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How can pastoralists adapt to climate change?

Pastoralists in East Africa have been adapting to unpredictable environments for thousands of years. But poverty and a lack of basic services reduce their ability to cope with climate change. Whether pastoralists can adapt to, or take advantage of, climate change depends on how governments and donors support them to tackle the challenges.

Research from Oxfam International looks at the
experiences of pastoralist communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and suggests
policies required to enable them to adapt to climate change.

Pastoralists’
way of life is important in the arid and semi-arid environments of sub-Saharan
Africa. Through good rangeland management, pastoralists provide many services for
dryland environments, including biodiversity conservation, and wildlife
tourism. Pastoralism provides the majority of meat consumed and a livelihood
for tens of millions of people who live there. It also makes a significant
contribution to the gross domestic product in many East African countries –
around ten percent in Kenya.

Despite
providing these benefits, pastoralists are the poorest people in most countries
and have less access to basic services than other areas. In pastoralist areas
in northern Uganda, 64 percent of the population lives below the poverty line,
compared with 38 percent nationally.

Pastoralists
face several challenges that threaten their ability to adapt to changes in
their environment:

  • Climate
    change will lead to higher temperatures and unpredictable, extreme patterns of
    rain and drought; these could both benefit and harm pastoral livelihoods.

  • Pastoralists
    have not been included in decision-making processes in East Africa, leading to
    chronic under-investment in services.

  • Inappropriate
    development policies – often based on the grassland models in North America – have
    failed in Africa’s drylands, leading to increased settlement and overgrazing.

  • Pastoral
    lands and water resources have come under pressure from cultivation,
    conservation areas and the state.

Many
pastoralists can no longer rely on livestock alone. But other income-earning
opportunities remain limited, evident in the growing number of destitute
ex-pastoralists. There has been progress in involving pastoralists in their own
development and getting representation for them, particularly in Kenya. To
secure pastoralism in Africa’s drylands and create alternative livelihood
opportunities, East African governments should:

  • protect
    pastoralists’ land and resource rights

  • end
    inappropriate development policies and empower pastoralists to influence their
    own development at national levels

  • help
    pastoralists and ex-pastoralists pursue viable livelihoods by investing in
    education, which can lead to paid employment

  • ensure
    appropriate mechanisms to manage conflicts between pastoral groups and others, for
    example enabling cross-border migration

  • use
    climate change adaptation funds for pastoralist development, such as financial rewards
    for the environmental services they provide and early-warning systems for
    droughts and floods

  • work with the appropriate
    regional authorities, including the African Union, towards a pastoral policy
    framework to guide national policies throughout the region.