Tanzania: Pastoralists face famine as effects of drought are worsened by government neglect

A severe hunger crisis has developed over the past two months in the Ngorongoro area in northern Tanzania. Seasonal rains have largely failed in October and November, weakening cattle that are now dying of disease. Consequently, the local Maasai people who depend on their cattle for nutrition, are starving. A large number of children have died of malnutrition and related causes already.

An investigation undertaken by Ngorongoro Councillors last month found that “human beings are sharing unsafe water with livestock/wild animals [and hence] many people are suffering from diarrhoea and dysentery” in the villages of Osinoni, Nayobi, Kakesio and Bulati. Due to the food shortage, “most of the households have reduced their meals to one meal a day (...). Five children in Nayobi ate poisonous fruits, and two of them died.” In order to sustain the 55,000 people currently facing life-threatening hunger, the delivery of “2,694 metric tons of cereals” is necessary according to the investigation, to be distributed over the next months until March 2013.

At this point, however, no relief is in sight. Despite the report produced, the regional authorities deny the emergency. The regional administration has been complicit in the longstanding causes of the crisis, as pastoralists’ resilience to drought has been systematically eroded by government policy. With the 2009 Ngorogoro Conservation Area Ordinance Act, government restrictions began to be imposed on subsistence farming, and since 2010 it has been outlawed completely, yet alternative livelihoods have not been provided.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Arusha region is home to 60,000 people who live in 16 villages. Most of them are Maasai pastoralists who consider the area their ancestral home and have lived off the land by means of cattle herding and subsistence agriculture for generations. Pastoralism constitutes an important part of the cultural heritage of Tanzania, while contributing significantly to the country’s economy through livestock production.

The NCA is also a prime tourist destination due to its rich wildlife. A 2006 law mandates the coordination of conservation and tourism objectives with the interests of the pastoralists to enable coexistence. This provision has not come to practical implementation, however. Indeed, the Tanzanian central government prioritises foreign investment in safari tourism ventures over the interests of pastoralists, as clearly illustrated by the ban on subsistence farming. Equally negligent, during the previous crisis one year ago, authorities withheld the delivery of food which had already been paid for.

MRG has been working closely with partners in the region for a number of years and is currently assisting a community in Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District, to fight a longstanding court case to gain recognition of their rights to their traditional lands which have been unlawfully transferred to a foreign safari company.

Luca Gefäller

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Date: 12/12/2012




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