Research in East Africa conducted by J. Terrence McCabe

Professor J. Terrence McCabe has been working among pastoral people in East Africa for over 30 years. His primary research emphasis has been on how people adapt to the arid and semi-arid rangelands of Kenya and Tanzania, and how they cope with changing social, economic and political conditions. Most of his work has been conducted as a member of multidisciplinary teams, and funded by the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, National Geographic Society, the National Park Service, the Social Science Research Council, and internal grants from the University of Colorado. In 2009,  McCabe received a Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany for lifetime scholarly achievement, its highest recognition. In addition to his work among pastoralists Professor McCabe has worked with intensive agriculturalists in Ethiopia and with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

From 1980 through 1995, J. Terrence McCabe was a primary researcher, along with Paul W. Leslie (UNC-Chapel Hill), in the South Turkana Ecosystem Project (STEP), a long-term, multidisciplinary study of human-environment relations in northwest Kenya. STEP was funded largely by the National Science Foundation over 15 years, resulting in 13 PhD dissertations and nearly 200 publications. This project has been referred to as one of the most detailed studies of a human population within an ecosystems framework. Professor McCabe’s book, Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies: Turkana Ecology, History, and Raiding in a Disequilibrium System, (University of Michigan Press) won the 2005 Julian Steward Award for the best book published the previous year in ecological and environmental anthropology by the American Anthropology Association.

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In 1999, McCabe and Leslie started a new NSF-funded project in northern Tanzania, Collaborative Research: Intensification of Pastoral Systems in Northern Tanzania: Integrating Demographic and C ultural Models Approaches, which aimed to clarify the processes by which the ongoing transition from pastoralism to a mixed economy occurs. The standard view that human population growth has been a driving force in the adoption of agriculture is supported by this research, but the more proximate reasons are complex. This research revealed that the adoption of cultivation was part of much larger social processes that included the desire to be part of a modern Tanzania. Along with economic diversification, McCabe and Leslie found indications of changes in social organization (e.g., in the nature of communal economic activities) and demography (e.g., a dramatic decrease in women’s age at marriage) that are likely to have important consequences in the future.

A subsequent project Collaborative Research: Consequences of Parks for Land Use, Livelihood Diversification, and Biodiversity in East Africa began in 2004. Results suggested that one of the major hypotheses to be tested, that land use will intensify in villages close to a park boundary, seems to be borne out in the Tanzanian case study but not in some other project sites. McCabe and Leslie also found that livelihood diversification is a very complex process and not just the result of an increasing human population and a dwindling resource base.

From 2006 to 2009, McCabe and Leslie worked on a comparative project Parks as Agents of Change in East and Southern Africa with CO-PIs Abe Goldman, Michael Binford and Brian Child, all at the University of Florida. Results support many of the proposed hypotheses, specifically, that parks do act as agents of change and exert a strong influence on the communities adjacent to parks. It is also the case, at least for Tarangire National Park, that people living closer to the park perceive much greater risk from wildlife and conservation measures, especially as this relates to the security of land tenure; this then leads to more intensified land use practices that may be inimical to biodiversity and conservation efforts.

A current project, Collaborative Research: Multi-Level Response Diversity: Land Use, Livelihood Diversification and Resilience in Northern Tanzania grew out of the previous work and began in 2011. The purpose of this project is to clarify the causes of the changing livelihood patterns of Maasai in northern Tanzania and to explore how these changes are likely to affect the social-ecological system, including the viability of households and communities and the implications for biodiversity and wildlife conservation. A particular focus is on the role that response diversity plays in shaping those changes and their consequences. The project integrates empirical field-based research with agent-based modeling (ABM), a computer simulation technique that is well suited to studying complex systems in which actors or entities such as households or communities interact and make decisions influenced by changing conditions.

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