Improving governance to support better livelihood security and ecosystem management in Kenya’s northern drylands


Garba Tula sceneryLocated within the recently established Isiolo County of northern Kenya and covering approximately 10,000 km2 of drylands, Garba Tula District has relatively high biodiversity, and neighbours Kenya’s second largest network of protected areas, the Meru Conservation Area. Garba Tula is also home to some 40,000 semi-nomadic pastoralists, predominantly of the Borana tribe, who have traditionally administered the area through an intricate common property regime in which each grazing area (known as a Dedha) is governed by a local council of elders, the Jarsa Dedha. Recently, Kenya’s new Community Lands Act has presented an ideal opportunity to embed the most suitable aspects of such customary natural resource governance systems into the modern management and governance of community lands. Traditional resource access systems are especially important in achieving long term sustainability in view of Garba Tula’s scarcity of water, dry climate and vulnerability to climate change, which seriously limit the area’s potential for alternatives to pastoralist livelihoods. In this context, between June 2009 and March 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has implemented the Garba Tula Drylands Governance Project through its Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa (IUCN ESARO), in collaboration with the Resource Advocacy Programme (RAP), a local community organisation. The Project was part of a larger IUCN umbrella project titled “Improving Natural Resource Governance for Rural Poverty Reduction”, a global natural resources governance initiative financed through the Governance and Transparency Fund (GTF) of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Our contribution

CDC initially carried out a baseline assessment of Garba Tula’s natural resource governance arrangements on behalf of the IUCN ESARO Drylands Programme, and identified how these governance mechanisms could be improved. This initial assessment was intended to contribute to the ultimate aim of the overall project, which focused on improving the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources, and strengthening the resilience of livelihoods that directly depend on natural resources. CDC also carried out the project’s final evaluation, which identified a number of critical lessons learnt and key recommendations for the future. Specifically, the evaluation recommended that the work to develop the role of the Jarsa Dedha customary institutions in regulating resource access and use rights be strengthened, in particular the efforts to integrate the role of the Jarsa Dedha into the modern system of governance in place in Isiolo County through the development of appropriate local government legislation. The evaluation also emphasised the need for IUCN and RAP to work with the concerned communities to define fully inclusive rangeland access and use rights at the Dedha level, to be eventually incorporated into local rangeland management plans. These efforts to ensure the inclusivity of the natural resource access rights should be complemented by efforts to develop the legitimacy and accountability of the Jarsa Dedha customary institutions themselves.


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