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LDPI Working Paper 9: Conservation and ecotourism on privatised land in the Mara, Kenya: The case of conservancy land leases

by Claire Bedelian in 2012

This paper investigates private sector investment in conservation and ecotourism through conservancy land leases in the Mara region of Kenya. In a recent and growing tourism development, groups of Maasai landowners are leasing their parcels of land to tourism investors and forming wildlife conservancies. The paper examines this new conservation and ecotourism model and the implications it has for Maasai livelihoods and the environment. The subdivision of Kenya’s rangelands has tended to benefit elites, and as a consequence this trend is reinforced in land-based schemes such as these. Given the large extent and recent change in ownership in these areas, land leases do however keep the lands they cover together and are potentially an optimistic outlook for such open rangeland areas. Consideration however must be given to adjacent areas and communities that may face the negative knock on effects of such schemes. The Mara is a unique area in terms of its tourism and wildlife, so land leases may not be able to offer as much to landowners in other areas, or be financially sustainable across vast areas. However, within the Mara, land leases have been rapidly expanded upon, implying that similar schemes might be of interest to both investors and communities alike in other wildlife areas.