John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
Studies of the Maasai, the Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
24. Environment : Vegetation : 305-313
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305. The lands occupied by the Samburu are marginal in quality. The Loroghi Plateau (shown here) around Maralal, home to many Samburu, is reasonably well watered and well wooded in places. The average annual precipitation here is 620 mm -- but it is notoriously unreliable.
306. Temperatures (and, therefore, evaporation) are moderated somewhat by the altitude of the plateau (close to 2,000 metres). Temperatures typically rise to 23 or 24 degrees by day and drop to 8 or 9 at night year-round -- there being little seasonal variation in temperature at the equator. But droughts can be severe nevertheless and sometimes cause massive stock losses. With streams that flow only briefly, after local rain, the majority of the population, therefore, is concentrated close to the few reliable water holes.
307. Much of the land occupied by the Maasai would be classed as  “tropical savannah”, with coarse grasses -- green after rain but brown for much of the year -- plus scattered trees. The latter are usually short, because of the limited amount of water available. And many of the older trees (cedars especially) are dying because of the progressive desertification of the area.
308. Many trees and shrubs here have thorns instead of or in addition to leaves -- to reduce moisture loss and also discourage grazing animals. Many of the best pastures further south were lost to European settlement during the colonial era.
309. A lot of good land is also closed to grazing periodically due to political instability, like these former pastures on the floor of the Rift Valley adjacent to the Loroghi Plateau. Well-armed rebel tribesmen will kill anyone daring to take cattle into the area.
310. The bright green patches here show where cattle were penned at night in the past, their manure enriching the soul. But it’s not safe to go there any more.
311. The lands north and east of Maralal are semi-desert. Here the grazing is poor and water holes are few and far between, so people have traditionally moved their stock around, grazing in the highlands at the height of the dry season. Their neighbours on the north, the Gabbra (shown here), are still nomadic.
312. The savannahs of southern Kenya, the home of the Maasai proper, are generally more attractive. Much of this land was, till recently, considered unsuitable for agriculture, though it was adequate for grazing wherever water could be obtained from springs and rivers. The government has since expropriated large areas, however, and the bulk of the land which the Maasai retain is of low quality.(Grasslands in Southern Kenya now closed to the Maasai.)
313. Goats can somehow survive by browsing on thorn bushes but cattle need something better.


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