Can Tourism Pay the Maasai?

Published on 12th September 2006

Part Two

There are many types of pro poor tourism strategies which any company be it a small lodge, an urban hotel, a tour operator or an infrastructure developer can engage.  The critical factor is not the type of company or type of tourism, but an increase in the net benefits to poor people.

Pro-Poor strategies need to be complemented by the development of a balanced tourism infrastructure. If competitive products, transport systems or marketing do not exist, the industry will decline. As the overall aim of PPT is maximizing linkages, and minimizing leakages there is need to involve businesses in PPT initiatives, since they are not charitable projects but profit making, with special focus on poverty reduction.  Local communities should see themselves as partners, thus making the initiatives successful. PPT should aim at intra-community equity. Local communities are not a homogenous group.  The opinion leaders are mostly the elites and rich persons who might use PPT initiatives for their own benefit.   

Strategies for pro poor tourism can be divided into those that generate economic benefits, other livelihood benefits (such as physical, social or cultural improvement), and less tangible benefits of participation and involvement. 

Strategies focused on economic benefits include expansion of employment and local wages via commitments to local jobs and training locals for employment. They also include expansion of business opportunities for the poor. These may be businesses/entrepreneurs that sell food, fuel, or building material to tourism operations or those that offer products directly to tourists, such as guiding, crafts and tea shops.  Support can vary from marketing and technical support to shifts in procurement strategy, direct financing and training. Such strategies may entail development of collective community income from equity dividends, lease fee, revenue share or donations, usually established in partnership with tourism operators or government institutions.

Strategies to enhance other (non-cash) livelihood benefits generally focus on: Capacity building; mitigation of the environmental impact of tourism on the poor; addressing competing use of natural resources; improved social and cultural impacts of tourism and improved access to services and infrastructure such as health care, radio, security, water supply and transport.

Strategies focused on policy process, and participation can create more supportive policy and planning framework that enables participation by the poor in decision-making. Local people should be consulted and have a say in tourism plans, decisions and feedback by the government and private sectors. 

PPT should be commited to local employment. In most cases, this is the most effective way of empowering the poor and boosting the local economy.  A practical approach is for hotels and lodges to give first consideration to the local residents within the area they operate.  Technical and skilled jobs which the local population can provide could be outsourced. It should enhance capacity building and training. The ability for poor people to engage in the tourism industry is limited due to lack of basic education and training. Their ability should be built by introducing tailor made training packages that specifically focus on basic skills like driving, laundering and gardening. PPT should encourage local outsourcing of goods and services. Food products like vegetables and drinks can be supplied by the communities. Hotels can help set the standards and quality of these products so that they meet the health and safety requirements required in the tourism industry. It should support small enterprises by encouraging poor members of the local community to start small enterprises that they can use to supply goods and services to the tourism industry. For example, the Maasai women group for beadwork production and the young Maasai men called ‘morans’ to form dance troops.

The most common source of conflict between local communities and the tourism industry is access to basic resources like water, grass for thatching or even firewood for domestic use.  PPT can mitigate these conflicts through dialogue with local people on how best to apportion access to these resources.  At times, communities can be encouraged to take responsibility in regulating such allotments.

Improvement of community social infrastructure like schools, health clinics or water services sometimes requires funding.  Group ranches in Maasai land are located in remote areas where schools are few and scattered.  PPT enterprises can build a classroom for young pupils who are not able to walk to the main primary school. The government policy states that once parents set up a school, the government will always provide teachers. In Mara, tour operators jointly bought a vehicle to be used as a mobile health clinic in the concession area they operate.  Another basic necessity that the tour operators have been able to provide to the group ranches are the drilling of boreholes for domestic and livestock use.

The Maasai group ranches are still owned and run as common property.  The land is endowed with scenic landscapes and wildlife. With good partnerships from the tour operators, these areas can be developed as PPT projects.  The net benefits from such ventures could be ploughed back into the community on agreed projects like beadwork for women or scholarships for children. The involvement of people in decision making is critical to the success of PPT projects. 

Implementing these strategies will involve lobbying for policy reforms at the local and national level.  However, lobbying and advocacy is not easy for poor communities.  At stake are value-laden issues of economic equity and welfare, and inequalities in cost bearing.  It’s also true that there are differences between gains and losses in the national and local economies.  This reflects the complexities of a political and economic system in which citizens have unequal interests in, and access to information on how decisions which affect their lives are made.  To have a voice, local communities need to form resource based organizations like wildlife forum/trusts or nature conservancies, which they can use to lobby for their interests.  Their capacity depends on effectiveness in advocacy.   

Wildlife tourism in Maasai land is now recognized in the wildlife/tourism industry. Its success is due to its partnership with stakeholders such as Non Governmental organizations like Dutch SNV programme and Friends of Conservation. However, practical action should be accompanied by a supportive policy framework.  The ongoing subdivision of Maasai rangelands into small parcels of individual land will adversely affect PPT and the nomadic livelihood of the Maasai people.  These rangelands are arid and semi arid.  The annual rainfall is low and sporadic.  For millennia, these areas have evolved to their current status because of human interaction.  Their productivity is only suitable for fugitive and free ranging animals, both domestic and wild. According to Marcel Rutten in Selling Wealth to Buy Poverty: Individualization of Maasai land in Kenya, subdivision has made the Maasai poor as smaller parcels of land are unable to support sufficient numbers of animals for a sustainable period.  

To mitigate this problem, new PPT initiatives are helping communities set up conservancies that allow rangelands to remain open land.  Eselengei group ranch in partnership with Porini Eco-tourism Ltd have already managed to set aside an area for tourism development.  Similar initiatives are occurring in the Mara where we have the Olchorooua conservancy, Shompole and the Ilngesi group ranch in Laikipia. With the loss of their land, the Maasai are at risk of greater vulnerability and insecurity. At the same time, traditional management systems and resources could provide opportunities for improvement of livelihoods of many people in these areas, and should be seen as ways of promoting security and generating benefits.  Traditional forms of livestock husbandry are compatible with other high-income land use strategies like tourism that also maintain biodiversity levels. 

The mixing of livelihood strategies to diversify income, and provide security, while maintaining ecosystem integrity should be the long term objective of PPT initiatives.

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