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Well-being and conservation: diversity and change in visions of a good life among the Maasai of northern Tanzania

Emily Woodhouse, University College London, Department of Anthropology
J. Terrence McCabe, University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Anthropology; University of Colorado Boulder, Institute of Behavioral Science


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The Simanjiro plains, east of Tarangire National Park in Northern Tanzania are a key dispersal area for wildlife, and are of vital importance to Maasai pastoral livelihoods, which are rapidly diversifying. Diversification is coupled with fragmentation of the rangelands as agriculture expands and multiple actors compete for land. These changes reflect transformations occurring across pastoral rangelands, and pose the broader challenge of reconciling conservation and development objectives. We propose that qualitative research using a three-dimensional human well-being framework, encompassing material, relational, and subjective aspects, can inform locally legitimate and socially just conservation. Through semistructured group interviews across four villages, we explore well-being conceptions of Maasai men and women in Simanjiro. In particular we focus on the value of understanding social complexity for conservation research in the form of (i) the heterogeneity of conceptions of well-being across gender, age groups, and villages; (ii) temporal dynamics in notions and experiences. Material assets, namely land (for grazing and agriculture) and livestock are important to people but are intertwined with other aspects of well-being. Subjective well-being is centered on concerns about future security, especially with regards to land. Autonomy and social unity (relational dimension) are key priorities. We reflect on the implications for conservation at the study site, and more broadly on how well-being can better be incorporated into policy and practice that takes social justice seriously. The diversity we find in well-being priorities and experiences shows the importance of taking a disaggregated approach that conceptualizes benefits and burdens across a range of locally important well-being components ensuring the priorities of the most marginalized groups are represented.

Key words

equity; gender; justice; pastoralism; rural livelihoods; social-ecological systems; tenure security

Copyright © 2018 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