Extreme Events as Transformative Factors in Pastoral Social-Ecological Systems

Project: Research project


The purpose of this project is to clarify the role of extreme events in the ongoing transformation of the vast rangelands of East Africa, a transformation that entails changing livelihood patterns and land use, fragmentation of the landscape, and impacts on wildlife, which together have far-reaching consequences for local and national economies and for the vulnerability of local people. The project focuses on the response of Maasai communities in northern Tanzania to the devastating drought of 2009. The local people claim this drought to be the worst in living memory, stimulating massive migration of livestock and people from southern Kenya and northern Tanzania into Simanjiro District of Tanzania, with dramatic loss of livestock. The drought was followed by significant changes in land use and traditional institutions and practices, including previously unseen restrictions on who is allowed access to crucial resources (water and pasture). The pressing question is why these transformative responses occurred during and following that particular drought but not following previous droughts that were equally or more severe. The research will entail ethnographic fieldwork and surveys involving households and village leaders in 10 predominantly Maasai villages that were on both the sending and receiving ends of the migration during the 2009 drought. It is designed to reveal how and why responses to the recent drought differed from the past; how the impact of the drought proceeded through a series of phases; how experiences, decisions, and innovations in one area influenced other areas and, ultimately, the social-ecological system as a whole; and how response diversity -- heterogeneity in human decisions and action – at both household and village levels affected the processes driving change.
Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (NSF)


extreme event
land use
household survey
local economy
national economy
water resource