National Science Foundation through the SCALE project of the Biocomplexity Program (grant no. 0119618). The paper benefited greatly from reviews of Professor Michael Little and Darna Dufour and from external reviewers.
- Adams, C., Munari, L. C., Van Vliet, N., Murrieta, R. S. S., Piperata, B. A., Futemma, C., Pedroso Jr., N. N., Taqueda, C. S., Crevelaro, M. A., and Spressola-Prado, V. L. (2013). Diversifying incomes and losing landscape complexity in Quilombola shifting cultivation communities of the Atlantic rainforest (Brazil). Human Ecology 41(1): 119–137.Google Scholar
- BurnSilver, S. (2009). Pathways of continuity and change: Maasai livelihoods in Amboseli, Kajiado District, Kenya. In Homewood, K., Kristjanson, P., and Trench, P. C. (eds.), Staying Maasai? Livelihoods, Conservation and Development in East African Rangelands. Springer, New York, pp. 161–207.Google Scholar
- BurnSilver, S., and Mwangi, E. (2007). Beyond group ranch subdivision: collective action for livestock mobility, ecological viability, and livelihoods. CAPRI Working Paper 66: 1–37.Google Scholar
- BurnSilver, S., Boone, R. B., and Galvin, K. A. (2003). Linking pastoralists to a heterogeneous landscape: The case of four Maasai group ranches in Kajiado District, Kenya. In Fox, J., Mishra, V., Rindfuss, R., and Walsh, S. (eds.), Linking household and remotely sensed data: Methodological and practical problems. Kluwer Academic Publishing, Boston, pp. 173–199.Google Scholar
- BurnSilver, S., Worden, J., and Boone, R. (2008). Processes of fragmentation in the Amboseli ecosystem, southern Kajiado District, Kenya. In Galvin, K. A., Reid, R. S., Behnke, R. H., and Hobbs, N. T. (eds.), Fragmentation in Semi-Arid and Arid Landscapes: Consequences for Human and Natural Systems. Springer, Dordrecht, pp. 225–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Frisancho, A. R. (2011). Anthropometric standards: An interactive nutritional reference of body size and body composition for children and adults. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
- Galaty, J. G. (1980). The Maasai group-ranch: Politics and development in an African pastoral society. In Salzman, P. C. (ed.), When Nomads Settle. Prager, New York, pp. 157–172.Google Scholar
- Galaty, J. G. (1992). Social and Economic Factors in the Privatization, Sub-Division and Sale of Maasai Ranches. Nomadic Peoples 30: 26–40.Google Scholar
- Galvin, K. A., and Little, M. A. (1999). Dietary intake and nutritional status. 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. 125–145.Google Scholar
- Galvin, K. A., Ellis, J., Boone, R. B., Magennis, A. L., Smith, N. M., Lynn, S. J., and Thornton, P. (2002). Compatibility of pastoralism and conservation? A test case using integrated assessment in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. In Chatty, D., and Colester, M. (eds.), Displacement, Forced Settlement and Conservation. Berghahn, Oxford.Google Scholar
- Galvin, K. A., Reid, R. S., Behnke, R. H., and Hobbs, N. T. (eds) (2008). Fragmentation of semi-arid and arid landscapes: consequences for human and natural systems. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
- Galvin, K. A., Thornton, P. K., Boone, R. B., and Sunderland, J. (2004). Climate variability and impacts on East African livestock herders. African Journal of Range and Forage Sciences 21: 183–189.Google Scholar
- Grace K, Davenport F, Funk C, and Lerner AM. (2012). Child malnutrition and climate in Sub-Saharan Africa: An analysis of recent trends in Kenya. Applied Geography 35(1): 405–413.Google Scholar
- Herrfahrdt-Pähle E, and Pahl-Wostl C. (2012). Continuity and Change in Social-ecological Systems: the Role of Institutional Resilience. Ecology and Society 17(2).Google Scholar
- Homewood, K. M. (1992). Development and the ecology of Maasai pastoralist food and nutrition. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 29: 61–80.Google Scholar
- Homewood KM, and Rodgers WA. (1991). Maasailand ecology: pastoralist development and wildlife conservation in Ngorongoro, Tanzania. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
- K., Trench, P. C., & Kristjanson, P. (2009). Staying Maasai? Pastoral livelihoods, diversification and the role of wildlife in development. In Staying Maasai? Springer New York., p 369–408.Google Scholar
- Kimani, K., and Pickard, J. (1998). Recent Trends and Implications of Group Ranch Subdivision and Fragmentation in Kajiado District, Kenya. The Geographical Journal 164(2): 202–213.Google Scholar
- Knapp, L. M., Knapp, E. J., Metzger, K. L., Rentsch, D., Beyers, R., Hampson, K., Schmitt, J., Cleaveland, S., and Galvin, K. (2015). Human Health in the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem. In Sinclair, A. R. E., Metzger, K. L., Mduma, S. A. R., and Fryxell, J. (eds.), Serengeti IV: Sustaining biodiversity in a coupled human-natural system. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
- Kuczmarski RJ, Ogden CL, Guo SS, Grummer-Strawn LM, Flegal KM, Mei Z, Wei R, Curtin LR, Roche AF, and Johnson CL. (2002). 2000 CDC Growth Charts for the United States: methods and development. Vital and health statistics Series 11, Data from the national health survey (246):1–190.Google Scholar
- Lawson, D. W., Borgerhoff Mulder, M., Ghiselli, M. E., Ngadaya, E., Ngowi, B., Mfinanga, S. G., Hartwig, K., and James, S. (2014). Ethnicity and child health in northern Tanzania: Maasai pastoralists are disadvantaged compared to neighbouring ethnic groups. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Little, M. A., and Johnson Jr., B. R. (1987). Mixed-longitudinal growth of nomadic Turkana pastoralists. Human Biology 59(4): 695–707.Google Scholar
- Lohman, T. G., Roche, A. F., and Martorell, R. (1988). Anthropometric standardization reference manual. Human Kinetics Books, Champaign.Google Scholar
- McCabe, J.T., E.G. Schofield and G. Pederson (1989). Food Security and Nutritional Status. Technical Report No. 10, Ngorongoro Conservation and Development Project, IUCN Regional Office, Nairobi.Google Scholar
- Messer, E. (1986). The small but healthy hypothesis: Historical, political, and ecological influences on nutritional standards. Human Ecology 14(1): 57–75.Google Scholar
- Must, A., Dallal, G. E., and Dietz, W. H. (1991). Reference data for obesity: 85th and 95th percentiles of body mass index (wt/ht2) and triceps skinfold thickness. The American journal of clinical nutrition 53(4): 839–846.Google Scholar
- Nestel, P. (1986). A society in transition: Developmental and seasonal influences on the nutrition of Maasai women and children. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 8(1): 2–18.Google Scholar
- Nkedianye D, Radeny M, Kristjanson P, and Herrero M. (2009). Assessing returns to land and changing livelihood strategies in Kitengela. In: Homewood K, Kristjanson P, and Trench PC, editors. Staying Maasai? Livelihoods, Conservation, and Development in East African Rangelands. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. p 115-149.Google Scholar
- Orr, J. B., and Gilks, J. L. (1931). Studies of nutrition: the physique and health of two African tribes. Medical Research Council: Special Report Series 19: 1–93.Google Scholar
- Oxby, C. (1982). Group Ranches in Africa. London, Overseas Development Institute : 1–13.Google Scholar
- Piperata, B. A., Spence, J. E., Da-Gloria, P., and Hubbe, M. (2011b). The nutrition transition in Amazonia: rapid economic change and its impact on growth and development in Ribeirinhos. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 146(1): 1–13.Google Scholar
- Popkin, B. M. (1993). Nutritional Patterns and Transitions. Populaton and Development Review 19(1): 138–157.Google Scholar
- Popkin, BM. (2006). An overview on the nutrition transition and its health implications: the Bellagio meeting. Public Health Nutrition 5(1a).Google Scholar
- Reid R, Gichohi H, Said M, Nkedianye D, Ogutu J, Kshatriya M, Kristjanson P, Kifugo S, Agatsiva J, Adanje S et al. (2008). Fragmentation of a peri-urban savanna, Athi-Kaputiei Plains, Kenya. In: Galvin KA, Reid RS, Behnke RH, and Hobbs NT, editors. Fragmentation in Semi-Arid and Arid Landscapes: Consequences for Human and Natural Systems. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. p 195-224.Google Scholar
- Santos, R. V., Coimbra Jr., C. E., and Welch, J. R. (2013). A half-century portrait: Health transition in the Xavante Indians from central Brazil. In Brondízio, E. S., and Moran, E. F. (eds.), Human-Environment Interactions: Current and Future Directions. Springer, Dordrecht, pp. 29–52.Google Scholar
- Seckler, D. (1982). Small but healthy: a basic hypothesis in the theory, measurement and policy of malnutrition. In Sukhatme, P. V. (ed.), Newer Concepts in Nutrition and their Implications for Policy. Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science, Pune, pp. 127–137.Google Scholar
- Sukhatme, P. V., and Margen, S. (1982). Autoregulatory homeostatic nature of energy balance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 35: 355–365.Google Scholar
- Tallis, H., Guerry, A., and Daily, G. (2013). Ecosystem Services. In Leemens, R. (ed.), Ecological Systems: Selected entries from the Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology. Springer, New York, pp. 81–100.Google Scholar
- Vercellotti, G., Piperata, B. A., Agnew, A. M., Wilson, W. M., Dufour, D. L., Reina, J. C., Boano, R., Justus, H. M., Larsen, C. S., Stout, S. D., and Sciulli, P. W. (2014). Exploring the multidimensionality of stature variation in the past through comparisons of archaeological and living populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 155(2): 229–42.Google Scholar
- WHO (1995). Physical status: the use and interpretation of Anthropometry. World Health Organization, Geneva, p. 452.Google Scholar
- WHO (2006). Multicentre growth reference study group. WHO child growth standards: length/height-for-age, weight-for-age, weight-for-length, weight-for-height, and body mass index-for-age: methods and development. World Health Organization, Geneva.Google Scholar
- Worden, J. S. (2007) Maasai settlement and land-use, landscape mosaics, and the spatial patterning of vegetation and wildlife in East African Savannas. Ph.D., Dissertation. Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.Google Scholar
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.