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Food Insecurity and Child Health in Maasai Pastoralists and Farmers in Northern Tanzania: Results from the ‘Whole Village Project’

Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 12:30 to 13:30
Upper Meeting Room (103), LIDC, 36 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD
David W Lawson (Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)


The Maasai are the most globally recognisable ethnic group in sub-Saharan Africa, owing to their distinctive customs and dress and proximity to the popular wildlife parks of Tanzania and Kenya.

They also face a number of challenges anticipated to have negative impacts on child heath, including social and economic marginalisation, vulnerabilities to drought, substandard service provision and on-going land grabbing conflicts.

Yet, stemming from a lack of appropriate national survey data, no large-scale comparative study of Maasai child health has been conducted. Savannas Forever Tanzania (SFTZ) surveyed over 3500 households in 56 villages in northern Tanzania as part of the Whole Village Project, an initiative aiming to form a unique source of multi-sector data for the region and a platform for development evaluation.

In this talk I will introduce the scope of SFTZ and the WVP, and summarize our findings and current research. We find striking ethnic differences in food insecurity and child health, comparing Maasai pastoralists to neighbouring Maasai and non-Maasai farmers. An analysis of the proximate determinants of health gives primacy to differences in food insecurity, but also indicates some areas where Maasai children are relatively advantaged. I will also discuss the potential ecological, economic, demographic and cultural drivers of this variation, including high rates of polygynous marriage in Maasai communities.

Speaker Bio

David W Lawson is a MRC/DFID funded Research Fellow in Population Health at LSHTM.

He has a background in anthropology, receiving his PhD in 2009 from University College London. He joined the LSHTM in 2013. David’s current research, in collaboration with Savannas Forever Tanzania, considers rural livelihoods and family structure as determinants of child health and education. He recently co-edited a book on “Applied Evolutionary Anthropology” exploring the relevance of this perspective to policy and development intervention.