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Land-use and Land-cover Changes in Pastoral Drylands: Long-term Dynamics, Economic Change, and Shifting Socioecological Frontiers in Baringo, Kenya

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Land-use and Land-cover Changes in Pastoral Drylands: Long-term Dynamics, Economic Change, and Shifting Socioecological Frontiers in Baringo, Kenya

Abstract and Figures

The ongoing fragmentation of pastoral drylands is a matter of concern throughout Africa. Using the example of rangelands in northern Baringo County, Kenya, that were under uniform pastoral use until the late 20th century, we trace land-use and land-cover changes (LULCCs) since the 1980s and beyond. Based on ethnographic, historical, and remote sensing data, we show how bush encroachment and dryland farming have led to the increasing modification and conversion of formerly open rangelands and the diversification of livelihoods. These LULCC dynamics are related to and driven not only by internal processes of socioeconomic change (e.g., sedentarization, changing rangeland management practices, growing markets for small stock, increasing stratification and cultural differentiation) but also by ecological processes such as wildlife defaunation and ecological invasions. Based on our findings, we suggest that a socioecological approach to Kopytoff’s notion of the internal African frontier can be helpful in framing these LULCC-related dynamics.
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Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-021-00263-8
Land‑use andLand‑cover Changes inPastoral Drylands: Long‑term
Dynamics, Economic Change, andShifting Socioecological Frontiers
inBaringo, Kenya
ClemensGreiner1 · Hauke‑PeterVehrs1· MichaelBollig1
Accepted: 30 August 2021 / Published online: 20 September 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Abstract
The ongoing fragmentation of pastoral drylands is a matter of concern throughout Africa. Using the example of rangelands
in northern Baringo County, Kenya, that were under uniform pastoral use until the late twentieth century, we trace land-use
and land-cover changes (LULCCs) since the 1980s. Based on ethnographic, historical, and remote sensing data, we show how
bush encroachment and dryland farming have led to the increasing modification and conversion of formerly open rangelands
and the diversification of livelihoods. These LULCC dynamics are related to and driven not only by internal processes of
socioeconomic change (e.g., sedentarization, changing rangeland management practices, growing markets for small stock,
increasing stratification and cultural differentiation) but also by ecological processes such as wildlife defaunation and eco-
logical invasions. Based on our findings, we suggest that a socioecological approach to Kopytoff’s notion of the internal
African frontier can be helpful in framing these LULCC-related dynamics.
Keywords Pastoralism· Pokot· Land-use and land-cover changes· Frontiers· Baringo County· Kenya
Introduction andBackground
Drylands are the most dominant land cover on earth and
support the livelihoods of large numbers of people. At the
same time, they are highly susceptible to risks of environ-
mental degradation and climatic perturbation and, increas-
ingly, to the manifold consequences of global climate change
(Boone etal. 2018; Engler etal. 2018; Galvin 2021). Envi-
ronmental degradation and climate change, growing human
populations, resource extraction, and other developments
have wrought increasing detrimental land-use and land-
cover changes (LULCCs) with serious consequences for the
food security and livelihoods of local populations (Galvin
etal. 2008; Reid etal. 2014). In view of these massive
changes, developing a better understanding of the complex
linkages between environmental changes and the chang-
ing livelihood strategies of rural communities is neces-
sary. This research is of especial relevance to populations
depending predominantly on pastoralist livelihoods. Tra-
ditional livestock-based economies have proven to be par-
ticularly vulnerable in recent processes of change, not least
because of their historical marginalization and notoriously
insecure access to land (Krätli 2019; Gabbert etal. 2021;
Lind etal. 2020a). While many contributions have focused
primarily on the impact of externally imposed changes, such
as state interventions and resource or land grabbing result-
ing from large-scale investments (e.g., Mosley and Watson
2016; Lind etal. 2020b), we concur with Petersen etal.
(2021), who hold that current changes “are driven by
local as well as external anthropogenic and ecologi-
cal factors.” With this study, we also address the need
for more longitudinal studies that track socioecological
changes over time (Lind etal. 2020a: 12). The complex pro-
cesses underlying the fragmentation of pastoral drylands can
be analyzed meaningfully only in an interdisciplinary effort
combining social science and natural science approaches
both of which should take historical information into account.
Focusing on the drylands in Baringo, Kenya, and
more precisely on the rangelands of Tiaty East (for-
merly East Pokot), our study provides insights into
the LULCC dynamics and socioeconomic dimensions
over a period of more than 30years. Remotely sensed
* Clemens Greiner
clemens.greiner@uni-koeln.de
1 Universität zu Köln, Albertus-Magnus-Platz, 50923Köln,
Germany
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566 Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
data (1985–2015) show that major changes in land use
are connected to a rapid transition to maize cultiva-
tion, whereas land-cover changes are associated mostly
with the increase in dense shrubs and a concomitant
gradual loss of open grassland. These data concur with
dense descriptions of this transition by cultural insiders.
Informants provided a vivid picture of bush encroach-
ment and land-use transitions. We can trace the agency
of local people in these changes, and their response to
them challenges a fundamental assumption in the ethno-
graphic literature on East African pastoralism, namely,
that crop farming by outsiders has encroached on key
pastoral resources (Galaty and Bonte 1991; Spencer
1998; Markakis 2004; Abbink etal. 2014).
While we do not question whether such expansions of
either small-scale agricultural land use or large corpo-
rate, high-modernist agrarian schemes onto the pastures
of herding populations actually do occur (Reid etal. 2004;
Gabbert 2021), our data suggest a different type of pro-
cess: whereas a constantly growing number of people in
our research area who previously relied on pastoral liveli-
hoods have resorted to crop farming (and thus contrib-
uted to land-use change), others remain firmly embedded
in pastoral strategies. Rather than the neo-Malthusian
encroachment scenario evoked by Spencer and others, we
suggest that a socioecological view of Kopytoff’s notion of
the internal African frontier (Kopytoff 1987) can explain
the territorial shifts between ecological processes, popula-
tion dynamics, and production strategies that accompany
large-scale LULCCs without falling into a geodetermin-
istic trap.
Our objectives in this study are threefold. We provide a
concise, longitudinal analysis of the LULCCs in Tiaty East
(Baringo, Kenya). Furthermore, we examine both the envi-
ronmental and socioeconomic factors that have contributed
to these changes as well as their interplay. Finally, we sug-
gest a conceptual approach to interpret the observed socio-
ecological dynamics.
We first introduce the study area and our methodologi-
cal approaches before describing major LULCCs brought
about by bush encroachment and farming. We then analyze
the consequences of rangeland modification before relating
our findings to notions of frontier dynamics in a concluding
discussion.
Study Area
Our study region is in the Lake Baringo basin in the
central Rift Valley of Kenya and the adjacent eastern
highlands towards the Laikipia Plateau (Fig.1). Formerly
known as East Pokot District, Tiaty East Subcounty is
part of Baringo County. It comprises approximately 4,500
km2 and has an estimated population of 80,000–105,000
(Vehrs forthcoming).1 Climatologically, the area is clas-
sified as semiarid with temperate to warm temperatures
and is prone to recurrent droughts (cf. Agro-climatic
Zone Map of Kenya by Sombroek etal. 1982). Vege-
tation is dominated by acacia bush savannah, and the
topography is rugged and characterized by lowland
plains, rolling hills, and mountain ranges.2 East Pokot is
inhabited almost exclusively by Nilotic-speaking Pokot
people. Specialized pastoralism has been the dominant
form of land use across almost the entire area for the
past 200years. Bollig and Anderson have extensively
described the historical dynamics of the emergence and
consolidation of this specialized pastoralism (Bollig
1992, 2006, 2016) and the wider Baringo area (Anderson
2002, 2016). During neither colonial nor postcolonial
times was the current territory of East Pokot/Tiaty the
target of land expropriation by outsiders, whether colo-
nialists, agriculturalists, or immigrants from other parts
of the country. East Pokot District (present-day Tiaty
East) did not participate in the group ranch programs of
the 1970s and 1980s, which profoundly changed land use
in the Maasai- and Samburu-dominated rangelands in
southern Kenya and north-central Kenya (Galaty 1994).
Attempts to implement wildlife conservation – which
were detrimental to other pastoral areas in East Africa
(Brockington 2002) – started only in the early 2000s and
met with fierce resistance (Greiner 2012). Since about
2015, the area has attracted massive investments in geo-
thermal energy production and related infrastructure
development (Greiner 2020; Greiner etal. 2021; Klagge
etal. 2020).
Data andMethods
Our research is inspired by approaches that combine eth-
nographic data with remote sensing and insights from
other disciplines in the analysis of long-term LULCCs
(Casimir and Rao 1998; Jiang 2003; Campbell etal. 2005;
Guyer etal. 2007). Building on decades of fieldwork
in the area, on the systematic classification of satellite
images, on data from interdisciplinary field research and
on historical ecology, we are present a comprehensive
analysis of LULCCs covering a period of 30years and
1 Official estimates are currently over 153,000 (KNBS 2019: 26).
Although the background for the extreme fluctuations is open to dis-
cussion (counting pastoral groups is generally very difficult and may
be based on incorrect extrapolations), there is hardly any concrete
indication of what population figures in fact are.
2 For more information on the geobiophysical situation, see Vehrs
and Heller (2017) and Greiner etal. (2013).
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567Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
beyond. Our ethnographic data stretch from the late 1980s
to the present (Bollig etal. 2014; Vehrs 2016) and include
recurrent interdisciplinary field campaigns with agrono-
mists and botanists (Bollig and Schulte 1999; Greiner
etal. 2013; Becker etal. 2016; Vehrs and Heller 2017).
Our analysis also builds on studies based on remote sens-
ing, which include time series of Landsat images for the
period 1985 to 2015 (Obermaier 2013; Basukala etal.
2019a, b). Bollig has worked in the area extensively since
1987 and has made intermediate restudy visits (Bollig
2006). Österle started ethnographic fieldwork in 2003
(Österle 2008), Greiner in 2010, and Vehrs in 2013. In
recent decades, grants for research units and collaborative
research centers funded by the German Research Foun-
dation (DFG) have facilitated joint field visits and inter-
disciplinary research campaigns.3 These include a recent
household survey that covered not only Tiaty East but
also other areas in Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, and Tanzania
(Nshakira-Rukundo etal. 2019).4
Results
Before we describe three major LULCC dynamics, we pre-
sent a historical overview of vegetation changes of the past
c. 200years – the quantitatively most dominant form of
LULCC. We then describe more recent bush encroachment
dynamics and the spread of crop farming. Comparing these
two processes, we analyze the modification of rangelands
and the diversification of land use before discussing the
socioeconomic implications of these changes in more detail.
LULCC Background intheStudy Area
In the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a
period of extreme drought hit the wider Baringo-Bogoria
basin (see, e.g., Bessems etal. 2008; Kiage and Liu 2009).
This “Great Catastrophe” (Anderson 2016: 46) contributed
to the desiccation of Lake Baringo. From the 1830s onwards,
the lake was replenished, and various groups settled around
it and in the wider region. This assumption is supported by
an increase in pollen and spores in the sediments of Lake
Baringo after the 1830s as evidence of vegetational change
and increased human activity. Kiage and Liu (2009) discuss
Fig. 1 Study region
3 RU 1501 Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation, SFB/TRR 228
Future Rural Africa.
4 See https:// www. trr22 8db. uni- koeln. de/ site/ index. php.
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568 Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
the results of their paleoenvironmental analysis of sediment
cores from Lake Baringo against the background of land-
cover change in the Baringo region and show that prior to
AD 1650, the region experienced conditions of high aridity,
as is also reflected in low wildlife numbers (and correspond-
ing fungal spores in the cores). In the subsequent period up
to AD 1750, conditions improved again. Although human
influence cannot be definitively proven, the occurrence of
large wild herbivore populations has been identified, includ-
ing elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, and different
kinds of ungulates. This period was followed by another
phase of intense drought, which led to a collapse of recorded
fungal spores, indicating drastically declining herbivore
populations. Furthermore, larger amounts of charcoal found
during this period up to AD 1830 indicate a time of extreme
drought, eventually leading to the desiccation of Lake Bar-
ingo. After AD 1830, the climate shifted again, and a wetter
period began that also had an identifiable effect on local
livelihoods. There was an increase in microscopic charcoal
in the paleoenvironmental records after AD 1830 that Kiage
and Liu (2009) link to human influences such as the burning
of biomass for agriculture or the burning of pastures for tick
control. For the Pokot north of Lake Baringo, this was the
beginning of a period of pastoral specialization (Bollig and
Österle 2013) and the buildup of large cattle herds. Notably,
periodic changes in both climate and vegetation took place
over a long period of time, and oscillating evidence for dif-
ferent concentrations of pollen (tree and grass species) and
spores can be found. Bollig (2006, 2016) reports that even
the major disasters of the late nineteenth century (rinder-
pest, drought in the 1890s) did not profoundly interrupt this
period of pastoral specialization, which was characterized
by highly beneficial human/livestock ratios, mobility, and
open access to rangelands within a wide ethnically defined
territory and the absence of other, e.g., agricultural, land-use
patterns in the wide plains north of Lake Baringo.
The growing human impact on the environment became
particularly evident at the beginning of the twentieth cen-
tury. Accounts of the early explorers reveal the extensive
grasslands of the area and the abundance of wildlife (see,
among others, Thomson 1887; Hobley 1906; Dundas 1911).
Whereas wildlife numbers decreased rapidly due to Euro-
pean and indigenous big-game hunts conditioned by the
strong international demand for ivory in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries (Chapman 1908; Dickinson
1908; Somerville 2016), land-cover changes took place at a
slower pace and with some delayed effects. The hunting of
wild animals, especially by European big-game hunters, led
to the almost complete depletion of large herbivore popula-
tions by the 1940s (Little 1996). This defaunation and the
concomitant buildup of large cattle herds resulted in a radi-
cal restructuring of landscape agents and the absence of their
impacts on the ecosystem (e.g., through lack of browsing,
trampling effects, elephant damage). It also led to a gradual
change in the grass-dominated savannah of that time (see,
e.g., Pringle etal. 2011).
Archival material from the 1960s indicates that the graz-
ing situation for livestock had already become strained
because many regions with good pastureland were over-
grazed (Edmondson 1965). However, the absence of
grasses impacted not only the grazing but also the range-
land management, which relied on the regeneration of pas-
ture by using fire to burn off parched grasses and foster new
growth. Without combustible material, which was essential
for high-intensity fires (which also limit the establishment
of small trees), and with increasing human populations and
the associated expansion into previously unpopulated areas,
it became increasingly difficult to use fire for rangeland man-
agement (for the case of Pokot, see also Boonman 1993).
These major changes in landscape composition (the defau-
nation of wildlife, increasing stocking rates, and the decay
of the rangeland management system) led to incremental
changes in the land cover during the twentieth century, as
Vehrs and Heller (2017) illustrate for overall vegetation
patterns and Bollig and Schulte (1999) for the grass cover.
These processes of rangeland degradation intensified con-
siderably towards the end of the twentieth century.
The first Landsat data analysis, comparing a time segment
from 1973 to 1978, came from Conant (1982). His analysis
reveals that in the Masol plains in the adjacent region of
West Pokot, 20 km2 out of a study area of 69 km2 changed
from bush-grassland to bushland. Due to local conflicts,
herders were absent during the time of analysis, and Conant
points out that this led to an enduring underutilization of the
pastures.5 The major land-cover change Conant found was
that grasslands rapidly turned into bushlands. His ground
truthing reveals that in many underutilized ranges in the
Pokot-Turkana borderlands, former grasslands had become
Vachellia reficiens- and Senegalia mellifera-dominated
bushlands that were of little use for cattle husbandry. At the
same time, studies on highly utilized ranges in the Nginyang/
Paka area reveal similar vegetation changes. Additionally,
where ranges had been permanently overutilized by large
herds of cattle and small stock, bushlands expanded at the
cost of grasslands (Saltlick 1991; Reckers 1992).
The analysis by Basukala etal. (2019a, b), on which most
of our remotely sensed findings on land-cover change pre-
sented here rely, offers a larger-scale picture of land-cover
changes between 1985 and 2015. The data cover more
than 6,000 km2 in northern Baringo and southern Turkana
5 Conant (1982: 118) records a strong increase in bushland (cover-
ing 23.93% of the area in 1973 and 49.99% in 1978) and, at the same
time, a strong decrease in the bush-grassland category (from 37.6% in
1973 to 13.04% in 1978).
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569Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
Counties and include five different categories of land cover:
bare soil, dense shrubs and trees, shrub savannah, maize
fields, and water bodies. Considering the total area under
analysis, the two categories “bare soil” and “water bodies”
show only slight fluctuations and will not be considered
here. The following section, which addresses only the bush
encroachment resulting from a constant increase in the cat-
egory “dense shrubs and trees” at the gradual expense of
“shrub savannah,” is followed by an analysis of the category
“maize fields,” an LULCC that is of great importance for the
region despite the relatively small area involved.
Bush Encroachment
In quantitative terms, the two categories “dense shrubs and
trees” (with a closed canopy) and “shrub savannah” (mixed
vegetation of shrubs, trees, and grasses and herbs) dominate
the analyzed area (Table1). Throughout the years surveyed,
the two categories together cover a minimally unchanged
average of 71.5% of the area surveyed. However, they show
considerable and clearly pronounced changes on account
of each other. Whereas the proportion of dense shrubs and
trees was still approximately 15% in the mid-1980s, it rose
steadily to over 30% of the total area in the mid-2010s. The
opposite trend can be seen in the shrub savannah category,
which has the largest proportion in 1985, with almost 60% of
the area, then decreases very sharply until 2005, and levels
off at just under 40% of the area by 2015. In total, over 1,100
km2 of shrub savannah was replaced almost entirely by the
increase in dense shrubs and trees within only three decades,
indicating a clear progression of bush encroachment in the
area (for a similar observation in neighboring drylands in
West Pokot County, see Petersen etal. 2021).
Within only three decades, one-sixth of the area changed
from an open savannah to a dense bush savannah. This
change is assessed similarly by many pastoral Pokot, who
consider the changes of the last decades to be extensive and
detrimental (Vehrs forthcoming). They see it as a time in
which many grasses have disappeared and, moreover, many
open savannah spaces have been encroached and covered
by acacias. The ramifications of the incremental land-cover
changes initiated in the early twentieth century have had
tangible impacts on livestock husbandry and exert increasing
pressure on cattle husbandry and on the remaining rangeland
– especially through the lack of grazing land. This pressure
is also visible in the fact that closures for dry-season forage
storage can no longer be proclaimed, as they were in the
past, because neighborhood councils are unable to argue that
pasture must be preserved for the dry season when graz-
ing land becomes scarce shortly after the end of the rainy
season. Moreover, because rangeland management with fire
cannot be implemented under current conditions (due to the
Table 1 Hectares and percentages of land cover in Tiaty/East Pokot,
1985-2015 (based on Basukala etal. 2019a, b)
Year Item Total Hectar % of classified
study area
1985 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 163,121.67 26.56%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 91,712.16 14.93%
Shrubs Savanna 354,385.17 57.70%
Maize Fields 1,104.21 0.18%
Water Bodies 3,825.36 0.62%
Sum 614,150.01
1990 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 165,317.76 26.92%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 123,096.69 20.04%
Shrubs Savanna 320,491.44 52.18%
Maize Fields 1,914.57 0.31%
Water Bodies 3,328.11 0.54%
Sum 614,150.01
1995 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 193,257.45 31.47%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 116,242.47 18.93%
Shrubs Savanna 300,111.39 48.87%
Maize Fields 989.46 0.16%
Water Bodies 3,547.80 0.58%
Sum 614,150.01
2000 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 162,940.23 26.53%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 180,027.63 29.31%
Shrubs Savanna 261,675.00 42.61%
Maize Fields 4,889.79 0.80%
Water Bodies 4,615.92 0.75%
Sum 614,150.01
2005 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 169,663.05 27.63%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 203,054.31 33.06%
Shrubs Savanna 231,223.77 37.65%
Maize Fields 5,937.48 0.97%
Water Bodies 4,269.96 0.70%
Sum 614,150.01
2010 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 154,573.83 25.17%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 212,063.94 34.53%
Shrubs Savanna 237,855.87 38.73%
Maize Fields 6,157.71 1.00%
Water Bodies 3,497.22 0.57%
Sum 614,150.01
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570 Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
lack of combustible material and the expansion of human
settlements), bush vegetation cannot be kept under control.
The tree and bush species that have contributed notably
to bush encroachment are Senegalia mellifera, Vachellia
nubica, Vachellia reficiens, and Senegalia senegal, which,
depending on the region, form dense stands. In most cases,
undergrowth is entirely absent, which in turn impacts the
availability of grass forage and thus cattle husbandry in gen-
eral. The analysis by Basukala etal. (2019a, b) has much
information about the quantity of land-cover changes but less
about changes in the quality of forage. From the perspective
of the pastoral Pokot, however, the answer is clear: not only
has an extreme increase in bushes and trees occurred (most
interviewees refer to the period between 1975 and 2014),
but also various grass species have become locally extinct.
In contrast, forage plant availability for browsers (goats
and sheep) has increased considerably (Vehrs 2016). Pokot
elders can recount with great accuracy the occurrences of
different high-quality grass species in different locations in
the past, and they unanimously emphasize that these grasses
have become rare over time (Vehrs forthcoming).
However, the large-scale, long-term bush encroach-
ment process is not the only land-cover change shaping
the drylands in East Pokot. In recent decades, short-term
ecological invasion processes have also contributed to
changing land cover, though to a lesser extent than incre-
mental acacia bush encroachment. Different invasive
processes can be differentiated by their specific back-
ground (for further information, see Vehrs forthcom-
ing). Prosopis juliflora has spread around Lake Baringo
(Alvarez etal. 2019); Opuntia spp. are also present at
Lake Baringo and are encroaching on grasslands in the
Laikipia highlands (Muniappan etal. 2009; Zimmermann
etal. 2009; Shackleton etal. 2017); and Dodonaea vis-
cosa is spreading in the Pokot highlands around Churo
(Becker etal. 2016). However, only the last is perceived
by local informants as having a direct impact on local
livelihoods in East Pokot, as it has overgrown vast areas
of former rangeland that were previously available for
grazing. Opuntia spp. and Prosopis juliflora, on the other
hand, are very confined locally, especially at Lake Bar-
ingo, which makes access to water somewhat difficult but
does not curtail the use of previous grazing areas.
The different types of land-cover change pose several
challenges to people in East Pokot. Whereas the excessive
increase in acacia stands and bush encroachment in the
lowlands poses a major challenge for pastoralist strategies
– an issue that the Pokot have been able to address through
changes in herd composition – this problem has been of lit-
tle concern to people in the highlands, many of whom have
resorted to crop cultivation and agropastoralism. There, the
invasive ecological spread of Dodonaea viscosa is a greater
concern, but the people are dealing with it successfully
because this plant is not a major obstacle to the cultivation
of land (except for indications of possible soil degradation).
Herders in the lowlands evade the spread of Dodonaea vis-
cosa by no longer grazing their cattle there and have moved
to the Laikipia Plateau. Although not a direct constraint on
cultivation or cattle husbandry for either farming or pastoral
Pokot, invasive ecological processes have contributed largely
to the modification of rangelands, rendering entire patches of
land unusable for livestock keepers. The result is that each
year during the dry season, pastoralists are forced to graze
their cattle beyond the East Pokot borders, causing serious
conflicts with neighboring groups.
Rainfed Maize Cultivation
Although relatively small in overall size, amounting to a total
of 8,176.14 hectares in 2015, the category “maize fields”
shows – in relative terms – the steepest increase. This figure
is especially significant given that farming did not play a
role in East Pokot during the colonial period and the first
decades of independence, even though the Pokot in Baringo
originated from an agropastoral background, and many of
their ethnic fellows in West Pokot have been exemplary (irri-
gation) cultivators for centuries (Beech 1911; Porter 1965;
Dietz 1987; Nangulu 2009; Davies 2012). Recalling the East
Pokot landscape in his memoirs, the former colonial dis-
trict officer Hennings (1951: 140) described the remarkable
absence of cultivation: “Throughout all this wilderness there
was no sign of life, no smoke or roof or cultivated patch,
except for one distant cloud of dust moving slowly above
the bush, which indicated a herd of cattle going to water.”
Even as recently as the 1980s, those who tried to farm were
ridiculed or accused of disloyalty and disrespect, although
the ratio of livestock to people had been constantly falling
and pastures showed signs of severe degradation (Bollig and
Schulte 1999; Bollig 2006).
From 1985 to 2015, however, the area cultivated with
maize increased more than sevenfold (from 0.18% in 1985
Table 1 (continued)
Year Item Total Hectar % of classified
study area
2015 Unclassified 1.44
Bare Soil 158,946.30 25.88%
Dense Shrubs and Trees 201,032.37 32.73%
Shrubs Savanna 241,445.16 39.31%
Maize Fields 8,176.14 1.33%
Water Bodies 4,548.60 0.74%
Sum 614,150.01
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571Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
to 1.33% in 2015). Tangulbei and Churo, sublocations to
the east of Lake Baringo and towards the Laikipia Plateau
(Table1), show the highest trends of maize cultivation, rang-
ing from 95.76ha to 1,622.25ha and from 490.77ha to
2,167.56ha, respectively. Given the average size of a maize
field of less than one acre (approximately 0.4ha) and the
lack of mechanization in most areas, the extent of land con-
version is impressive. This steep increase in cultivation is
a result not of in-migrating agriculturalists or of a growing
market for maize as a cash crop but solely of a transition in
livelihood strategies among (former) specialized pastoralists
(Greiner and Mwaka 2016). Data from a recent household
survey in Tiaty East (N = 361) reveal that – based on house-
holds claiming to have either actively cultivated or fallow
land – approximately 67% of all households were actively
involved in cultivation (Nshakira-Rukundo etal. 2019). Pos-
session of livestock in Tiaty is distributed disproportionately,
according to this survey, pointing to increasing stratification
(Greiner etal. 2021). Almost one-third of all households
(28.8%; n = 104 of 361) claimed to be in possession of less
than one tropical livestock unit (TLU), which is less than one
head of cattle,6 whereas the average TLU/household is 10.2
(median TLU/household is 3). While a large fraction of the
population manages with little or no livestock, the richest
10% of respondents own 59.1% of the livestock (of the total
TLUs). However, the thrust towards agricultural engagement
comes from poor as well as rich households.
The shift towards rainfed maize cultivation first emerged
with the massive droughts of the 1980s. After German Agro
Action (Welthungerhilfe), together with the Kenya Freedom
from Hunger Council, implemented demonstration fields for
rainfed agriculture and instructed pastoralists in farming as a
famine relief measure, cultivation began on a small scale in
a few highland areas. Unfortunately, little was documented
at this time, but a 1988 project evaluation report confirms
that “after completion of the programme 1985/86 most of
the communal plots were abandoned and reverted to fallow
bushland” (Wirth 1988: 11). This is clearly reflected in the
data collected by Basukala etal. (2019a, b): the increase in
land cultivated with maize from 1985 to 1990 was followed
by a drop of almost 50%. Only around 2000 and afterwards
did farming take off on a large scale. Bollig (2006) suggests
that the time around the change of the millennium was a
turning point, with massive drought and widespread mal-
nourishment in children that coincided with steeply increas-
ing school enrollment rates. Many children started schooling
to profit from school feeding programs during the 1999/2000
droughts. After then president Mwai Kibaki introduced free
primary education in 2002, many stayed on, and enrollment
rates increased further.
This time, the area cultivated with maize almost quintu-
pled (from 1995 to 2000), and it continued to grow rapidly
from then on. These figures are consistent with ethnographic
data on the spread of cultivation and related conflicts in land
tenure stemming, among others, from the in-migration of
lowland Pokot to the arable highlands (Greiner 2016, 2017).
Our ethnographic data further confirm a clear relation
between school enrollment, sedentarization, and cultivation.
Between 2007 and 2011, the number of primary schools in
what is now Tiaty increased from 34 to 100 (Bollig etal.
2014). The educational background of children from pastoral
and agropastoral households, however, varies widely. Two
2015 surveys reported that only 25% of pastoral households
had at least one child in primary school, compared to 91.7%
of agropastoral households. Similarly, schooling differs
among adults. Approximately 5% in the pastoral context had
a minimal primary school education, compared to 45% in the
agropastoral context, of whom almost half had a secondary
education or higher education.
Elsewhere, we explore the relations between these fun-
damental land-use changes and the growing importance of
formal education, the influence of Christian churches, and
the high demographic growth rates in more detail (Bollig
etal. 2014; Greiner and Mwaka 2016). Cultivation, however,
is not spread evenly across the area. It concentrates in places
that are ecologically suitable for farming, most notably in
highland valley bottoms that benefit from run-off water, near
riverbeds, and in alluvial fans. These areas are concentrated
in the highlands at the eastern fringes of the Pokot territory
(Greiner etal. 2013). Subsequent field visits, however, sug-
gest that maize cultivation also continues to spread to areas
that were previously deemed unfit for agriculture. How far
this spread is related to the cumulative increase in rainfall
since 2003 (see Kiage and Douglas 2020; Petek-Sargeant
and Lane 2021) – and concomitantly to climate change – is
a question yet to be explored.
Fragmentation ofPastoral Drylands
The conditions for pastoral land use are becoming increas-
ingly difficult due to progressive fragmentation processes.
By fragmentation, we refer to the dissection of formerly
contiguous land areas due to changes in land use or land
cover. Massive vegetation changes over vast stretches of
land and the transformation of parcels of land to fields
and fallows are making the character of the landscape pro-
gressively discontinuous. Consequently, pasture areas are
decreasing, due either to a change in quality (modification)
6 TLU calculations are based on the figures indicated by Galvin
and Little (1999): 1 camel = 1.25 TLU, cattle = 1.0 TLU, and goat/
sheep = 0.125 TLU. Other authors use slightly different conversion
factors (see, e.g., Mcpeak and Little 2005). For reasons of compara-
bility, we decided to retain the values used in other case studies in
East Pokot (e.g., Österle 2008).
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
572 Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
or “a direct change in the composition of the elements”
that Reid etal. (2004: 172) attributed to loss or conversion.
The fragmentation process that we describe thus does not
relate to the global fragmentation of habitat into “spatially
isolated parts” (Hobbs etal. 2008: 776). Rather, it refers
to a broader notion of “changes in spatial patterns of the
habitat” (Reid etal. 2004: 171ff). It is furthermore informed
by a perspective on pastoral drylands in which rangelands
are increasingly reduced and access to pastures is altered by
other forms of land use, such as farming, conservation, or
infrastructure projects (Galvin 2009; Reid etal. 2004; Reid
etal. 2014). We show here that the loss of access due to
bush encroachment – whether invasive, localized, and rapid
or incremental and wide-ranging – is accelerating fragmen-
tation. Both processes, farming and bush encroachment,
necessitate altered mobility patterns (and occasionally also
the migration of cattle herds out of the area) as livestock
herds need to evade dense bushland as much as they need to
circumnavigate farmlands. The previously wide and freely
accessible pastoral rangelands are now dotted with small
and large patches of land that are inaccessible and need to
be avoided.
Cattle husbandry in particular is facing multiple chal-
lenges. The decline of the grass–bush savannah has reduced
the opportunities for cattle to graze in the lowlands of East
Pokot and has also increased pressure on those retreat areas
that have long been considered dry-season forage storage
– the montane areas within the Rift Valley where the last
high-quality grazing grounds exist. These areas, however,
are also those in which – due to better edaphic and climatic
conditions – maize cultivation has spread the most (Greiner
etal. 2013).
Strong population growth and falling TLU/cap figures
have contributed to this trend. Österle (2008: 84) reports an
overall TLU/cap rate of 3.3. Data from our recent household
survey suggest a rate of 1.5. The reaction to the scarcity of
grazing resources is differentiated: most households have
become sedentary in the past 20years. Many now combine
market-oriented production of small stock (goats and sheep)
with maize cultivation and other forms of income diversi-
fication. The steep increase in goat production – Österle
(2008) suggests a fivefold increase from 1988 to 20057 – can
be attributed to not only the better conditions for browsers
Fig. 2 Expansion of herding outside Tiaty Constituency
7 Livestock data for Baringo County need to be examined with cau-
tion. Whereas Österle (2008) estimates the small stock population at
the turn of the millennium at approximately 680,000, moderate pro-
jections suggest that the population is between 310,000 and 470,000
(Vehrs forthcoming). However, there is little doubt that overall, small
stock numbers have increased significantly in recent decades.
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573Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
brought about by bush encroachment but also market incen-
tives and improved market infrastructures. In the past years,
an average of approximately 900 goats are sold on the
weekly market days in Nginyang, the most important live-
stock market of the region. This figure reveals the value of
goats to the local livestock economy, particularly in compar-
ison to the declining economic importance of cattle (Österle
2008): an average of fewer than 50 cattle are sold on market
days in Nginyang.
Major conflicts between Pokot herders and Pokot farmers
appear to be rare in East Pokot, although violent conflicts
habitually still take place among neighboring pastoralist
groups. The reason is partly that herders no longer stay in
the area but move through and continue towards the Laikipia
Plateau, where better, but also highly contested, pastures are
to be found (Bond and Mkutu 2018; Gravesen etal.2019;
Gravesen 2021). The invasion of the Laikipia Plateau in
early 2017 is a dramatic illustration of this process. Approxi-
mately 10,000 herders, many armed with automatic guns,
entered the expansive plateau and outgunned resident farm-
ers as well as security forces. This area, which borders East
Pokot and Samburu, was Maasai land before British colo-
nialists evicted the pastoralists in 1904, turning it into what
became the “White Highlands.” The invaders, mostly Pokot
and Samburu, drove over 135,000 cattle and up to 200,000
sheep and goats into wildlife conservancies, Maasai group
ranches, smallholdings, and other private property, killing
wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, and lions, and
displacing approximately 10,000 people (Cruise and van der
Zee 2017). The invasions are believed to have been politi-
cally orchestrated or at least fostered in the run-up to the
2017 elections, and they coincided with an extended drought
that plagued Northern Kenya from November 2016 onwards
(Cattle Barons 2017). Similar dynamics of expansion into
Turkana and Samburu Counties as well as into the Baringo
wetlands (e.g., towards Arabal; see Fig.2) are taking place.
Concluding Discussion: Shifting
Socioecological Frontiers
Transition to farming as an alternative or addition to livestock
rearing is not new in the East African rangelands (Anderson
1988; Little 1992). Changes in recent decades, however,
seem to be unprecedented and point to more fundamental
processes of de-pastoralization (Caravani 2018) and increas-
ing intensification of land use (Greiner and Mwaka 2016).
Similar processes, including the transition to dryland cul-
tivation, are reported for the Rendille and Ariaal (Smith
1999; Fratkin 2013), Borana (Desta and Coppock 2004;
Homann etal. 2008), Samburu (Lesorogol 2008), Maasai
(McCabe et al. 2010), Turkana (Campbell et al. 1999),
Orma (Ensminger 1992), and other peoples. This implies
a shift towards a situation in which land has emerged as a key
resource, leading to increasing processes of endogenous reeval-
uation and commodification. In recent years, these endogenous
dynamics have additionally overlapped with and reinforced the
processes of land reevaluation brought about by the advance of
the extractive frontier into the East African drylands (Mosley
and Watson 2016; Lind etal.2020b).
We hold that many cases of agrarian transitions such
as those in the data presented here call into question sim-
ple, Malthusian-style narratives of herder-farmer resource
competition. Such assumptions, implicitly and sometimes
explicitly, suggest that we are dealing with two supposedly
different antagonistic groups: pastoralists and (immigrant)
peasants (Babiker 2001). This view is epitomized, for exam-
ple, in Paul Spencer’s Pastoral Continuum. “Nomadic pas-
toralists,” Spencer (1998: 216) warns, “are edged away from
their more dependable grasslands – their dry-season grazing
– by the immigrant peasants, or they face the choice of turn-
ing to subsistence farming themselves or seeking work in the
settled areas.” The case of East Pokot clearly suggests a more
nuanced form of transformation and resource competition
within a changing landscape.
We suggest that these processes are reminiscent of
Kopytoff’s notion of the internal African frontier (Kopytoff
1987). We hold, in line with Guyer etal. (2007), that these
internal frontier dynamics should be understood as a socio-
ecological process “of moving, getting established, settling,
consolidating, struggling for specific niches in resource
access” (Guyer etal. 2007: 11). Like Kopytoff’s model of
internal frontiers, we observe that under certain (environ-
mental) conditions, core groups split and reassemble as new
social entities. In this line, we suggest that the expansion
of agriculture into previously uncultivated areas (or pas-
tureland) can be understood as an advancing agricultural
or farming frontier (Netting and Stone 1996; Lane 2004).
Similarly, the pushing into and (re)colonization of other ter-
ritories by those who cling to pastoralist ways of life is aptly
described as a pastoral frontier (Kerven etal. 2016). Such
frontiers thus emerge as deeply social processes that partly
react to but also contribute to LULCCs. Habitat fragmen-
tation accelerates the establishment of new frontiers – and
is, at the same time, the material or ecological evidence of
such internal frontiers.
Indeed, in analogy to Kopytoff, we may interpret the
dynamics in East Pokot as a schism, with many Pokot who
currently rely on more sedentary and agricultural liveli-
hoods seeing themselves as socially distinct from their pas-
toral counterparts. Nonetheless, the differences are often
not as clear-cut as some Pokot would like to believe (Bollig
etal. 2014). Many sedentary and agricultural Pokot, for exam-
ple, still own cattle they keep with their pastoral relatives.
However, cultural and socio-spatial practices among the more
sedentary and agricultural Pokot are increasingly distinct from
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574 Human Ecology (2021) 49:565–577
1 3
the customs, rituals, and policies of their pastoral brethren.
This process suggests that a new frontier has opened because
split-offs from formerly more homogeneous groups of Pokot
have started to conquer new territories at the peripheries of
East Pokot and – most notably – on the Laikipia Plateau.
Rather than “the intrusion of cultivators into land used by pas-
toralists” and a domineering over allegedly powerless livestock
herders (Spencer 1998: 217), we currently observe the pasto-
ral frontier being pushed into new territories. The difference
from Kopytoff’s understanding of the internal African frontier,
however, is the lack of empty space, not least due to recent
infrastructural developments and the eruption of old conflicts
along the borders (Greiner 2016). Expansion beyond the ter-
ritorial boundaries is possible only with the use of violence and
at the expense of other usages and users of the land. In the case
at hand – on the Laikipia Plateau – this issue concerns con-
servationists, resident Maasai group ranches and small-scale
farming communities. At the same time, our research suggests
the need to pay more attention to the processes of internal
differentiation and stratification within groups that are often
labeled – and sometimes reified – as pastoralists.
Funding Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt
DEAL.This research was supported by the German Research Foun-
dation through funding for the Collaborative Research Center “Future
Rural Africa” (TRR 228).
Declarations
Ethical approval This research was carried out in accordance with the
University of Cologne’s Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Academic
Practice and Dealing with Academic Misconduct (22 July 2011).
Conflict of interest The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
Informed consent Our informants were informed about the purpose of
the study and how interviews and survey data would be used in a free,
prior, and informed consent procedure.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attri-
bution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adapta-
tion, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long
as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source,
provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes
were made. The images or other third party material in this article are
included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated
otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in
the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not
permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will
need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a
copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/.
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... Pastoral societies also face many threats to their way of life, such as challenges related to climate change, political and economic marginalization, a development that is not culturally accommodative, and increasing resource competition (Greiner et al. 2021;Kirkbride 2008). While the pastoral culture is based on resilient adaptation to variable weather and land conditions, there are limits to their resilience amidst diminishing range resources (Meybeck 2012). ...
... Baringo County is one of the five most rural counties in Kenya, and over 50% of its population live below the poverty line (Diwakar 2018). Range degradation and drought in the region have led to low livestock production resulting in an increased number of households engaging in other income-generating activities among them crop cultivation, migration, beekeeping, irrigated vegetable farming by the shores of the lake, and petty trade (Johansson & Svensson 2002;Greiner et al. 2021). The region occupied by the Njemps is mostly flat and is covered by welldrained silt loam to clay loam alluvial soils. ...
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