Jali Ardhi - care for the land

Image credit: Carey Marks

‘Jali ardhi’ means ‘care for the land’ in Swahili. Claire Kelly is a human geographer working within the Jali Ardhi project, led by Professors Will Blake (University of Plymouth, UK) and Patrick Ndakidemi (Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania). The research is funded by the UK government Global Challenges Research Fund to explore the complex impacts of soil erosion on pastoral communities in Tanzania. The project brings together Tanzanian and UK scientists and the Maasai people to find ways to overcome the soil erosion challenges that they face.

In Tanzania, Maasai communities are in a fragile state of transition from pastoralism to more settled agriculture-based livelihoods. These communities sit within a landscape that has been undergoing change for decades, from a variety of different drivers. Challenges to their pastoralist traditions, such as urban expansion and shifts in land ownership patterns, are amplified by changing climate conditions that cause unpredictable rains and longer, more severe droughts. Together, these cause soil erosion problems that can have deep social and economic impacts on communities by undermining food and water security and curtailing mobility between grazing lands, community resources and markets. 

Image credit: Carey Marks

Image credit: Carey Marks

Soil erosion and associated downstream siltation problems challenge water, food and energy security. Even under ‘normal’ climatic conditions, soil erosion reduces water and nutrient retention, biodiversity and plant primary productivity on agricultural land putting stress on food production, notwithstanding ecosystem and water resource damage downstream. This undermines the resilience of communities that depend on soil and water resources, and who have little alternative livelihood choices.  

Recognising that soil erosion and land degradation experts are not necessarily experts in socio-economic solutions, the Jali Ardhi project brings together natural and social scientists, behavioural psychologists and ecological designers to work with affected communities to develop sustainable land management practices.

Claire Kelly’s ‘resilience’ research fits at the centre of this approach by understanding how communities can draw on their existing resources, adapt to the challenges and begin to thrive. The project aims to identify not just evidence of the erosion problem and its impact on the community but also realistic opportunities for change. Work was undertaken in several communities in the Makayuni catchment system in northern Tanzania, which flows into Lake Manyara. The area has extensive seasonal grazing lands and represents a typical catchment supporting vulnerable pastoral and agricultural communities. 

Facilitating change in land management practices to reduce soil erosion impacts is a fundamental target within the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a challenge that requires approaches like the interdisciplinary methods developed and proven by the Jali Ardhi team.

Image credit: Carey Marks

Images courtesy of Carey Marks, a photojournalist and designer who works with the Jali Ardhi team to reveal the complex interconnections between people and their environment, and help to understand how complex challenges are forcing communities to adapt to events beyond their control.

View more of Carey's work on his website