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Ecological Factors in Land Use Conflicts, Land Administration and Food Insecurity In Turkana, Kenya

Research reports

This paper employs an historical analysis to consider some of the consequences of conflicting resource use and political friction on resource exploitation within and outside Turkana District during this century. Given this historical context, development alternatives tested to ameliorate food insecurity are reviewed.

Turkana District has been described as "an inhospitable environment where drought and famine ... recur with regular frequency" (McCabe and Ellis 1987) and food insecurity is a persistent problem. Drought is a natural occurrence to which adjustments are made, but the outcome can be entirely different if the means hitherto used to cope are disrupted. In particular, predatory raids on livestock and disruption of land use patterns can seriously upset the traditional economy. Following recent drought events (of 1960/1961, 1969, 1973/1974, 1979, 1980/1981 and 1983/1984), provision of relief food, though initially a temporary assistance to impoverished pastoralists, to make up for a short-term loss of self-reliance, is being treated as a permanent programme. Alternative means of survival, such as farming and fishing, have been promoted by aid agencies and the Government, but with little impact. Notwithstanding the huge sums of money invested, problems of food insecurity are still enormous. If the present trends continue, the Turkana nomads are more likely to rely on food aid during future droughts than ever before. During future events, planning of successful development may require identification of factors which in the past were responsible for project failures. Unfortunately, there are few instances where development plans have relied on historical analysis to deal with development issues at a regional level (cf. Anderson 1981).

My proposition is that the stage for political conflicts, environmental degradation and food insecurity within the region was set decades ago. The indigenous livestock economy has been seriously weakened, following pacification by colonialism at the turn of the century and by the predatory raids which have continued. The after-shocks of these events have created ripples in the social security system, leaving the pastoralists more vulnerable to periodic droughts. The intrinsic capacity of the people to buffer droughts has diminished, forcing the majority to seek assistance in redressing food insecurity. The paper examines these relationships within a historical context and seeks an explanation as to why development measures undertaken to ameliorate problems of food insecurity has so far failed to produce desirable results.

Much of the data reported in this paper are based on archival information and unpublished sources. The archival information is largely from the Turkana District Annual Reports (hereafter referred to as TDAR) from 1928 to 1989.

Gufu Oba