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FEATURE: Livestock at risk in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands

Research by the Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) project is changing how Kenyan decision-makers think about and approach their support for pastoralist agriculture. Robina Abuya, Mohammed Yahya Said, Stephen Moiko, Claire Bedelian, Joseph Muhwanga, Rajeshree Sisodia and Kaia Ambrose explain.

New research has illuminated how Kenya will depend on climate-smart management in its livestock sector, to address food security from the national to the local level, and boost the potential of Kenya’s agriculture trade.

Livestock is important to the Kenyan economy and to individual households’ and communities’ wellbeing. The livestock sector employs 50% of the agricultural workforce and is the main source of livelihood for the more than 10 million Kenyans who live in arid and semi-arid lands. Research by the PRISE consortium in Laikipia, Kajiado, Makueni and Narok Counties has shown how population pressures are driving the expansion of arable land into forests, wetlands and fragile semi-arid lands – and how climate change creates further risks for the security and productivity of the livestock sector.

Cattle numbers in semi-arid areas have declined steeply from 1977-2016 while stocks of camels and small livestock such as sheep and goats have increased. PRISE researchers warn that “livestock growth will be low if tenure, vulnerability to climate change, and human wellbeing are not addressed”. As a consequence, Kenya will not fulfil national demand for meat and its role as a regional and international exporter of meat will decline, forcing it to rely on imports from neighbouring countries.

Climate projections for the coming decades show more hot days and less predictable rainfall.

Science already shows how changes in rainfall and temperature contribute to the decline in crop yields and the increase in crop diseases. These climate trends will make it harder for the residents of semi-arid lands to escape malnutrition and poverty.

What is more, climate change will compound other (human-made) tensions: such as the over-exploitation of land and water, degraded natural resources and associated conflicts.

Many solutions for complex problems: How the research is making a difference

To address this complicated mix of pressures on the environment and livelihoods, PRISE researchers have been engaging decision-makers from the national capital, Nairobi, to county governments and local communities.

The researchers say that integrating semi-arid economies fully into national and county development plans and stepping up climate-smart investments will be critical for resolving conflicts and managing climate risk.

For example, PRISE research has produced:

  • Data on the projected number of pastoralists who will be impacted by climate change for 21 arid and semi-arid counties. This information is helping decision-makers to estimate the number of vulnerable households that may be targeted for support schemes in specific counties.
  • Empirical evidence on how climate change has impacted the livestock population and its dynamics, and the expected trends in light of climate change. This informs which livestock policy interventions need to be prioritised and where; and how to unlock the challenges along key value chains, livestock finishing and fattening services, marketing infrastructure and financing, livestock water infrastructure, and livestock traceability.

At county level, projected climate scenarios “predict a significant reduction in suitable rangelands for cattle”. Options available to affected county governments include: sustainable land use planning, preparing to enhance drought mitigation actions; and using land tenure reforms to secure critical areas for livestock and wildlife, such as dry season grazing areas, corridors and water points. In Kajiado County, officials are now integrating these PRISE recommendations into County Integrated Development Plans and County Spatial Plans.

In Narok County, decision-makers met with researchers to find out more about climate projections for the 2030s, 2050s, and 2070s, and are now taking this information into account in county integrated development plans.

The latest research also confirms that cattle feed, water and grazing constraints hold back livestock development the most. In response to these findings, officials in Laikipia County plan to work with the forthcoming AMAYA Triangle Initiative to develop foraging sites, as well as better livestock traceability, health management and marketing strategies – all of which will help modernise and commercialise the sector.

Supporting women and vulnerable social groups

The research has highlighted the important role played by micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises in local economies and in generating household income. In the context of semi-arid lands, these enterprises can play an especially important role in providing livelihoods for women and some of the poorest and most marginalised social groups.

Women may be disproportionately affected by climate change as – according to PRISE research – “they are often confined to the informal sector’s most marginal agricultural activities, such as small-scale agriculture, processing and trade in cereal, milk and poultry products, which are especially exposed to the effects of climate change.” (Supporting private adaptation to climate change, 2018.)

Migration has also emerged in at least one of the study areas, Makueni county, as a strong household response to climate change and other natural resource pressures. In Makueni County, 80% of households rely on remittances from migrants. Also, migrant returnees contribute to innovative environmental initiatives and help bolster coping strategies and capitalise on opportunities in a changing climate. There’s a gender dimension to this migration, too: migration typically requires physical, social and financial resources that aren’t equally available to women. And, power dynamics within households mean that women do not necessarily make the decisions on where and when to migrate.

PRISE researchers strongly recommend that public policy-makers and business leaders develop strategies that respond to migration trends and to the opportunities presented by climate change.

Recommended actions include investing in SMEs as a climate adaptation option, with a special emphasis on women and youth – to improve their wellbeing, stature and future prospects.

Arid and semi-arid lands could be places of growth and opportunity

In national context, PRISE research is trying to reframe Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands from being perceived as low-growth areas in a weak position, to areas for economic growth and opportunity, where – with the right policies and external support – local people can make the most of their skills and assets.

The broader context is provided by The Big 4 Agenda: a set of four overarching national development priorities announced in December 2017 by the President of Kenya: affordable and decent housing, affordable healthcare, food and nutritional security, and employment creation through manufacturing.

These four areas are expected to bolster strong inclusive economic growth and guide national development during the 2018-2022 period. In parallel, Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry is preparing the National Climate Change Action Plan for the period 2018-22.

“Climatic and non-climatic factors will have significant impacts on the Big 4 Agenda”, say the researchers, “as economic actors will be forced to alter their production systems to maintain their production capabilities under changing conditions. However, climate change can also lead to new opportunities for people and businesses in semi-arid lands, with opportunities to create new products and services, to develop new markets, and to access new funding streams and finance mechanisms.”

Mainstreaming climate risk into private business’ operations

In the near future, researchers will continue to liaise with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), a national industry association, on how agriculture-based SMEs can factor in climate-related shocks and make climate-smart decisions.

The agriculture input units of the Kenya Markets Trust  (KMT) – a Kenyan organisation dedicated to strengthening and developing markets and the research partner of PRISE since 2016 – are considering how different crops and cultivars could be rolled out to suit changing climate conditions in different localities.

In the livestock sector, the organisation ensures innovative climate smart solutions are employed from production, route to market, to end market while ensuring benefits and equitable growth especially to those at the bottom of the pyramid.

KMT’s water division is looking at how changes in rainfall and temperature have affected water quality, quantity, distribution and availability, and how this will evolve in light of climate change. This will help prioritise where to store and conserve water and climate-proof water infrastructure.

Bringing these findings and recommendations into the ‘mainstream’ of private sector planning and management is one of the biggest achievements of PRISE’s work in Kenya.

Editing by Mairi Dupar.


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