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Help pastoralists adapt to climate change - Oxfam

The report Survival of the fittest by Oxfam International decries the political and economic marginalization of pastoralists in East Africa.
(Allan Gichigi/IRIN)

Pastoralists in East Africa's arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) need to be empowered to adapt to, and survive, climate change, a report by a humanitarian organisation says.

“Pastoralists across East Africa are starting to learn to live with the reality of climate change, adapting as they can to its impact,” Oxfam International says in a report launched on 18 August in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The report, Survival of the Fittest, Pastoralism and Climate Change in East Africa, says climate change has manifested itself within these areas with successive poor rains, frequent droughts and unpredictable and sometimes heavy rainfall, which has caused incidences of floods and diseases.

However, climate change is only one of the problems the pastoral communities are forced to face, said John Letai, the regional Pastoral Livelihoods Coordinator for Oxfam International in Kenya.

“Pastoralists are among the most poor and most vulnerable,” he said. “They are not victims of climate change, they suffer marginalisation more.”

"There is chronic under-investment in these areas,” Letai said, adding that the introduction of alternative livelihood options among the pastoralists, whereby grazing land was used for crop cultivation and conservation, was not benefiting them.

"We need to empower them [pastoralists], by formulating and implementing policies in their favour,” he said.

"Governments in the region have, historically, had little economic and political interest in promoting pastoralists’ interests, as they tend to see pastoralists as a “minority vote” that isn’t worth winning,” the report said.

In Kenya, the government has expressed its commitment to the arid areas, recently creating the Ministry for the Development of Northern Kenya and Arid Lands, headed by Mohammed Ibrahim Elmi, who also attended the launch of Oxfam's report.

“Pastoralists are the best custodians of the arid areas,” Elmi said.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Mohammed Ibrahim Elmi, the minister for the development of northern Kenya and other arid lands

He said the government had not done enough to improve the lives of pastoralists in ASAL areas, “for the past century pastoralists in Kenya have suffered the consequences of poor decisions taken by those charged with planning and decision-making".

The minister said there was need to improve pastoralists' access to healthcare, education, support for livestock production and marketing, rural electrification, tourism, energy supply and debunking the myths associated with pastoralism.

"Many people say pastoralism is a livelihood which time has passed, I’m happy that is changing,” Elmi said, adding that the issue of climate change needed to be looked into as soon as possible.

"It is time we came together to address this issue [of climate change] now; time is not on our side.”

According to an August 18 field mission report, Pastoralists Living on the Edge in Kenya, released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, climate change also plays a crucial role in inter-ethnic conflicts among the pastoralist communities in northern Kenya. Thousands of environmental refugees flee from drought, which results in pasture and water shortages for livestock.

The report says pastoralists living in the ASAL areas are bearing the brunt of adverse consequences, particularly food insecurity due to droughts, floods and livestock diseases.

“There is a humanitarian crisis looming in Northern Kenya as pastoralists have resorted to eating wild fruits and gum arabica to contain hunger. This is a community which has been self-reliant on food as the majority of them were farmers,” the OCHA report said, adding: “It is about time donors and government reconsider their strategies and empower pastoralist communities by directing funding support to pastoralists’ institutions.”

In its report, Oxfam recommended that governments within East Africa should protect the land and resource rights of pastoralists, eliminate inappropriate development policies and provide support to the pastoralist communities through cash payments in place of food aid.

“Pastoralists can and should play a role in shaping their own future,” Oxfam said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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