Trees and pastoralists: The case of the Pokot and Turkana

TitleTrees and pastoralists: The case of the Pokot and Turkana
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication1988
AuthorsBarrow, EGC
Secondary TitleSocial Forestry Network Papers 6b
Date PublishedMay 1988
PublisherOverseas Development Institute (ODI)
Keywordssoil conservation

Pastoral people in arid and semi-arid lands have, with time, developed rational sustainable land use systems based on the mobility of their livestock herds, and making optimal use of the land both geographically and ecologically. Historically such systems were self-regulating with periodic famines and disease outbreaks acting as controls. These self-regulating mechanisms are for various reasons, no longer allowed full play with resulting deterioration in land-use patterns, particularly in the settlement zones.

Few people perceive the use of their land-use strategies as a soil and water conservation benefit, yet in preserving their land and vegetation this is exactly what it is. Likewise planners in soil and water conservation, in many cases, do not see the value of such strategies, preferring the use of structures in curing the problem rather than preventing the disease.

This paper attempts, in some small way to highlight some of the traditional values that the Pokot and Turkana have which could be of intrinsic value to soil and water conservation, if used sensibly in the dry areas. It further attempts to identify methods of incorporating such traditional values into soil and water conservation practice for arid and semi-arid lands. (author)


This paper argued that the traditional values and practices of the semi-nomadic Pokot and Turkana peoples of Kenya provided an excellent basis for institutional efforts to sustain the pastoralists' semi-arid environments. Both groups managed pasture lands adaptively and co-operatively, under the leadership of elders. Trees along water courses were under individual tenure, highly valued and rarely cut, though people did not plant trees and failed to see the connection between seedlings and productive mature trees. The author argued that the many inappropriate and damaging interventions in the area, for instance intensification of land use, could be usefully replaced by developments that start with what people know, build on indigenous strategies and strengthen local rights of tenure.

Number of pages

24 pp.

Short TitleTrees and pastoralists