Dar es Salaam — Tanzania's government is planning to open up special grazing areas for nomadic herders to give them better access to water and pastures, as part of a policy to prevent recurring conflicts between farmers and pastoralists.
The ambitious programme will see swathes of land allocated to meet the growing needs of livestock keepers, whose traditional grazing areas have been decimated by drought.
Saning'o Ole Telele, Tanzania's deputy minister for livestock and fisheries development, told Thomson Reuters Foundation the aim is to find a lasting solution to the frequent outbreaks of violence that pose a threat to peace across the country.
"The government is determined to solve these disputes," he said. "Once (pastoralists) have access to water and pastures, frequent clashes with farmers will be solved once and for all."
The minister said pastoralism is a way of life that should be maintained, but it could be improved. "We would like (herders) to attain a higher quality of life that is socially desirable, economically viable and environmentally sustainable," he said.
Under the programme - which is expected to cost taxpayers 15 billion shillings ($9.3 million) a year - more than 10 million hectares of land with access to water will be surveyed and made available to herders for grazing, if they want it. This is in addition to Tanzania's 611,238 square km of grazing land, of which 72 percent is now in use with the rest in a government land bank.
Deadly clashes have broken out in Tanzania as persistent drought has pushed pastoralists to the edge of survival. Amid competition for dwindling water resources, farmers have accused herders of destroying their crops by allowing their animals to feed and trample on them.
In one of the latest episodes, more than 10 farmers were killed in January in Keteto district in central Tanzania when Maasai pastoralists reportedly invaded villages on land they claim in the disputed Embroi Murtangosi forest reserve, and set their rivals' homes alight.
Pastoralists told Thomson Reuters Foundation they have mixed feelings about the government's new policy. Some hope it will ease tensions with farmers, while others suspect it is an attempt to drive them away from their traditional grazing lands to enable commercial exploitation.
Much land used by pastoralists in the north borders national parks and game reserves, where the government has leased areas to commercial investors for hunting ventures.
"I think it's an important step if it really is going to work. Our biggest problem is lack of water - we need areas with easy access to water. Our grazing fields are fully exhausted," said Saimon Ole Sinei, a Maasai pastoralist in the Kilosa district of Morogoro region.
Mwandu Kisesa, a pastoralist from Meatu district in Shinyanga, said opening up new areas could help stop land degradation, as well as community conflict.
"If pastoralists are given pasture land, the existing tensions will die naturally," he said. "It will also solve widespread soil erosion on traditional grazing land."
But Meshack Nangoro, a representative of the Maasai pastoral community in Longido district in the northern Arusha region, was less positive.
"I don't think there will be a fair deal for the Maasai community other than making us tenants on our own land," he said. "From what I know, if we are enticed to move off our traditional land, we will never regain it."
Nangoro urged the government to provide land allocation certificates to ensure that herders do not lose their lands when they migrate.
Under the Village Land Act of 1999, communities have the right to decide on land use in their own areas, although legal ownership resides with the government. Customary titles belong to villages, rather than their inhabitants, meaning individuals lose their land rights in a particular place if they move away.
Some pastoralists are also worried they may be directed to areas infested with tsetse flies, which feed on the blood of vertebrate animals. The flies are the primary African vectors of human sleeping sickness disease and animal trypanosomiasis.
Japhet Ngilorit, a pastoralist in Kiteto district in Manyara, said herders who are used to certain ecological conditions may find it difficult to start a new life elsewhere. "I have lived all my life here - if you tell me to move to Morogoro, I won't feel comfortable, because I don't know if the new land is suitable for my livelihood," he said.
LEGAL REFORM NEEDED?
According to the 2011 animal census, conducted by the Tanzania Bureau of Statistics, Tanzania has 22.8 million head of cattle, the third largest number in Africa after Ethiopia and Sudan.
The government estimates that over 70 percent of the livestock population is currently kept in semi-arid areas in the north, centre and west of Tanzania. These suffer water shortages in the dry season, forcing herders to migrate to other parts of the country.
Human rights activists and experts have given a cautious welcome to the government's strategy. Some fear it may not signal an end to the pastoralists' problems since existing laws and policies are already proving hard to implement.
The Grazing Land and Animal Feed Resources Law, for example, directs that cattle herds should be kept in accordance with the capacity of the land to support them, but that is not what is happening on the ground.
Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa, a researcher with the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, said the allocation of fresh land for herders is not a lasting solution. "We have been hearing the same story for ages but nothing credible is being implemented," he said. "This so-called new initiative will only work if existing land laws are reformed," he added.
Some argue that the system will be contradictory, with the Grazing Land Law prohibiting unrestricted movement of cattle, while the government allows pastoralists to move onto new land.
Tackling conflicts linked to pastoralism needs a holistic approach, including developing programmes that help herding communities cope with climate change, Ole Ngurumwa said.
"Relocation itself can't cure the problem - we need to combat the environmental destruction that indirectly affects pastoralism," he said. Herders should also be trained in alternative ways of making a living, he added.
Yefred Mnyenzi, a land rights expert with Haki Ardhi, a land resources institute in Dar es Salaam, said the existing land tenure system marginalises pastoralists who have often lost out to other groups.
"Pastoralists had previously not been considered very much in this system because there is no land set aside for them," said Mnyenzi.
Different groups must also understand and take account of each other's needs, he added. "The farmers should respect and protect land allocated for pastoral activities, and the pastoralists should do the same," he said.
According to Mnyenzi, a lack of knowledge about land laws and weak public participation in policy making are the main causes of community tensions.
"Even when citizens are invited to take part, their views and demands are often not given priority, thus causing more conflicts," he said.
The government and civil society groups should work together to educate people about the various laws and policies governing land issues, he added.
Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam. - Thomson Reuters Foundation