Co-developing sustainable options to shared useful resource dilemmas in Maasai land

By Dr Anna Rabinovich

I’m excited to affix the colourful and pleasant College of Psychology on the College of Sussex as a Reader in Social Psychology and Sustainability.

My analysis ambition is to handle the worldwide problem of cooperation round sustainable administration of shared environmental sources by conducting impactful analysis that makes an actual distinction for stakeholder communities. It has led me to develop a number of interdisciplinary collaborations and to have interaction with various communities who face the shared useful resource administration problem the world over.

Considered one of my current tasks, funded by the British Academy, has taken me to Northern Tanzania, which is house to Maasai, an iconic pastoralist tribe. One of many issues that Maasai pastoralists have been dealing with in current many years is soil erosion on shared pasture land. Deep gullies make the land unsuitable for cattle grazing, threatening livelihoods of the inhabitants.

photo of deep gully on the Maasai farm land

Historically, cattle are the spine of the Maasai financial system: Cows and goats are bought to assist cowl the price of housing, clothes, and college charges for youngsters. They’re additionally an integral a part of cultural identification: “Should you don’t have a cow, you aren’t acknowledged as a revered member of the neighborhood,” we had been informed by native elders. Whereas cattle herds are weak to soil erosion, additionally they play a task within the onset of this devastating course of. Rising herds, along with shrinking of land accessible to Maasai individuals, restrictions on conventional mobility routes, and lack of efficient grazing administration can result in pastures turning into depleted.

Most earlier makes an attempt at resolving this downside haven’t engaged with the social facet of the problem. A lot analysis tends to depend on the knowledge deficit strategy, which relies on the idea that the issue is simply there due to the lack of awareness and knowledge. One factor this strategy doesn’t account for is the hole between attitudes and intentions. Individuals who face an issue might already know what must be accomplished, however unwilling or unable to take motion. To deal with this hole, it is very important take note of group dynamics, social norms, cultural values, and communication. In our challenge, we put native communities and social dynamics inside them on the centre of all the pieces we do.

photo of cow herd walking over dry earth in Maasai land

We designed a number of workshops with Maasai communities of the Monduli District, the world significantly affected by extreme soil erosion. Our major long-term purpose was to strengthen neighborhood cohesion by offering area for members to work collectively, to share current information – and to begin constructing sustainable plans for the longer term. We made positive that individuals of all genders and age teams had been equally represented at every of the workshops, as a result of, equally to another climate-related issues, we will solely win this struggle towards extreme soil erosion if the entire neighborhood works on it collectively.

Through the first set of workshops members accomplished questionnaires, the place they shared their particular person opinions about soil erosion and attitudes to numerous sorts of motion that might be taken to mitigate it. We collated that knowledge and got here again to share our findings with the members. A few of these findings confirmed that many individuals believed that sure issues, reminiscent of grazing practices, ought to be accomplished in another way, however by no means voiced their opinions in neighborhood discussions.

Having seen the outcomes, neighborhood members began to understand that not solely they will do issues in another way when coping with soil erosion, however they will do these issues collectively, and that might not contradict the group norm. So, within the subsequent set of workshops, by means of group discussions, we began constructing express group norms per sustainable land administration practices that might assist sort out soil erosion. It has turn out to be clear that speedy motion is just not solely obligatory, however can also be fascinating and accepted by the neighborhood, as a result of it’s per the Maasai methods of doing issues. At this level members would focus their group discussions on discovering finest methods to handle their land, performing as a neighborhood. The thought is that as a result of these choices are based mostly on a area people norm and are coming from contained in the group (moderately than being imposed externally), they might result in sustainable motion.

photo of Maasai tribe members gathered round a table talking and looking at workshop materials

Certainly, a number of months later, noticeable adjustments have began going down within the communities we labored with. Land administration plans have been put in place in lots of villages, and native champions have began lively work on selling gully restoration and prevention initiatives. Many communities have agreed to allocate sure areas of shared land to grazing throughout a specific time of yr solely, which provides vegetation time to revive and prevents additional soil erosion. A lot of neighborhood planting initiatives have additionally began, together with check plots for observing results of planting and grazing restrictions on soil well being. That is only a starting of an extended journey in the direction of tackling soil erosion in Maasai land, and we’re hopeful to see how the neighborhood initiatives develop and assist them into the longer term. We’ve been working carefully with the native District council in Tanzania to make sure institutional assist is in place to take care of impression.

The strategy we’ve been utilizing to co-develop sustainable options to shared land administration can be utilized for different shared useful resource dilemmas as nicely. On this challenge, communities are working to guard the shared pasture land, however there are a lot of different communal sources that require safety the world over, from fisheries and coasts to shared city environments. If in case you have a shared useful resource problem you want to collaborate round, I might be joyful to listen to from you!

Additional studying:

Rabinovich, A., Heath, S., Zhischenko, V., … Ndakidemi, P. (2020). Protecting the commons: Predictors of willingness to mitigate communal land degradation among Maasai pastoralists. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 72, 101504.

Rabinovich, A., Kelly, C., Wilson, G., Nasseri, M. et al. (2019). “We will change whether we want it or not”: Soil erosion in Maasai land as a social dilemma and a challenge to community resilience. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 66, 101365.

photo of Anna Rabinovich

Dr Anna Rabinovich not too long ago joined the College of Psychology on the College of Sussex as Reader in Social Psychology and Sustainability.