Tana River District: a showcase of conflict over natural resources

Please note: this is archive content, retained for reference only. Practical Action no longer works in the Tana River district of Kenya

Tana River district is one of the seven districts that makes up the coast province. The district has a population of about 180,000 people with the Pokomo (Bantu/farmers), Orma and Wardey (Cushitic/pastoralists) being the dominant ethnic groups in the district.

The name of the district is derived from river Tana, the largest river in Kenya, which traverses the northern and eastern part of the district down to the Indian Ocean where it enters the sea at Kipini with a delta of approximately 40 km wide.

River Tana is an important ecological and natural resource in the district. Both the pastoralists and farming communities in the district derive their livelihoods from this river.

Rainfall in the district is low bimodal and erratic, the mean ranges between 300m and 500m. With the rains being erratic especially in the hinterland, the district experiences drought almost every year. The coastline is wet than the hinterland. The coastal region receives up to 1200mm of rain annually although it varies and is highly unreliable.

The higher rainfall at the coast support cash crops while the dry climate in the hinterland only supports nomadic pastoralism. Generally therefore the district is dry in most of the seasons with temperatures averaging 30�C.

In the 1980s, there were 3 major irrigation schemes in the district, which greatly influenced the local people’s lifestyle in terms of employment and source of income. There were no conflicts during those days since people were busy on the schemes.

However, since the collapse of these schemes (Bura, Hola and Tana Delta irrigation projects) the poverty rate has alarmingly soared and became a major source of conflicts in the district. The pastoral communities reverted back to their traditional method of nomadic pastrolism while the farmers (the Pokomos) started small scale subsistence farming along the Tana river from Mbalambala (Asako) in north, to Kipini on the Tana river estuary.

The Nomadic pastoralists (the Ormas) moved far into the hinterland with their large herds of animals while the Pokomos remained along the river. This created two distinct and competing lifestyle (farming and pastoralism).

Conflicts have flared whenever the pastoralists try to access the river to water their livestock for virtually all the riverbanks have been occupied by the farmers. This subsistence land use by the farmers has left no space for the pastoralists to access the water and this has been the main and leading cause of conflict, especially during the dry period when all the pastoralists have moved with their livestock to the Tana delta.

Whereas the farmers claim the land the pastoralists claim unfettered access to the water. These conflicts are therefore predictable and preventable if adequate conflicts resolution mechanisms are put in place. This scenario perhaps provides an express manifestation and understanding of conflict over natural resource (water).

On the other hand, unresponsive land adjudication and regimes have bred conflicts in the district. Ostensibly to promote productive land use, the government implemented a controversial land adjudication programme in the district. Land was subdivided and allocated to individuals (mainly settled farmers) as private property. However, it become apparent that this process did not go down well with the pastoralists since they thought it would limit their movement and that’s why they opposed and continue to oppose the policy.

The farmers who felt that the adjudication would legalize their ownership of land embraced the adjudication.

Peace Bulletin - editorial and contents

ITDGPractical Action-EA Peace Bulletin - September 2004


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