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Kenyan pastoralist societies in transition: varying perceptions of the value of ecosystem services

Eva Kaye-Zwiebel, Resource Development Associates
Elizabeth King, Odum School of Ecology and Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, University of Georgia


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In the drylands of northern Kenya, as elsewhere in Africa, traditional pastoralist social-ecological systems are undergoing profound transformations. Diminishing resource availability, changing social values and governance systems, and new resource management institutions challenge the capacity of communities for effective common pool resource management. Individuals’ values and environmental perceptions play a substantial role in decision making regarding resource use and management. Additionally, social capital within communities can influence cooperative and adaptive resource management. We studied five Laikipia Maasai communities in Kenya, which share a common natural environment, history, and political organization. We surveyed pastoralists’ perceptions of the adequacy of two ecosystem services, forage availability and livestock abundance. We also assessed indicators of three forms of social capital: reciprocity, sanctioning, and norms of fairness. Four communities established set-aside conservation areas through partnership with external organizations. In those communities, we examined residents’ perceptions of five different potential ecological and economic benefits from the conservation areas. We found that communities varied in residents’ perceptions of grazing resource adequacy, the economic sufficiency of their livestock herds, and the benefits of conservation areas. Communities also varied in measures of social capital. We contextualize our findings in terms of the rules and conditions governing each conservation area, the roles of social capital, and the challenges of resource-use trade-offs when perceptions diverge. We conclude that taking stock of perceptions and values placed on ecosystem services is a crucial element of formulating plans for sustainable resource management and navigating trade-offs in the future.

Key words

common pool resources; conservation; grazing; pastoralism; social capital

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087