5 August 2011 | EN
Drought is having a major impact on the livelihoods of Kenya's pastoralists
The current drought in northern Kenya has deep roots in the current practices of pastoralists that need to be addressed, says conservationist David Western.
Failed rains have tipped the balance from poverty to starvation for 12 million in the Horn of Africa. But they don't explain the depth of the tragedy, any more than the growing threat of climate change explains the recent decades of rangeland deterioration.
Early warning systems have improved greatly since the Sahelian disaster of the 1970s. Several agencies, including the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), predicted severe drought in 2011.
But proxy measures don't predict the depth of droughts. In contrast, data we've collected in southern Kenya over the past four decades with community resource assessors not only show the necessity of monitoring pasture on the ground, but also point to the causes of worsening droughts.
Such data also show that a successful transition from faltering subsistence economies to self-sustaining development depends on addressing the human causes of the tragedy.
Pasture in Kenya has declined steadily since the 1980s, and has recovered more slowly with each successive drought as pressures on land have grown. Livestock cycles now determine pasture abundance and the depth of drought far better than rainfall.
Traditional pastures set aside for periods of drought were exhausted by years of compressed grazing long before the rains failed in 2009, with the result that pasture shortages have grown more common and last longer, despite no drop in rainfall.
As a result, Kenya's rangelands were abandoned as herders dispersed to the highlands and into neighbouring states in search of forage. Two-thirds of their livestock died in the process, yet this drew little attention in the media or from politicians.
Droughts are now spreading faster and persisting longer as herders move farther in search of pasture, and social bonds and networks break down. Pastures are recovering slower as herders and speculators truck in and re-stock herds with animals from elsewhere.
Traditional grazing practices in the rangelands demonstrate the adaptability of pastoralism, and gives pointers to how the problems in the rangelands can be addressed.
Pastoralism is an efficient way of using land in arid regions. Like wildlife herds, herders get larger milk yields and higher rates of calf survival by migrating to the greenest pastures and using drought reserves during harsh times.
Seasonal livestock movements give pastures time to recover, enabling them to support large herds and a high human population in dry regions. Wide social networks, as well as close reciprocal ties among neighbours and neighbouring clans, insulate the individual herder against bad times.
All this allows herders to spread their risk and restock their herds faster than a solitary rancher in fenced rangelands, while information about the state of pasture collected by Lale'enok scouts, who collect information vital to success, helps communities make collective decisions on herd management.
So why is there a now crisis in eastern Africa?
The capacity of pastoral economies has been overwhelmed by a ten-fold rise in pastoral population over the last century. Per capita livestock holdings have shrunk, and pastoralist lands and water resources have been annexed for parks, farms and towns. Shrinking lands, restricted movements and persistent grazing are weakening grass growth.
In short, the environmental problems faced by the pastoral lands are systemic.
But 2011 should not have been the tragedy it is: a press release by the Kenya Meteorological Department, for example, shows that four of six stations in northern Kenya had higher rainfall deficits in the 1980s and 1990s than in the last two years.
The current tragedy stems from the remoteness and marginalisation of the northern pastoralists, as well as the effects of civil war, banditry, soaring food prices, mismanagement of national grain reserves and political failure.
Foundations for development
There are no quick fixes for these drought-prone areas. The main priority is to get food and health care to the starving millions. But beyond emergency relief, we must lay the foundations of sustainable development in the marginal lands.
Development will falter unless built on two pillars. First, the land and resource rights of marginalised pastoralists that were usurped by governments must be restored. Property rights will give back to pastoralists the security of tenure needed to conserve resources against outsiders, to counter droughts, to invest in the land and to leverage capital inputs for development.
Pastoralists in southern Kenya who have been granted such rights are developing fast, and famine has receded in this region, despite severe droughts.
Second, the institutions and governance that underpin development must be based on common interests. The land-owners associations that have sprung up in Kenya over the last decade show how locally-adapted, self-assembling governance can promote development.
These associations have re-established grass banks and seasonal grazing regimes, conservancies, ecotourism, cattle associations, enterprise groups, community scouts, and resources assessors, as well as Lale'enok information centres that gather and deploy information about development opportunities.
Pastoralists are also benefitting from modern technology. For example, cell phones link up community members, and provide both market information and mobile banking facilities. The landowner associations have now come together as the Kenya Rangeland Coalition to mobilise community conservation development initiatives.
If these two pillars of development are built on strong reciprocal ties, mutual interests and the skill of local communities in governing their own resources, famine will recede, the economic transition will be self-sustaining, and climate change will become more manageable.
David Western is Chairman of the African Conservation Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya.
Michael Odhiambo ( RECONCILE | Kenya )
8 August 2011
It could not have been stated better. Dr Western knows what he is talking about, and talks from experience grounded in the communities. The experience of the land associations (and now the Kenya Rangeland Coalition) need to be linked to policy level action and integrated into programming of government and other actors involved in seeking solutions to the challenges association with pastoralism.
Raghu ( United States of America )
9 August 2011
The classic bio-feedback by Jules Charney was misused by many to blame pastoralists for the desertification in the Sahel region. Almost 40 years later came the study by Giannini et al. (Science) to show that in fact the rainfall variability at interannual and decadal scales was fully explained by the sea surface temperature forcing including the warming of the tropical Indian and Atlantic Oceans. And the latter have been attributed to the increases in Greenhouse gases which are in fact caused by the developed World. So why do we continue this ill-informed attribution to pastoralists? Does Dr. Western have any scientific basis to this claim?
Koikai Oloitiptip ( Amboseli Tsavo Group Ranches Conservation Association & Amboseli Ecosystem Trust | Kenya )
10 August 2011
As well, I am also usually alert, but on this one Dr. Western has attested to facts informed by both science, and the knowledge of the indigenous pastoralist communities of the rangelands of Amboseli area, in Kajiado district in the Southern parts of Kenya.
Dr. Western is informed by the more than four decades of research as an ecologist among the traditional Maasai people of Amboseli. His experience as a scientist collecting data and living among the non sedentary Maasai pastoralist makes him a competent witness of the different times and circumstances these communities have gone through.
In the 60s when he found these people they were relatively self sufficient, by sustainable living. He saw and experienced first hand the systematic alienation of the lands of these peoples. The consequence was curtailing of livestock movements, and the shrinkage of quality grazing lands, and the carrying capacity of the land was reduced. In other words Dr. Western is testifying that pastoralists, who are dwellers of the rangelands, had developed ways and means that ensured their economies thrived, and they survived in their arid and semi-arid terrains, until external intermeddling and colonization in the administration of their lands and water resources abased their orderly holistic life. A lifestyle that was holistically at peace with the environment they lived in.
The blame was not placed on the communities but rather on misguided government policies, or policies motivated by mischief by people in government.
The article is intended to galvanize these communities. To rally in a common platform to attempt to seize the opportunity afforded by the new constitutional dispensation.
Liman Mohama ( CEBEVIRHA | Chad )
10 August 2011
This very important article should reach every stakeholder in range management, especially those who are involved in animal husbandry in arid and sub-arid zones of Africa, of the entire wold, including heads of states, governors, heads of regional, global institutions, religions commanders, research institutions etc. Media like radio and television must frequently program debates on it. Liman, Chef of Service of Animal Production at CEBEVIRHA, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
kivuyo ( TAWAWAMI ngo | Tanzania (United Republic of) )
13 August 2011
This is nothing new as far as animal hearders are concerned. For centuries, they have learnt how to tame their environment for sustainable animal keeping. The only problem they had is how to document this information. The so called scientists have to learn to include the names of the local pastoralists, in their writtings, as fellow contributors. As Scientists we have to learn to respect them.
Dr C S Kivuyo
zambiawild ( www.zambiawild.com | Sweden )
31 August 2011
Nice overview, highlighting several important issues common to many recently- bordered societies. Dr Allan Savory of the African Centre for Holistic Management says the key is not the overstocking but that grazers overstay in one place not giving grasses time to recover fully. In fact he uses dense herds to for short periods to restore damaged pastures so the solution to the mayhem may be nearer than it seems. Holistic Planned Grazing mimics natural grazing situations. http://www.savoryinstitute.com
Haro ( Practical Action Eastern Africa | Kenya )
4 November 2011
I concur with Dr. Western on the point that environmental problems faced by pastoral lands are systemic. Pastoralism today, as Dr.Western rightly puts is a way of life which is under siege from various factors. Combinations of weak governance; inadequate land and resource management policies; political and economic marginalization; and increasing insecurity have all had their toll. Environmental degradation in pastoral lands whatever its cause(s) however, is the current and future threat to pastoralism as a livelihood option. Both have led to food shortages and increased pressure on available land and water resources. For record, there have been more than 10 major drought periods in East Africa in the last three decades and every drought is reported to have led to huge loss of lives and decline in livestock population, sometimes by up to 70%.
Environmental degradation may in some cases be sufficiently extreme to undermine the habitability of a given area and to compel affected populations to leave in search of new homes. Growing water scarcity, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, and other environmental calamities are now contributing to the uprooting of large numbers of people— in effect creating flows of “environmental refugees.” Climate change alone, may cause as many as 150 million environmental refugees by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The number of displaced populations in pastoral lands is increasing every day and these pastoral drop outs may find it difficult to find new livelihoods in other rural areas and may even clash with unwelcoming host communities. This is especially so in Northern Kenya where the host community’s economy is stagnant, and the government is indifferent to the needs of the pastoral people.
I therefore submit that, environmental security should be at the top of Agenda when addressing long term drought mitigation in Northern Kenya.
Oliver Wasonga ( Kenya )
7 January 2012
This is not ‘for’or ‘against’ but a reality check-the question is: if climate variability is intricately part of the pastoral system then what is it that has changed that make pastoralists more vulnerable than they were so many years back? It takes us back to local resource management institutions; traditional grazing management strategies; and other coping mechanisms that conferred resilience to the system-they are all gone thanks to ‘modernization’. Despite the dynamic and resilient nature of pastoralism, this may only continue for a while, implying that something right has to be done-but what is this that has to be done, there is no silver bullet for these problems-approaches must be contextualised to different scenarios and if the problems are systematic, as I do believe, then they have to be dealt with systematically as opposed to oppressing the symptoms. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts in this and appropriate (socially, economically and ecologically desirable-that address the root cause of the current problems) policies that reflect the desires of the land users have to be not only sort but implemented to the letter-in absence that, it will be business as usual with our rhetorics.
All SciDev.Net material is free to reproduce providing that the source and author are appropriately credited. For further details see Creative Commons.