Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Engaresero Maasai Pastoralist Heritage Area, Tanzania

GIAHS since 2011


Detailed Information



Global importance

Maasai agro pastoral system is a synergic system adapted to arid dry lands of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. This resilient system relies heavily on their traditional knowledge and practices to be able to carve out a live hood in a rugged environment. Liked to its environment, Maasai culture cannot survive disconnected from agro pastoralism and its lands.

Today, the combination of the loss of access to critical grazing resources, the increased population pressure from both within Maasai society as well as through the influx of other land-users, the sub-division of common property systems and a range of cultural factors, unfortunately has created a set of incentives that discourages Maasai from their traditional sustainable practices and leads to the adoption of unsustainable uses of natural resources.

Food and livelihood security

Maasai agro pastoralism techniques have allowed them to satisfy their needs for ages. Their system has provided them meat, milk, maize meal, beans, wool but also forage, water and manure for the lands. At the same time, being sustainable for its used lands, Masaai people can also harvest what they need in the forest they live in: edible fruits, seeds, honey, medicines, veterinary products, etc.

Maasai people are trying to adapt their systems to current conditions of population, resource availability and socio political factors. However, Engaresero community is facing real and relative poverty and lack of food poverty because of the threats occurring on agro pastoral systems.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

Maasai Engaresero community breeds predominantly indigenous species such as Zebu cattle, Red Maasai Sheep, donkeys and goats. Not only focusing on the biodiversity of animals, Maasai also grow plants such as endemic maize and beans local varieties.

Moreover, many grassland habitats of the Maasai area both wildlife abundance and diversity is increased by the presence of the Maasai at appropriate stocking level of livestock. Engaresero functions as an important dispersal area for its many large herbivores and predators. Its current pastoral land use system is highly compatible with the conservation of the Lake Natron Ecosystem and wildlife conservation.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

FAO recognized in 2009 as evidence that Maasai’s agro pastoralists have developed unique mechanisms and traditional institutions to cope with water shortage, recurrent drought, etc. It is a deep reservoir of local and indigenous knowledge on livestock rearing and health.

The Maasai use three informal rules to manage their open access land. They avoid used areas, keep appropriate distance from other groups and avoid areas recently vacated by others. Moreover, they select disease-resistant young, ensure water and forage availability prior to livestock movement and decide to move livestock in relation to mineral (salt licks), forage and shade needs.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

Intricate social interactions between and within Maasai groups ensure this livelihood and livestock security. Inside the communities, roles are divided depending on the social position to accomplish the activities.

Many pastoralist cultures embody strong conservation values, reflected in and reproduced the communities’ cosmologies and religious practices, customary and law institutions as well as stories, songs, riddles. The Oldonyo L’Engai volcano is a great spiritual significance to the Maasai for cosmology and religion.

Remarkable landscapes, land and water resources management

This Tanzanian landscape is remarkable in the sense that it has co-evolved with pastoralist’ Maasai cultural practices. Indeed, the strong conservation values of Maasai culture provided for deep synergies with wildlife. They have co-created and maintained the very landscape in which wildlife can thrive. This area is highly representative of traditional Maasai pastoralism in Tanzania and its conservation is relevant for the sustainable development of rangelands in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania.