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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Rangelands Utilizaton Strategy: utilization of arid and semi-arid rangelands by African pastoralists


The pastoralist Maasai move their herds throughout the year to optimize utilization of rangeland resources for maximum meat and milk production. As a result of well-skirted livestock movement, the herds stay healthy, and produce a reliable supply of milk and meat that meets the demands of polygamous pastoral households. This can be illustrated by looking at several integrated features of Maasai pastoralism:

  • The division of labour: pastoral households divide their members up into groups (boys and girls over the age of 10, women, warriors, etc.) and each herds different classes of livestock in such a way that is compatible with the composition and functions of the pastoral household economy.
  • Rangeland utilization: warriors supervise grazing techniques and provide instruction on animal grazing behaviour. Elders order warriors to conduct ecological skirting, which includes identifying and classifying plants and accurately assessing the water-holding capacity of distant pastures. They then draw up movement itineraries on the basis of the warriors’ reports.
  • An ecological approach to disease prevention: Maasai pastoralists conduct transhuman intraannual and interannual livestock movements, not only in search of forage and water but also to carry out organized skirting of the ecology of the area. In this way, they can avoid grazing areas where wild animals might prey on the herd or where there may be a risk of disease. This may come from contact with other sick herds or from disease-bearing pests. Swampy floodplains provide a habitat for disease-bearing flies, vector snails and economically destructive liver flukes. Other grazing areas and certain types of tree are known to harbour ticks and Tsetse flies, which transmit fatal blood parasites.

Region: Arusha
Neighbourhood/village: Simanjiro district


  • Because the Maasai pastoralists herd different classes of livestock according to their gender and age group, they interact directly with the environment from childhood. In this way, they gain a broad knowledge of forage flora. The strategy of mobile grazing allows their animals to utilize a wide variety of forage vegetation types that are wildly dispersed. This increases seasonal grazing and the carrying capacity of the land. Through their intimate association with the natural grasslands Maasai pastoralists are familiar with every plant in their rangelands and pastures. They can also describe the palatability of each plant for the different animals they keep and they know each plant’s seasonality, nutrition value, toxicity, and medicinal properties.
  • The pastoralists have knowledge and experience of supplementing their animals’ diet with minerals, which not only provides resistance to illness, but also enhances their appetite, growth, libido, fertility, milk production and other positive properties. They have developed effective ways of ensuring knowledge acquired on the physical resources of the grasslands is used sustainably.

Economic sustainability is achieved by maintaining a healthy herd for a subsistence economy.

Environmental sustainability is achieved by maintaining a healthy environment the whole year round.

Other types of sustainability is achieved by adapting both of the above to an integrated socio-cultural livelihood.


The main stakeholders and beneficiaries are members of the community, men, households, and women. They are all involved because livestock keeping is their livelihood. More than 100,000 people live in this way.



  • Provides a stable livelihood for the Maasai pastoralists.
  • They acquire a thorough knowledge of their environment.
  • They acquire a thorough knowledge of livestock genetics and breed selection.
  • They acquire knowledge of medicinal plants and weather forecasting.
  • Because they entail the expropriation of land from adjacent agricultural communities, mobility strategies are interventionist.
  • Many young people now go to school, while others are moving to the cities to do unskilled jobs. This places continuation of pastoralist practice and culture in jeopardy.
  • It has been environmentally tested and has survived many calamities.
  • It is the cheapest way to produce milk and beef.
  • There is no need for a college education to understand the environment and medicinal plants, or to acquire the knowledge of genetics or the management skills required.

Category 3: Possible, with certain conditions and prerequisites. These include the following:

  • Land could be a limiting factor.
  • It would require modification to suit small-scale production.
  • It could be modified for application in feedlots/ finishing/ ranching.
In addition to the Masaai pastoralists, similar land utilization strategies are employed by the Karamaja in Uganda, the Tutsi in Burundi, the Fulani in Nigeria, the Laps in Sweden, and by groups in Canada and Botswana.

Other factors that might be explored further in replication projects might be the scope for keeping livestock on a commercial, rather than a subsistence, basis and exploiting the potential of medicinal plants.


The World Bank has a number of short descriptions of similar activities elsewhere in Tanzania. See http://www.worldbank.org/html/afr/ik/newdatab.htm.

Seasonal: every wet and dry season since 1960.


Nathan A.M. Ole-Lengisugi
Marecik - Tanzania
(see below)


The institute that provided this information:

Simanjiro Animal Husbandry Vocational Training Centre
Maasai Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge
United Republic of Tanzania
Tel: +255-57-7192/3431
Fax: +255-57-8907
E-mail: multicho@yako.habari.co.tz or: vicar@cybernet.co.tz

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