What will it take for pastoral systems to adapt to climate change?

What will it take for pastoral systems to adapt to climate change?

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Date: 10th January 2021
Author: CDKN Global
Type: Feature
Countries: Africa, Kenya

Joseph Muhwanga and Mohammed Said consider the impacts of climate change on African drylands to date and in the future – and explore the potential for communities in these areas to keep prospering. This is one of a series of blogs on ‘Accelerating adaptation action in Africa’ published by CDKN to frame the Africa anchoring event of the Climate Adaptation Summit, January 2021.

In African, 43% of the land surface is drylands, and they are home to more than half of the population; 75% of African drylands are used for agriculture[1]. Drylands are considered a key climate change hotspot, and will further be impacted by climate change. In these drylands, millions of people who solely depend on natural resources for their livelihoods will be at a high risk and would need to adapt to the changes.

Article 7 of the Paris Agreement captures the “global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change”. To implement the Paris Agreement, as well as achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; ‘no one will be left behind’, it is critical that all state and non- state actors collaboratively promote sustainable development and ensure adequate adaptation response in the drylands.

The African Union developed the Livestock Development Strategy for Africa (LiDeSA; 2015-2035) in recognition of the role drylands play in social-economic development, specifically food and nutritional security. “The African livestock sector contributes 30-50% of the agricultural GDP, and has the potential to deliver both the agricultural-led growth and the socio-economic transformation envisioned in the June 2014 AU Malabo Declaration” (see The Livestock Development Strategy for Africa (LiDeSA) 2015-2035).

The Kenyan context

In Kenya, the agricultural sector is a key driver for social-economic development, equitable growth and poverty reduction. It contributes 33% of annual GDP, with an additional 27% contribution through linkages with other sectors such as manufacturing, distribution and services. The sector employs more than 40% of the total population, 70% of the rural population and accounts for more than 60% of exports (Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy 2019-2029).

Eighty percent of Kenya’s land area is considered arid and semi-arid and is home to 35% of the population (17 million people). The main economic activity in these areas is livestock rearing.  Kenya has the second largest livestock herd in Africa which contributes 15% of agricultural GDP. Over 60% of beef cattle population is found in the arid and semi-arid lands. Despite this enormous potential, 60% of the population found in these areas live below the poverty line, 1.3 million households remains chronically food insecure and highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as drought (ibid).

What does the future hold for arid and semi-arid lands in a changing climate?

The impact of climate change on livestock in Kenya has been enormous. In the years 2008-2011, drought caused an estimated US$ 640 million (Ksh 64 bn) worth of losses, of which, US$ 560 million was attributed to livestock deaths.

Research shows that between 1977-2016, the cattle population in Kenya’s arid and semi arid lands declined by 25.2% while sheep and goats increased by 76.3%; camels by 13.1% and donkeys 6.7%.

Recent climate change findings put forward by Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies show that by 2030, 16 of the 21 counties will have maximum temperature increases by more than 1 degree Celsius, 17 will have temperature increase by over 1.5 degrees by 2050; and by 2070 all 21 counties will exceed  1.5 degrees. However, by this time, three counties, Wajir, West Pokot and Tana River, will exceed temperature increases of 2 degrees.

In the PRISE report, 14 arid and semi-arid counties registered population growth rates higher than the national average, part driven by migration. The huge population increase without corresponding investments will exacerbate the impact of climate change. With the demand for livestock and livestock products growing exponentially, comes an opportunity for sustainable investments in livestock sub-sector and thus in arid and semi-arid areas.


Figure 1. Temperature changes in the Kenya arid and semi-arid lands between 1960 and 2014. Source. Ogutu et al 2016 and PRISE report 2018


What actions for adaptation and transformation?

In order to ensure ASAL livelihoods are more resilience to climate change and contribute more to national development, investment should be implemented through a nexus approach, providing a platform and environment for a landscape and ecosystems approach. For instance; climate change, water, food security and nutrition nexus.

African Development Bank report on Strategy for Agricultural Transformation in Africa provides a case for potential investment options: “For Africa to fulfill its agriculture potential and transformation it needs to catalyse investment and implement seven enablers for transformation” (from AfDB):

  • Increasing productivity by catalysing the development of effective input distribution systems and reduction in post-harvest waste and loss
    • In arid and semi-arid lands, this includes promoting adaption of climate smart practices and technologies, use of climate smart products, services and inputs, supporting private sector involvement, forage and fodder conservation and storage, cold storage etc.
  • Realising the value of increased production by facilitating increased investment into output markets and supporting market incentives for value addition.
    • For arid and semi-arid lands, this entails agro-processing for livestock products, establishment of feedlots, slaughter houses and other cottage industries, supporting other value chain actors etc.
  • Increasing investment into enabling infrastructure: hard infrastructure (roads, energy, and water) and soft infrastructure (ICT platforms, etc.)
    • For arid and semi-arid lands this will greatly reduce the cost of doing business in these environments.
  • Creating an enabling agribusiness environment with appropriate policies and regulation.
    • For arid and semi-arid lands, establishment of the appropriate legal, institutional and regulatory framework will address some of the key challenges that hinder private sector investment and ability to manage climate risk.
  • Catalysing flows of capital (especially commercial lending and private investment) to scale agribusinesses.
    • Accessing affordable finance is one of the major factors that hinder small and medium enterprise growth. There can be no adaptation and transformation in the arid and semi-arid lands without adequate investments by state and private sector actors. .
  • Ensuring that transformation delivers on the broad-based needs of Africans, by ensuring inclusivity, sustainability, and effective nutrition.
    • Women and youth face challenges ranging from lack of adequate capital, ownership of productive assets, lack of collateral and lack of appropriate skills. They and other vulnerable groups in the arid and semi-arid lands need to be supported for development and sustainability.
  • Coordination of activities to kick start transformation, align activities and investments of different actors, and guide initial activities to the point where private sector actors can be crowded in.
    • Arid and semi-arid lands have in the last decade experienced huge investments from both governments and donors. To avoid duplication and wastage of resources, there is need to ensure improved coordination mechanisms both at national and county levels.

Other interventions in arid and semi-arid lands include: supporting mobility of humans and livestock as it is important for adaptation and resilience building; ensuring interventions consider future climate risk; integrating local communities and small businesses  into national and international value chains for reliable markets; capacity building county staff and local communities on climate change, sustainable rangelands management and water management; establishing county climate change funds to fund community actions plans; promoting sustainable use of natural resources including communal grazing land and promoting water harvesting, conservation and small-scale irrigation.


About the authors

Joseph Muhwanga is a Senior Climate Change Advisor with the SNV-led CRAFT project. Mohammed Said is a Climate Scientist and Associate with the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi.


[1] https://openknowledge.worldbank.org. “Confronting droughts in Africa’s drylands: Opportunities for enhancing resilience”


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