Bringing to life the stories of rose farmers and Maasai pastoralists in Kenya

This photostory explores some of the issues and conflicts that arise from water shortages and land use in Kenya.

It specifically focuses on tensions between rose farmers and Maasai pastoralists living around Lake Naivasha in the southwest of the country. We aim to create an understanding of this complex situation and identify what can be done.

Swipe through the two directions of the slideshow below to read both sides of the story.

The political and economic inclusion of pastoralists in Kenya is key for ensuring the country’s economic growth and peaceful future.

Access to alternative jobs and education for younger Maasai, as well as the use of smaller herds, could help preserve this traditional way of life.

Pastoralists herd cattle

These pressures are questioning the long-term viability of pastoralism as a way of life. Some herders recognise that ‘business as usual’, with herds of up to 10,000 heads of cattle, is no longer feasible.

One possible solution is to promote smaller and more productive herd sizes among pastoralists, but this will require a major cultural shift.

Cattle in a crowded village

Competition over access to land and water, especially during dry periods, can lead to tensions and even violence.

Pastoralist along side an animal carcass

The difficulties experienced by the Maasai are further exacerbated by changes in the climate. In Kenya, climate change is already causing more variable and unpredictable temperature and rainfall patterns, leading to incidents of protracted drought and flooding.

Partoralist herding animals in a dry and dusty location

In Naivasha, the flower and other burgeoning industries are challenging the Maasai’s traditional pastoralist way of life by restricting access to the lake waters, and causing a reduction in the flow of water to the lake through deforestation and over-farming.

Pastoralist with herd drinking from lake waters

Naivasha was historically home to pastoralists, in particular the Maasai, who used the abundant land and water to sustain their vast herds of livestock – their primary source of food and a measure of their wealth and status.

It is now home to different communities and industries, with different needs and customs.

Several generations of Maasai men
Pastoralists v Flower Farmers
Male farm worker in a greenhouse with cut roses

Naivasha is the centre of a multi-billion-dollar flower industry in Kenya.

The flower industry is one of the three most important sources of income for Kenya, alongside tea and tourism. The lake basin generates 10% of foreign exchange and supplies one-fifth of all roses on the EU market and 70% of those on the UK market.

Female farm worker cutting cultivated roses

The flower industry has brought new opportunities to Naivasha. It employs over 50,000 workers, the majority of whom are women.

Farms often offer social benefits, such as healthcare and education, and support local infrastructure.

A woman cutting and bunching roses in a warehouse

Many workers find the work hard and underpaid, and suffer health problems due to the use of chemicals.

Yet, given the high level of unemployment in the country, working in the flower farms remains one of the best job opportunities open to many Kenyans, who continue to come to Naivasha in search of a better future.

Watering crops in a greenhouse

The flower farms in Naivasha are dependent on the lake, as are the local population and other industries based in this area.

Population growth, changes in land use and rainfall patterns are all putting a strain on Lake Naivasha by depleting water levels.

Processing and wrapping cut flowers on a production line

Migration has created a highly diverse ethnic mix in Naivasha, which has become a cosmopolitan area, with lots of different communities with different needs to be balanced.

This ethnic mix contributed to the post-election violence in 2007/8.

A woman grades cut roses according to length

Naivasha’s flower industry helps to boost the Kenyan economy, but also presents challenges for sustaining peace in an ethnic melting pot.

Efforts to promote sustainable and peaceful management of land and water resources, as well as the equitable allocation of jobs, are important for addressing the risk of tensions becoming violent.

The conflict between the pastoralists and flower farmers around Lake Naivasha is one of many conflicts that risk erupting into violence in Kenya if not handled carefully.

On the one hand, flower farms are bringing in jobs and benefits to the local population, but they are also putting a strain on scarce natural resources. On the other hand, the Maasai and other pastoralists’ way of life is becoming unsustainable, and yet preserving their heritage is their right.

Should this right be protected at any cost? Should flower farms be allowed to use the scarce natural resources in this region?

The key for a peaceful future is to ensure that all those affected are included in the management of natural resources and that decisions are made together.

At International Alert, our dialogue clubs bring together groups divided by conflict to find ways to resolve their differences peacefully. We need your support to help more people choose words not violence.

By donating £5 today you can help us continue to run dialogue clubs around the world.


International Alert helps people find peaceful solutions to conflict. We are one of the world’s leading peacebuilding organisations, with nearly 30 years of experience laying the foundations for peace.

Peace blooms marks the launch of Peace Audit: Kenya – the first in our series of peace assessments, giving the public the opportunity to immerse themselves in the lessons and cultural narratives of communities affected by conflict.

Find out more at Join the conversation about how this conflict can be resolved at @intalert or using #PeaceBlooms.

Photographs: Flowers: 1-3, 6 © Sven Torfinn/Panos; 4-5 © Steve Forrest/Panos. Pastoralists: 1, 4 © Frederic Courbet/Panos; 2 © Dieter Telemans/Panos; 3, 5-6 © Rob H. Aft.

Microsite by Nick Wilmot Creative