Decisions regarding the management of natural resources in the northern rangelands of Kenya have traditionally been made collectively through leadership offered by customary institutions. However, the evolution of Kenya as a flexible environmental state has had implications for natural resource management and institutions in arid and semi-arid rangeland (ASAL) ecosystems. As a result, the rise of collaborative natural resource management has been characterized by the growth of public-private conservation partnerships (PPPs). Ecotourism and payments for ecosystem services have thus evolved as flexible forms of environmental governance through which challenges in natural resources management can be addressed.
This study was motivated by the lack of documented empirical research on the effects of PPPs as hybridized modes of natural resource management. Specifically, this study aims to characterize the partnerships in terms of their evolution, actors’ interactions and power dynamics, as well as examine their efficiency, effectiveness and equity implications of natural resource governance. Four conservancies under the umbrella of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) in the ASALs of Samburu County were purposefully selected for study. Key informant interviews, focus group discussions, household interviews using a semi-structured questionnaire and researcher’s observation of field conditions were used to gather data. Data was analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) software.
The findings show that the existence of wildlife on communal lands outside protected areas is the key condition for creating these partnerships. Furthermore, the partnerships are characterized by various kinds of exchanges between stakeholders, such as the provision of political support, physical security, legitimacy and finances. Additionally, the rolling back of the state under neoliberalism has led to the rise to power of the NRT whose influence has been magnified by ties with international organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. The results of financial cost- benefit analyses of the conservancies revealed their operational inefficiency. As a result, there exists an over-reliance on donor-funding, rendering the practice of conservation unsustainable in its current form. As support for conservation initiatives strongly hinges on a local community’s acceptance and collaboration, the PPPs undertake investments in communal projects, such as the provision of physical security which is critical to conservation initiative’s success. Considerable effort is also geared towards shrewd environmental stewardship. However, in working towards their objectives, conservation PPPs are characterized by inequities in access, decision-making and outcomes. This finding, I argue, is a result of the failure to fully acknowledge and incorporate the contextual aspects of equity.
Overall, the implications of this thesis suggest that public-private conservation partnerships have the potential to be effective modes of natural resource governance if: (i) the devolved county system of government takes charge to empower local communities more, and, as a consequence avert tendencies to assert dominance within partnerships by other stakeholders; (ii) a renegotiation of favourable conservancy-investor partnership agreements occurs, as a way of financially empowering conservancies, thereby reducing the donor-dependency tendency; (iii) more effort is geared towards ensuring a fair distribution of benefits to individual households. This can be achieved, for instance, by linking communities directly to local and external markets in the framework of the NRT’s BeadWORKS and LivestockWORKS programs, and by shifting the perception of marginalized social groups such as women and morans. Based on the findings of this study, it is thus expected that key policy initiatives should become visible in improving the practice of conservation and securing the rights and livelihoods of pastoral communities dependent on conservation as a form of land use in Kenya and beyond.