Protection of Pastoralists’ Land Rights: Lessons Learned from the International Experience


This paper reviews the international experience with projects that have sought to protect pastoralist land rights. It has been requested by USAID/Ethiopia from Tetra Tech as a contribution to the current discussions of policy and legal arrangements for pastoralist lands taking place in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has a major ongoing program of land demarcation and land rights certification, and this paper is an input to the development of a strategy for expansion of the certification program to pastoralist regions. The authors were asked to address the questions involved from a perspective that prioritized protection of pastoralist land rights and the potential for certification of pastoralist land rights in that process. The selection of case studies is slanted toward arid land situations in which migration figures significantly, in recognition that these characterize most pastoralist systems in east and southeast Ethiopia. The authors want to caution that the recommendations in this paper are generic, and almost certainly will need significant adjustments to be really useful in the Ethiopian context.

Any program to protect pastoralist rights using tenure reform and certification strategies must develop a strategy for addressing the following key issues. First, what is the nature of the rights pastoralists and their communities hold? Second, who manages the resource? Third, what is the scope of the protection effort?

This paper seeks to address these issues in the following fashion:

  • An introductory discussion of pastoralist land use systems and some economic models used to analyze and reform them.
  • Reviews of a number of projects that have addressed pastoralist land use and rights. Unfortunately, as will be seen, the projects often had disappointing results, and few can be called “best practices.”
  • A fundamental critique of tenure approaches to pasture management, stressing the importance of continued mobility in the face of environmental uncertainty. In light of that critique, lessons drawn from the project experience and the literature include:
    • Tenure approaches: rights and right-holders;
    • Management: communities and their institutions; and
    • Scope of protection: which resources?
  • Suggestions for general directions for future efforts at protection of pastoralist lands.