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Preserving cultural and ecological integrity in the face of a rapidly approaching, uncompromising modern reality
'Less-developed' societies are faced with an imminent choice of how they will use their resources, particularly land itself, and 'develop'. For most, this choice does not present itself to them and they find themselves mere bystanders as the world around them is reshaped and exploited. External parties seem at liberty to plan the exploitation of these lands as if the resident communities can have no effective aspirations of their own. There is an increasing pressure of modernization, which stresses individualization over communal ownership. This is particularly dangerous as it will result in a struggle that could leave most with a diminished quality of life as well as heightened tension and conflict.
Rangelands constitute approximately 70% of the world's land area. In Kenya and indeed much of Africa, these rangelands are predominantly inhabited by semi-nomadic pastoralists facing the fast approaching modern world. They find themselves with inferior opportunities to integrate themselves into the modern economy and are torn between the simple but beautiful struggle of their traditional livelihood and the elusive promise of modern prosperity.
In the modern age of fiat money, everything is defined against imaginary and, ultimately , unrealistic standards. As the modern economic system of the world faces inevitable collapse, many in the 'developing world' are faced with a hard choice and a golden opportunity. We need not follow in the mistakes of our more economically-developed counterparts, but over all we should be prudent and intelligent in our definition of value. If one is to define 'value' as a monetary or immediate concept, as is the acceptable practice of the modern economy, these rangelands and communally-owned lands will be of low priority to the policy maker- eventually becoming an easy target for wanton exploitation. 'Exploitation' can also be defined as any implementation of a design that perpetuates the singularity in value. Communities should therefore objectify value in multiple-use and develop means of benefitting from this multi-faceted value, as opposed to getting carried away with the deceptive benefits of single-use value.
Recognizing a community's resources and thus its leverage is the first step. There has been a surge of community conservancies in Kenya registering land as 'group ranches', something that emerged in the context of potential eco-tourism revenue. However, the definition of these resources was often narrowly confined to its wildlife populations, most of which traverse but are not confined to these areas. There was seen to be little else in the way of economic potential and the primary activity of wildlife tourism often comes into conflict with the existing livelihood of the majority, livestock husbandry. It is important to recognize that many areas lack sufficient wildlife presence to attract or support tourism on any significant scale. There is a need, therefore, to develop more diverse means of buffering these communities against the encroaching modern world, so that they can preserve ecological integrity and safeguard their most important resource, the land.
The community conservancy concept is an example of how a community can organize itself to improve the management of its resources, as well as formally delineating an area of communal ownership. It serves as a filter for development as well as an economic arbitrator between the community and the modern economy. In this way it can encourage the preservation of cultural integrity. The objective is thus to develop the community conservancy into an organization that not only manages an area for environmental health, but acts as a bridge for economic opportunity originating outside an area. For example, economic activities with limited potential for scale, such as gum collection and agroforestry, can provide cumulatively significant benefit when managed centrally. Most importantly the conservancy serves to affirm the common objective of healthy land and allows a community to be selective in how it develops economically.