Article / Drylands / East Africa / Environment / Kenya / Livestock Systems / LIVESTOCKCRP / Rangelands / Resilience / SLS

Spatial planning to spur rangeland-based development across northern Kenya’s ‘frontier counties’

By Irene Nganga and Lance Robinson

Spatial planning is often perceived as being synonymous with ‘urban planning’. However, its scope is much wider, encompassing both rural and urban land use as well as environmental planning and strategizing future development.


Local experts from northern Kenya map livestock routes for input into spatial planning (photo credit ILRI/Lance Robinson).

For the past couple of years, the contribution of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to county spatial planning in northern Kenya has come through a partnership with the Kenya National Land Commission. This partnership has mapped stock routes and other key rangeland resources and livestock-related infrastructure. The two organizations are also working together to develop tools and guidelines to aid spatial planning in pastoralist settings.

They have also collaborated with the Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC)[1] to jointly host two policy dialogues on connections between county spatial planning and rangeland-based development in the dryland ‘frontier counties’ of northern Kenya.

The first dialogue, held 5–6 December 2017, explored how county spatial planning can address the big and cross-cutting challenges and opportunities facing Kenya’s northern counties.

The challenges highlighted in the dialogue include the rush to claim and privatize formerly common land; difficulty in controlling the use, overuse and conversion of grazing lands; the sprouting up of new settlements and the expansion of existing ones; inadequate water infrastructure planning; conflicts over rights to land versus rights to subsurface resources; and inattention to pastoralist livestock production in major infrastructure and development projects. Participants in the policy dialogue concurred that many of today’s trends are undermining pastoralism by disrupting grazing patterns and reducing herd mobility. They also acknowledged that few people as yet appreciate the potential of county spatial planning to help address these big challenges.

This potential is gradually becoming apparent around Africa. For instance, in the larger East Africa region, Rwanda has led the way in terms of developing a comprehensive and integrated land use planning system consisting of a hierarchy of plans of relevance to all levels of society. Tanzania too has heavily invested in local level ‘village’ land use planning in particular.  What is becoming increasingly clear is that a land use or spatial plan is not ‘just a plan’—it can be part of a community’s or a region’s rangeland management system and a pathway guiding forward-looking sustainable development.

Representatives of the frontier counties agreed that to move the process forward spatial planning should be factored into county integrated development plans to ensure that funds for spatial planning are allocated in annual county budgets. They also agreed that counties should build their own capacity in spatial planning (rather than rely largely on outside consultants) and raise awareness of and support for county spatial planning among political leaders and the general public.

Between the December discussion and a second policy dialogue held on 19 June 2018, important progress has been made. ILRI completed its mapping of rangeland resources for six of the frontier counties and handed over the maps and GIS data to the counties. Members of the county executive committees participating in the event all reported that they have highlighted the county spatial planning process in the ‘county integrated development plans’ that their counties have developed since the December discussion.

The most exciting development of these two policy dialogues was that the members of the county executive committees agreed to create an FCDC ‘Sector Forum on Lands’ to work together through a small team to coordinate, harmonize and move county spatial planning processes and projects forward in cost-effective and productive ways. The management and protection of rangelands and enhancement of extensive livestock production are matters that cut across county boundaries, and establishing this sector forum will help ensure development and deployment of effective and synergistic county spatial plans that benefit the whole region. Other stakeholders participating, such as representatives from the National Land Commission, Resource Conflict Institute (RECONCILE), Agile and Harmonized Assistance for Devolved Institutions (AHADI), the World Bank and ILRI strategized on how to support the new sector forum.

With this support from these various stakeholders and the new FCDC Sector Forum on Lands, the prospects for county spatial planning processes that protect and promote pastoralist livelihoods and rangeland-based development in these dryland counties are now very promising.

Read the report on the first policy dialogue.

Funding for the two policy dialogue events was provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and by the livestock component of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development program.

[1] FCDC is a partnership of eight dryland counties in northern Kenya: Garissa, Isiolo, Lamu, Mandera, Marsabit, Tana River, Turkana and Wajir.

2 thoughts on “Spatial planning to spur rangeland-based development across northern Kenya’s ‘frontier counties’

    • Hallo this was amazing because I took part in the project . I worked with Lance as a gis analyst.this would help alot of counties if the government support it.

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