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Supporting pastoralists to tackle climate change

By Eliezer Wangulu
A pastoralist herding his cattle. Photo: courtesy

Today, pastoralists in Africa are dealing with various challenges that threaten their existence. They include population explosion, decreasing mobility, overgrazing, water scarcity, food shortages/high food prices, livestock theft, and global climate change that leads to prolonged droughts, intense floods and desertification.

Stereotypes, prejudices and myths about pastoralism have impacted negatively on their socio-economic development. They have led to failed (and failing) policies meant to develop herding societies in Africa.

Yet, according to the National Livestock Policy released in February 2019, the livestock sub-sector directly contributes around 42 per cent to the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) and 12 per cent to the national GDP in Kenya. It employs about 50 per cent of the country's agricultural sector labour force. About 60 per cent of the livestock population is found in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) where the sub-sector employs nearly 90 per cent of the population.

There is diminishing availability of quality forage species in the ASALs due to overgrazing, invasive plant species, declining soil health, changing climate patterns, competing land use for settlement and crop development, inadequate supply of forage planting materials, as well as low the commercialisation of fodder production.

The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture states that continuous overgrazing and overstocking affect the soil's physical, chemical and biological properties, decreasing rangeland production potentials. However, numerous steps to avert rangeland degradation are available.

Reseeding is one of the modern ways to improve forage conditions. However, the adoption rate is low. Other remedies include natural pasture improvement; range pasture establishment; pasture seed production; processing and storage; range fodder/pasture utilisation; conservation and preservation.

Besides sensitisation on natural pasture improvement techniques, pastoralists can learn more through field days, visiting successful pastoralists and also training to enable them to adapt what they learn in order to improve their livelihoods.

There are promising practices towards achieving this objective. For example, the County Government of Kajiado is investing in Pastoral Field Schools to build the capacity of pastoralists to improve pasture production. Yet more still needs to be done. There is a need to increase more investment through the building of community ability to withstand climate change by increasing pasture production, conservation, and diversification of pastoral livelihoods, and promotion of climate-smart technologies and innovations.

 Access to extension services offers pastoralists basic and technical skills and knowledge on fodder production. Here, a convergence between conventional and traditional livestock production approaches is ideal to enable pastoralists to deal with the unique circumstances of Kenya's ASALs such as difficulty by extension officers to reach those in hard-to-reach areas.

Recognition of traditional knowledge by the extension service providers can help improve the participation of indigenous communities in improving pasture. This knowledge should be reinforced by modern scientific knowledge. Documentation of traditional knowledge is essential to ensure the safeguarding of the rich source of information.

 Due to several negative impacts of current climate change on pastoralism, the implications of climate change must be taken into account to ensure longer-term survival and sustainability of pastoralist livelihoods through educating pastoralists on the risks posed by climate change and early warning systems. The efforts made by the Kenyan Meteorological Department to decentralise its services to the county level are commendable. The department should share their weather updates periodically with the pastoralists but in formats that are preferred and usable.

Creating an enabling environment for policy formulation and implementation will help in strengthening the capacity of actors to respond to recurrent droughts and environmental constraints, facilitate mobility, promote conflict resolution, provide incentives for livelihood development and diversification, infrastructural development, and review policies that hinder the development of pastoralism.

The quest for water

Floods lead to severe loss to the pastoral economy. They also cause land degradation, thus affecting pasture. On the other hand, drought events cause and/or intensify water shortages, ecosystem destruction, resource conflicts, livestock deaths, and/or food-crises. This disrupts pastoralism. These are likely to intensify as the climate continues to change.

 As part of the strategies to address climate change, the Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE) is implementing the Managing Scarcity and Plenty: Towards Climate-smart Pastoral Innovations in Kenya, a project targeting pastoral counties of Kajiado, Marsabit and Turkana. The project aims to enhance the capacity of pastoral communities to influence decision making with respect to climate-smart pastoral innovations for improved livelihoods and food security in Kenya.

It is also building the capacity of pastoral communities to embrace successful practices in the effective management of pasture in times of plenty and scarcity —taking into consideration indigenous technical knowledge, and documenting lessons learnt for improved pastoralism.  It is hoped that these raft of interventions will help restore the lustre of pastoralism in Kenya.

Eliezer F. Wangulu is a development communication specialist based in Nairobi. 

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