The purpose of the Collaborative Research & Policy Development Program is to bring researchers and scholars together with Maasai community members, political leadership, Non-governmental organizations, and any others who share the goal of generating and applying knowledge to support sustainable futures in Maasailand under the stewardship of the Maasai community.

The Problem of Research in Maasailand

As is true in many indigenous communities, research in Maasailand is, in the words of Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a “dirty word.” Very little trust exists for researchers themselves, and especially for large scale research projects which are assumed to exist solely for the benefit of researchers and may exploit and misrepresent local knowledge. Today in spite of this troubled past it is clear that research is sorely needed and desired in Maasailand.

Our Research Model

MERC and our partners have developed a collaborative approach to research that benefits scholars and scientists, the Maasai community, the wildlife and habitat in the Maasai Mara Serengeti Ecosystem, and the global community to whom this land ultimately belongs.

Here are the key problems our research model seeks to address:

  • A need for greater accountability to the local community under study
    Maasailand is one of the most studied places on earth, and yet the Maasai community is often alienated from research that takes place in their home. There is typically no collaboration between researchers and community structures of authority, no reporting of research findings, and the lack of communication creates mistrust, as community members assume that knowledge is sought only for the use of outsiders and not for the people who share the land.
  • Lack of Services and Guidelines for Researchers
    Historically, scholars undertaking research in Maasailand have lacked services and clear guidelines on how to conduct research in this region. With no operating field stations, researchers must find their own accommodations and transportation, and exist largely outside of the web of the Maasai community, locating translators and guides of varying quality on their own.
  • Missed Opportunity
    A tremendous potential exists to create knowledge through collaboration by bringing the best of western science and technology to the study of Maasailand but only if Maasai knowledge and sciences are equally valued by all parties, and guidelines are agreed to by all parties.

The MERC research model has been built at the the Dopoi Center, where researchers are welcome to stay in a cabin or pitch a tent, use internet, share meals, and to team up with community representatives, with interpreters and guides and others interested in research, to collaborate on research questions and sources.  As a Maasai community member Joseph Ole Logela said, “we know this wildlife; they live with us and we know where to find them, how to understand their behaviors because we have been observing and interacting with them for many generations.” Researchers are required to respect Dopoi Center protocols which include bringing back any published research to the community in agreed upon form.

Topics Addressed by MERC Research

Research supported by MERC  typically focuses on understanding ecosystem and social/cultural change in the context of the dynamic environment of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve (MMGR). MERC takes an interdisciplinary approach to large and complex research questions that address these discipline specific components:

  • Environmental Conservation
    Research projects coordinated to glean findings of long-term ecological monitoring studies, including research on big mammals, birds, marshes, soil, grazing and grasses recovery. The Mara River system is an area of particular concern, and cross-study collaboration are needed to assess the impact of tourism on the health of the Mara watershed. Another is the impact of grazing on the MMGR and Maasai community land, and cross-study collaborations on land management and private conservancies.
  • Tourism
    Research conducted on the impacts of off-road tourism, lodges and other tourist facility on the ecology of the Mara, wildlife and the economic, environmental and social health of local communities, on the carrying capacity of the Mara to support tourist facilites, the current state of employment in the industry and training opportunities for local people, and the fee structure of the MMGR and its relationship to revenue generated.
  • Pastoralism and Agriculture
    Research collected and conducted on the Impact of different economies on  soils, wildlife, and the economic sustainability, cultural survival and health of the Maasai communities in land surrounding the MMGR
  • Culture and Society
    Research collected and conducted into the cultural impacts of land loss in Maasailand, unemployment, the impact of education on society and culture, on gender and age group identity.
  • Education
    Research collected and conducted into the effectiveness of education system in Maasailand, the types of education most needed by the community, graduation rates from Primary and Secondary schools, underserved areas, and how education can be a means to cultural survival rather than an undermining force.
  • Land Rights and Management
  • Research conducted into land sales, private conservancies, historical injustices regarding land, and past and present park management.
  • Climate Change
    Maasailand is being impacted by increased droughts and flooding and other reflections of changing weather patterns, and any research on this subject is very welcome.

Partnership with Prescott College

Every Prescott College semester program in Kenya since 2005 has undertaken research at the request of Maasai community leadership.

In 2005, students and faculty undertook an investigation of impacts of tourism on environmental conservation and Maasai communities living adjacent to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve (MMGR) and Amboseli National Park (ANP). That study reported on 1) impacts of tourism on local economies, including percentages of local people employed by lodges, wages and working conditions; 2) impacts of lodges and safari tourism on the environment, including measures taken by lodges to promote environmental conservation as well as negative ecological impacts of tourism through waste, pollution and off-road driving; and 3) impacts of tourism on Maasai culture and society, both negative and positive. This research was presented to the Narok County Council and interested researchers, tourism industry operators and Maasai community members.

In 2006, the class reconstructed the history of the transfer of the Amboseli National Park from the control of the Kajaido County Council to the National Government. That study analyzed minutes of the County Council meetings, government reports, letters and documents of policy makers, published articles and reports, and interviews with community elders, and found, among other things, that the Maasai community had developed a plan for tourism which was presented to the National government but not acknowledge in favor of the government’s plan.

Since 2008, classes have been primarily focused on researching the history of the loss of Mau Narok under colonial and independence eras research that has been instrumental in the community’s fight for recovery of the land [link to Land Rights page]. Classes have also conducted promising research on the loss of Magadi, a soda mine located in Maasailand and alienated during the colonial era, Kinangop, a sacred community water shed, and other land rights claims.

All of this research was handed over to Maasai leadership, and presentations were given in each case to groups of impacted community members.