Human Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 321–334 | Cite as

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

  • J. Terrence McCabe
  • Paul W. Leslie
  • Laura DeLuca


Over the past four decades, Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania have adopted agriculture, integrating it with their traditional pastoralism. This livelihood diversification has complex origins and profound implications for Maasai social organization, culture, and demography, and ultimately for their health and well being and for the local and regional environment. In this paper, we examine the process by which this engagement with, and increasing dependence upon, agriculture came about in Ngorongoro District, northern Tanzania. The process there was more complex and influenced by a wider variety of factors than has been reported by previous descriptions of Maasai livelihood diversification. It generally involved two stages: planting a garden first, and later expanding the garden to a farm. We found that some households adopted cultivation out of necessity, but far more did so by choice. Among the latter, some adopted cultivation to reduce risk, while for others it was a reflection of changing cultural and social norms. Motivations for adopting cultivation differed among people of different wealth categories. Diversification was part of wider cultural changes, and was also influenced by power differentials among Maasai age sets and by government policies.


Pastoralists Maasai Tanzania Livelihood diversification 



This research was supported by NSF Grants BCS-0351462, BCS-0349825, BCS-0624343, BCS-0624265, and a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Reviewers of the manuscript made several useful suggestions and forced us to make aspects of our argument clearer.


  1. Barth, F. (1961). Nomads of South Persia: The Basseri Tribe of the Khamseh Confederacy. Little Brown and Company, Boston.Google Scholar
  2. Batterbury, S. (2001). Landscapes of Diversity: A Local Political Ecology of Livelihood Diversification in South-Western Niger. Ecumene 8(4): 437–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bernard, H. R. (2006). Research Methods in Anthropology. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 4th ed. Altamira, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Brockington, D. (2001). Fortress Conservation. The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve. James Currey, African Issues series.Google Scholar
  5. Burnsilver, S. (2007). Pathways of Continuity and Change: Diversification, Intensification and Mobility in Maasailand Kenya. Ph.D dissertation. Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Colorado State University.Google Scholar
  6. Ensminger, J. (1992). Making a market: The Institutional Transition of an African Society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  7. Fernandez-Gimenez, M. (2002). Spatial and Social Boundaries and the Paradox of Pastoral Land Tenure: A Case Study for Postsocialist Mongolia. Human Ecology 30(1): 49–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Field, C. R., Moll, G., and ole Sonkoi, C. (1997). Livestock development. In Thompson, S. M. (ed.), Multiple Land Use: The Experience of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Tanzania. IUCN, Geneva, pp. 181–199.Google Scholar
  9. Fratkin, E., and Mearns, R. (2003). Sustainablity and pastoral livelihoods: Lessons from East African Maasai and Mongolia. Human Organization 62(2): 112–122.Google Scholar
  10. Fratkin, E., and Roth, E. (1990). Drought and Economic Differentiation among Ariaal Pastoralists of Kenya. Human Ecology 18(4):385–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fratkin, E., and Roth, E. (2005). As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of the Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District. Kluwer Academic, Kenya.Google Scholar
  12. Galaty, J. (1994) Rangeland Tenure and Pastoralism in Africa. In Fratkin, E., Galvin, K., & Roth, E. A. (eds.), 1994. African Pastoral Systems: an integrated approach. Lynne Rienner, pp 185–204.Google Scholar
  13. Galaty, J. (1999). Grounding Pastoralists: Law, Politics and Dispossession in East Africa. Nomadic Peoples 3(2): 56–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goldman, M. (2003). Partitioned nature, privileged knowledge,: community based conservation in Tanzania. Development and Change 34(5): 833–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grandin, B. (1988). Wealth and Pastoral Dairy Production: A Case Study of Maasailand. Human Ecology 16: 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hampshire, K., and Randall, S. (2000). Pastoralists, Agropastoralists and Migrants: Interactions Between Fertility and Mobility in Northern Burkina Faso. Population Studies 54: 247–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Homewood, K. (2004). Policy, Environment and development in African rangelands. Environmental Science and Policy 7: 125–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Homewood, K. (2008). Ecology of African Pastoral Societies. James Currey Ltd., Oxford.Google Scholar
  19. Homewood, K., and Brockington, D. (1999). Biodiversity, Conservation And Development in Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania. Global Ecology and Biogeography 8: 301–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Homewood, K. M., Thompson, P. T., Kiruswa, S., and Coast, E. (2005). Community- and State-based Natural Resource Management and Local Livelihoods in Maasailand. Special issue on Community Based Natural Resource Management. Afriche e Orienti 2: 84–101.Google Scholar
  21. Homewood, K., Patti, K., and Pippa, T. (eds.) (2009). Staying Maasai: Livelihoods, Conservation and Development in East African Rangelands. Springer, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Igoe, J. (2003a). Scaling Up Civil Society: Donor Money, NGOs and the Pastoralist Land Rights Movement in Tanzania. Development and Change 34(5): 863–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Igoe, J. (2003b). Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota. Wadsworth, Belmont.Google Scholar
  24. LaRovere, R., Hieraux, P., Van Keulen, H., Schiere, J. B., and Szonyo, J. A. (2005). Co-evolutionary Scenarios of Intensification and Privatization of Resource use in Rural Communities of South-Western Niger. Agricultural Systems 83(3): 251–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Leserogol, C. (2008). Contesting the Commons: Privatizing Pastoral Lands in Kenya. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
  26. Leslie, P., and Dyson-Hudson, R. (1999). People and herds. 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. 233–247.Google Scholar
  27. Little, P. (2003). Somalia: Economy Without a State. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  28. Little, P., Smith, K., Cellarius, B., Coppock, D., and Barrett, C. (2001). Avoiding Disaster: Diversification and Risk Management Among East African Herders. Development and Change 32: 410–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Marin, A. (2008). Between Cash Cows and Golden Calves: Adaptations of Mongolian Pastoralism in the “Age of the Market”. Nomadic Peoples 12(2): 75–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Marshall, F. (1990). Origins of Specialized Pastoral Production in East Africa. American Anthropologist 92: 873–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McCabe, J. T. (1997). Risk and Uncertainty Among the Maasai of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania: A Case Study in Economic Change. Nomadic Peoples 1(1): 54–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McCabe, J. T. (2003). Sustainability and Livelihood Diversification Among the Maasai of Northern Tanzania. Human Organization 62(3): 100–111.Google Scholar
  33. May, A., and McCabe, J. T. (2004). City Work in a Time of AIDS: Maasai Labor Migration in Tanzania. Africa Today 51(2): 3–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. O’Malley, M. E. (2000). Cattle and Cultivation: Changing Land Use Patterns in Pastoral Maasai Livelihoods, Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District, Tanzania. Ph.D dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado.Google Scholar
  35. Potkanski, T. (1997). Pastoral Economy, Property Rights and Traditional Assistant Mechanisms Among the Ngorongoro and Salei Maasai of Tanzania. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, Pastoral Land Tenure Series Monograph 2.Google Scholar
  36. Spear, T. (1993). Being “Maasai” but not “People of the Cattle.” Arusha Agricultural Maasai in the Nineteenth Century. In Spear, T., and Waller, R. (eds.), Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in East Africa. James Currey, London.Google Scholar
  37. Thebaud, B., and Batterbury, S. (2001). Sahel Pastoralists: Opportunism, Struggle, Conflict and Negation. A Case Study from Eastern Niger. Global Environmental Change 11: 69–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Waller, R. D. (1988) Emutai : Crisis and Response in Maasailand 1883–1902. In Johnson, D., and Anderson, D. (eds.), The Ecology of Survival: Case Studies from Northeast African History. Lester Crook Academic Publishing/ Westview Press, pp73–114.Google Scholar
  39. Western, D. (1997). In the Dust of Kilimanjaro. Island, Washington.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Terrence McCabe
    • 1
  • Paul W. Leslie
    • 2
  • Laura DeLuca
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and Institute of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

Personalised recommendations