Pastoral livestock development in the Horn: Where the centre cannot (should not) hold

Pastoralism and Development in Africa

Who eats better, pastoral children in mobile herding or settled communities? (answer: mobile). Which kind of tropical lands are among those most at risk of being grabbed by outsiders for development? (rangelands). Are pastoral women benefitting at all from recent changes in pastoral livelihoods? (yes). Which region in the world has the largest concentration of camel herds in the the world? (Horn of Africa). Where are camel export opportunities the greatest? (Kenya/Ethiopa borderlands). Is the growth of ‘town camels and milk villages’ in the Somali region of Ethiopia largely the result of one man’s (desperate) innovation? (yes). Which is the more productive dryland livestock system, ranching or pastoralism? (pastoralism). Is irrigation involving pastoralists new? (no). Are we missing opportunities to make irrigated agriculture a valuable alternative or additional livelihoods to pastoralism? (perhaps).

The answers to these and other fascinating questions most of us will never have thought to even ask are found in a new book, Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, edited by Andy Catley, of the Feinstein International Center, at Tufts University; Jeremy Lind, of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and Future Agricultures Consortium; and Ian Scoones, of the Institute of Development Studies, the STEPS Centre and the Future Agricultures Consortium. Published in 2012, it includes a chapter by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?

Thirty-six experts in pastoral development update us on what’s so in pastoral development in the Greater Horn of Africa, highlighting innovation and entrepreneurialism, cooperation and networking and diverse approaches rarely in line with standard development prescriptions. The book highlights diverse pathways of development, going beyond the standard ‘aid’ and ‘disaster’ narratives. The book’s editors argue that ‘by making the margins the centre of our thinking, a different view of future pathways emerges’. Contributions to the book were originally presented at an international conference on The Future of Pastoralism in Africa, held at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in Mar 2011.

Here are a few of the book’s ‘unstandard’ ways of looking at pastoralism.

‘Overall, mainstream pastoral development is a litany of failure. . . . Pastoral borderlands are . . . beyond the reach of the state, and so the development industry.  ·  Perhaps no other livelihood system has suffered more from biased language and narratives than pastoralism. . . . Hidden in these narratives also are political agendas that perceive mobile pastoralism as a security and political threat to the state, and, therefore, in need of controlling or eliminating.  ·  To avoid the Malthusian label, or simply out of ignorance, many social scientists have neglected the important implications of demographic trends in pastoral areas. . . . Some of the fastest growing towns in Kenya are in pastoralist districts.  ·  Local demand for education is consistently high among pastoralists, a pattern that was not the case even 10–15 years ago.  ·   It seems feasible . . . to propose a pastoral livestock and meat trade value approaching US$1 billion for the Horn in 2010.  ·  The past dominant livestock practice characterized as traditional mobile pastoralism” is increasingly rare. . . . The creation of a relatively elite commercial class within pastoral societies is occurring at a rapid pace in some areas.  ·  . . . [P]astoral lands are vulnerable to being grabbed. On a scale never before envisioned, the most valued pastoral lands are being acquired through state allocation or purchase . . . . The Tana Delta sits at the precipice of an unprecedented transformation as a range of investors seek to acquire large tracts of land to produce food and biofuels and extract minerals, often at the expense of pastoralists’ access to key resources. . . . A notable facet of changing livelihoods in the Tana Delta is the increasingly important role of women in the diversifying economy, a trend seen elsewhere in the region. . . . Until now, pastoralists have been mostly unsuccessful at challenging proposed land deals through the Kenyan courts.  ·  The shift from a breeding herd to a trading herd is perhaps the biggest shift in Maasai pastoralism.  ·  Although drought is a perennial risk to pastoralist livelihoods, an emerging concern is securing access to high value fodder and other resources to support herds, in areas where rangelands are becoming increasingly fragmented due to capture of key resource sites.  ·  During the 2009–2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, several hundred pastoralists who participated in an Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) scheme in northern Kenya received cash payments.  ·  Despite its many challenges, mobile pastoralism will continue in low-rainfall rangelands throughout the Horn for the simple reason that a more viable, alternative land use system for these areas has not been found. . . . But the nature of pastoralism in 2030 will be very different than today in 2012. . . .’

One of the book’s chapters is on Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism? It was written by ILRI’s Polly Ericksen (USA), whose broad expertise includes food systems, ecosystem services and adaptations to climate change by poor agricultural and pastoral societies; and her ILRI colleagues Jan de Leeuw (Netherlands), an ecologist specializing in rangelands (who has since moved to ILRI’s sister Nairobi CGIAR centre, the World Agroforestry Centre); Mohammed Said (Kenyan), an ecologist specializing in remote sensing and community mapping; Philip Thornton (UK) and Mario Herrero (Costa Rica), agricultural systems analysts who focus on the impacts of climate and other changes on the world’s poor countries and communities; and An Notenbaert (Belgium), a land use planner and spatial analyst.

The ILRI scientists argue that if we’re going to find ways to adapt to climate change, we’re going to need to learn from pastoralists — who, after all, are demonstrably supreme managers of highly variable climates in addition to rapidly changing social, economic and political contexts — about how to make sustainable and profitable, if cyclical and opportunistic, use of increasingly scarce, temporally erratic and spatially scattered water, land, forage and other natural resources.

In important respects, pastoral people are at the forefront of responses to climate change, given their experience managing high climate variability over the centuries. Insights from pastoral systems are critical for generating wider lessons for climate adaptation responses.’

What scientists don’t know about climate change in these and other drylands, they warn, is much, much greater than what we do know. So:

The key question is how to make choices today given uncertainties of the future.’

Because ‘the more arid a pastoral environment, the less predictable the rainfall’, and because ‘vegetation growth closely follows rainfall amount, frequency and duration, . . . the primary production of rangelands is variable in time and space’, with the primary driver of this variability in livestock production in pastoral areas being the availability or scarcity of forages for feeding herds of ruminant animals (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, camels). In severe or prolonged droughts, forage and water scarcity become a lethal combination, killing animals en masse. The authors quote former ILRI scientist David Ndedianye, a Maasai from the Kitengela rangelands in Nairobi’s backyard, and other ILRI colleagues who report in a 2011 paper on pastoral mobility that pastoral livestock losses in a 2005 drought in the Horn were between 14 and 43% in southern Kenya and as high as 80% in a drought devastating the same region in 2009. It may take four or five years for a herd to recover after a major drought.

Map of flip in temperatures above and below 30 degrees C
Maps of a flip in temperatures above 30 degrees C. Left: Threshold 4 — maximum temperature flips to greater than 30°C. Right: Threshold 5 — maximum temperature in the growing season flips to greater than 30°C. Map credit: Polly Ericksen et al., Mapping hotspots of climate change and food insecurity in the global tropics, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), 2011.

Evidence from a range of modelling efforts was used by the authors to calculate places in the global tropics where maximum temperatures are predicted to flip from less than 30 degrees C to greater than 30 degrees C by 2050. This temperature threshold is a limit for a number of staple crops, including maize beans and groundnut. Heat stress also affects grass and livestock productivity. Large areas in East African may undergo this flip, according to these models, although the authors warn that these predictions remain highly uncertain.

Thornton and Herrero in a background paper to the World Bank’s 2010 World Development Report investigated the impacts of increased drought frequency on livestock herd dynamics in Kenya’s Kajiado District. ‘Their results indicate that drought every five years keeps the herds stable as it allows sufficient time for the herds to re-establish. A once in three year drought interval by contrast drives livestock density to lower levels . . . . Hence, if there is a greater frequency of drought under climate change, this might have a lasting impact on stocking density, and the productivity of pastoral livestock systems.

The results were extrapolated to all arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya and estimated that 1.8 million animals could be lost by 2030 due to increased drought frequency, with a combined value of US$630 million due to losses in animals, milk and meat production. . . .’

In the face of changes in climate (historical and current), many pastoralists will change the species of animals they keep, or change the composition of the species in their herds. In the space of three decades (between 1997/8 and 2005–10) in Kenya, for example, the ratio of shoats (sheep and goats) to cattle kept increased significantly. Goats, as well as camels, are more drought tolerant than cattle, and also prefer browse to grasses.

Such changes in species mix and distribution will have important implications for overall livestock productivity and nutrition, as well as milk production.’

While change is and always has been fundamental to pastoralist livelihood strategies, much more—and much more rapid and diverse—change is now sweeping the Horn and many of the other drylands of the world, with local population explosions and increasing rangeland fragmentation and civil conflicts coming on top of climate and other global changes whose nature remains highly uncertain. New threats are appearing, as well as new opportunities.

While the ILRI team argues that we can and should look to pastoralist cultures, strategies and innovations for insights into how the wider world can adapt better to climate change, they also say that ‘development at the margins’ is going to be successful only where pastoralists, climate modellers and other scientists  work together:

. . . [A]daptation and response strategies in increasingly variable environments must emerge from grounded local experience and knowledge, as well as be informed by increasingly sophisticated [climate] modeling efforts.’

Support for the conference and book came from the UK Department for International Development, the United States Agency for International Development in Ethiopia, and CORDAID. Purchase the book from Routledge (USD44.96 for the paperback edition): Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, first issued in paperback 2012, edited by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones, Oxon, UK, and New York: Routledge and Earthscan, 328 pages. You’ll find parts of the book available on Google books here.

To read the ILRI chapter—Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?, by Polly Ericksen, Jan de Leeuw, Philip Thornton, Mohammed Said, Mario Herrero and An Notenbaert—contact ILRI communications officer Jane Gitau at j.w.gitau [at] cgiar.org.

Saving the plains: ILRI research team wins Sustainability Science Award for its pastoral research in Masailand

Kitengela rangeland in Kenya: Fencing

Research by ILRI is helping pastoralists in the Kitengela ecosystem better manage their land, animal and wildlife resources (photo: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

A paper by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) that shares experiences from a project that worked to help Kenyan pastoralists better manage their lands, livestock and wildlife resources has won the 2012 Sustainability Science Award.

The yearly award is given by the Ecological Society of America to the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the preceding five years that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

The winning paper, ‘Evolution of models to support community and policy action with science: Balancing pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation in savannas of East Africa’, was published in 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a prestigious American science journal. The paper shared experimental work in boundary-spanning research from the Reto-o-Reto (Maasai for ‘I help you, you help me’) project, which was implemented between 2003 and 2008 to help balance action in poverty alleviation and wildlife conservation in four pastoral ecosystems in East Africa, including the Kitengela pastoral ecosystem just south of Nairobi National Park.

Lessons from this project supported the development and adoption of a land-use master plan in Kitengela, which is now helping Maasai pastoralists better manage their land, animal and wildlife resources.

The announcement of this award comes at an appropriate time, just as an inception workshop takes place on ILRI’s Nairobi campus this week (Jun 5-7) for the eastern and southern Africa component of a CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Agriculture.

The following story, written by ILRI consultant Charlie Pye-Smith in 2010, shares experiences of pastoralists in Kitengela, their challenges and their hopes, as a result of this award-winning project.

Saving the plains

Talk to the Maasai who herd their cattle across the Athi-Kaputiei Plains to the south of Nairobi and they’ll tell you that the last (2009–2010) drought was one of the worst in living memory. ‘Many people lost almost all their livestock,’ says pastoralist William Kasio. ‘The vultures were so full they couldn’t eat any more. Even the lions had had enough.’

At the slaughterhouse in Kitengela, over 20,000 emaciated cattle were burned and buried during the drought, and the surrounding plains were littered with sun-bleached carcasses. But for the Maasai, droughts are nothing new, and indeed many believe there is an even graver threat to their survival as cattle herders. ‘Land sales, and the subdivision and fencing off of open land—that’s been the biggest problem we’ve faced in recent years,’ says Kasio, chairman of a marketing organization based at the slaughterhouse.

A generation ago, livestock and wildlife ranged freely across the plains. Today, their movements are hindered by fences, roads, quarries, cement works, flower farms and new buildings. If the development trends of the past decade continue, then the pastoral way of life, and the great wildlife migrations in and out of Nairobi National Park, could become little more than a memory. But now, thanks to a community-inspired planning exercise, there’s a good chance this won’t happen.

The Athi-Kaputiei land-use ‘master plan’, launched in 2011, provides the local council with the legislative teeth it needs to ensure that large expanses of land remain free of fencing, and that new developments are confined to specific areas. ‘We see the master plan as our survival strategy,’ says Stephen Kisemei, a member of Olkejuado County Council. ‘It means we can now plan for the future in a way we never could before.’

The master plan is the culmination of years of research and discussion involving local communities, the council, central government and a range of organizations involved in conservation and animal husbandry. ‘It’s been a very democratic process,’ explains Ogeli Makui of the African Wildlife Foundation. ‘The council and the Department of Physical Planning drafted the master plan, but the Maasai landowners’ associations and other local groups were closely involved in all the discussions.’

Since 2004, teams of young Maasai have helped to draw up maps, which illustrate the scale of land sales and the loss of open rangeland. Managed by ILRI, the mapping program and the associated research showed just how rapidly life has changed on the plains over recent years, and provided much of the data used in the master plan.

At the end of the 19th century, the Athi-Kaputiei Plains were said to boast the most spectacular concentration of wildlife in East Africa. In those days, there were four times as many wild herbivores as there were cattle. Now the reverse is true, with the wildlife beating a steady retreat.

Between 1977 and 2002, the wildlife populations in the plains to the south of Nairobi National Park fell by over 70%. Particularly hard hit were migratory animals such as wildebeest, which traditionally graze in the national park during the dry season and move south in search of new pasture during the wet season. From nearly 40,000 migrating animals in the 1970s, wildebeest numbers have fallen to about 1000 today.

ILRI research suggests that two factors are to blame: poaching, and the loss of habitat and open space. The sub-division of land, frequently followed by the erection of fences, has also made it harder for the pastoralists to move their animals around in search of water and fresh pasture. Paradoxically, the Maasai are partly to blame, as they voted for the privatization of communal ranches in the 1980s. All of a sudden, many families realized they were sitting, within gazing distance of Nairobi, on valuable real estate. Land sales rapidly increased, new developments proliferated and the population of Kitengela almost trebled during the 1990s, from 5,500 to over 17,000.

‘When I was a child in the 1970s,’ recalls Ogeli Makui, as he sips tea outside a shopping mall in Kitengela, ‘there were just a few small stalls here, nothing else. I can remember one year when there were so many wildebeest migrating across this area, followed by packs of wild dogs, that my father told me to drive our sheep home to keep them safe.’ Nowadays, speeding lorries are the main danger.

Even before ILRI produced its first maps, conservationists realized something had to be done to keep the migratory routes open. A Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme, launched in 2000, encouraged pastoralists to keep their land open by paying them 300 shillings (USD4) per acre per year. By 2010, 275 families, owners of some 30,000 acres, had signed up to the latest lease scheme.

The lease scheme is helping to protect one of East Africa’s five great migratory routes, but it isn’t enough on its own to prevent further losses of wildlife, says Jan de Leeuw, head of ILRI’s pastoral livelihoods group. ‘The master plan will certainly help, and it’s a very important step towards improving the management of the plains, but it’s also imperative that we improve the financial situation of the pastoralists to a level where they become the champions of conservation,’ he says.

The better off the Maasai are, the more sympathetic they are likely to be to wildlife conservation, even if they occasionally lose livestock to lions and other predators. The Kitengela Conservation Programme, which is managed by the African Wildlife Foundation, is currently promoting various business enterprises, including community-based tourism, and ILRI is providing support for pastoralists to improve the marketing of their livestock. All this will help, says de Leeuw.

This is one of the few places in the world where you can see major wildlife populations, including 24 species of large mammals, grazing and hunting against the jagged backdrop of a populous city, often in the company of Maasai cattle. Little wonder, then, that there are conflicts between conservation and development, and sometimes between wildlife and the Maasai. Some of these conflicts will persist—the locals are deeply concerned, for example, about the building of a new town for Nairobi slum-dwellers—but the master plan provides the local council, for the first time, with the means to control development.

‘I’m very optimistic,’ says Councillor Kisemei. ‘I think the master plan will help us to secure the future for the Maasai and for the wildlife. And if we succeed, it will provide a model which could be used in other areas where wildlife and humans live close together.’

Pastoralists still vulnerable

Despite the successes of projects such as Reto-o-Reto in helping pastoral groups, governments and policymakers work together to better manage the resources in pastoral lands; pastoralists are still vulnerable to drought and changes in land use. Scientists from Colorado State University and ILRI have looked at how modelled scenarios relating to factors like access to forage, water and fuel tied to decisions made by pastoralists at household level. Stressors like drought remain a major threat to pastoral livelihoods and more so in areas where livestock compete with wildlife.

The research, carried out in Kenya’s Kajiado District, was published in a paper: ‘Using coupled simulation models to link pastoral decision making and ecosystem services.’ It evaluates pastoralist household wellbeing if access to reserve grazing is lost and the impact of compensation for those who lose access to grazing. The study showed that even though pastoralists that lose access to pasture are likely to experience large livestock losses, those in areas where livestock do not compete with wildlife have greater resilience to drought.

‘Maintaining access to reserve grazing lands is essential in helping pastoralists cope during severe drought,’ said Philip Thornton, a scientist with ILRI and one of the authors of the report. ‘We also found that compensating pastoralists for loss of access to reserve grazing lands increased their resilience.’

The above Kitengela story was written by ILRI consultant Charlie Pye-Smith.

For more on ILRI’s recent award, see: ILRI pastoral research team wins Sustainable Science Award, by Jane Gitau.

Download ‘Evolution of models to support community and policy action with science: Balancing pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation in savannas of East Africa’, by R S Reid, D Nkedianye, M Y Said, D Kaelo, M Neselle, O Makui, L Onetu, S Kiruswa, N Ole Kamuaroa, P Kristjanson, J Ogutu, S B BurnSilver, M J Golman, R B Boone, K A Galvin, N M Dickson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 3 Nov 2009.

Download ‘Using coupled simulation models to link pastoral decision making and ecosystem services’, by R B Boone, K A Galvin, S B BurnSilver, P K Thornton, D S Ojima, and J R Jawson, Ecology and Society 16(2): 6, 1 Jun 2011.

Read more about the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems and more on ILRI’s news blogs (below) about the three-day planning workshop for this program, which ends today:

ILRI Clippings Blog: Foolhardy? Or just hardy? New program tackles climate change and livestock markets in the Horn, 7 Jun 2012.

ILRI Clippings Blog: Supporting dryland pastoralism with eco-conservancies, livestock insurance and livestock-based drought interventions, 5 Jun 2012.

ILRI Clippings Blog: CGIAR Drylands Research Program sets directions for East and Southern Africa, 4 Jun 2012.

People, Livestock and Environment at ILRI Blog: Taming Africa’s drylands to produce food, 5 Jun 2012.

People, Livestock and Environment at ILRI Blog: Collaboration in drylands research will achieve greater impact, 5 Jun 2012.

 

 

Making Asian agriculture smarter

cambodia21_lo

A cow feeds on improved CIAT forage grasses, in Kampong Cham, Cambodia (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

Last week, coming on the heels of a Planet Under Pressure conference in London, which set out to better define our ‘planetary boundaries’ and to offer scientific inputs to the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development conference this June, a group of leaders in Asia—comprising agriculture and meteorology chiefs, climate negotiators and specialists, and heads of development agencies—met to hammer out a consensus on ways to make Asian agriculture smarter.

The workshop, Climate-smart agriculture in Asia: Research and development priorities, was held 11–12 April 2012 in Bangkok. It was organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes; the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; and the World Meteorological Organization.

This group set itself three ambitious tasks: To determine the best options (1) for producing food that will generate lower levels of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming; (2) for producing much greater amounts of food, which are needed to feed the region’s rapidly growing and urbanizing population; and (3) for doing all this under a changing climate that, if farming and farm policies don’t change, is expected to reduce agricultural productivity in the region by anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent over the next three decades.

The workshop participants started by reviewing the best practices and technologies now available for making agriculture ‘climate smart’. They then reviewed current understanding of how climate change is likely to impact Asian agriculture. They then agreed on what are the gaps in the solutions now available and which kinds of research and development should be given highest priority to fill those gaps. Finally, they developed a plan for filling the gaps and linking scientific knowledge with policy actions at all levels.

On the second of this two-day workshop, the participants were asked to short-list no more than ten key areas as being of highest priority for Asia’s research and development communities.

This exercise tempted this blogger to suggest ten suitable areas in the livestock sector.

(1) Lower greenhouse gas emissions from livestock through adoption of improved feed supplements (crops residues) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Contact ILRI animal nutritionist Michael Blümmel, based in Hydrabad, for more information: m.blummel at cgiar.org

(2) Safeguard public health by enhancing Asia’s capacity to detect and control outbreaks of infectious diseases transmitted between animals and people.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Gilbert, based in Vientienne, for more information: j.gilbert at cgiar.org

(3) Improve the efficiency of water used for livestock and forage production.
Contact ILRI rangeland ecologist Don Peden, based in Vancouver, for more information: d.peden at cgiar.org 

(4) Pay livestock keepers for their provision of environmental services.
Contact ILRI ecologist Jan de Leeuw, based in Nairobi, for more information: j.leeuw at cgiar.org

(5) Recommend levels of consumption of meat, milk and eggs appropriate for the health of people, their livelihoods and environments in different regions and communities.
Contact ILRI partner Tara Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network based in Guildford, for more information:  t.garnett at surrey.ac.uk

(6) Design institutional and market mechanisms that support the poorer livestock keepers, women in particular.
Contact ILRI agricultural economist Steve Staal, based in Nairobi, for more information: s.staal at cgiar.org 

(7) Educate publics in the West on the markedly different roles that livestock play in different regions of the world.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Philip Thornton, based in Edinburgh, for more information: p.thornton at cgiar.org

(8) Adopt risk- rather than rule-based approaches to ensuring the safety of livestock foods.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, based in Nairobi, for more information: d.grace at cgiar.org 

(9) Focus attention on small-scale, relatively extensive, mixed crop-and-livestock production systems.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Mario Herrero, based in Nairobi, for more information: m.herrero at cgiar.org 

(10) Give livestock-keeping communities relevant and timely climate and other information via mobile technologies.
Contact ILRI knowledge manager Pier-Paolo Ficarelli, based in Delhi, for more information: p.ficarelli at cgiar.org

Do you have a ‘top-ten’ list of what could make Asian agriculture ‘smart agriculture’? Post it in the Comment box, please!

Go here for ILRI blogs about the Planet Under Pressure conference.

ILRI in Asia blog

Investments in pastoralism offer best hope for combating droughts in East Africa’s drylands–Study

The camels road

Camels walk from Somalia to Nairobi, Kenya (photo on Flickr by Matteo Angelino).

As hunger spreads among more than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa, a study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) of the response to Kenya’s last devastating drought, in 2008–2009, finds that investments aimed at increasing the mobility of livestock herders—a way of life often viewed as ‘backward’ despite being one of the most economical and productive uses of Kenya’s drylands—could be key to averting future food crises in arid lands.

The report, An Assessment of the Response to the 2008–2009 Drought in Kenya, suggests that herding makes better economic sense than crop agriculture in many of the arid and semi-arid lands that constitute 80 per cent of the Horn of Africa, and supporting mobile livestock herding communities in advance and with timely interventions can help people cope the next time drought threatens.

The authors say that recommending that most livestock herders switch to farming crops or move to cities is simply unrealistic in this region’s great drylands, which will not support row crops without extensive irrigation, which is scarce and often impractical. An estimated 70 million people live in these drylands, and many of them are herders. In Kenya, the value of the pastoral livestock sector is estimated to be worth USD800 million. And the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa, which takes a regional approach to combating drought in six countries of the Horn, estimates that over 90 per cent of the meat consumed in East Africa comes from pastoral herds.

Drylands in the Horn of Africa are too large to ignore,” says Jan de Leeuw, an ecologist at ILRI and a lead author of the drought report. “With only 20 per cent of Kenya’s land suitable for arable crop production, and with an expanding population, the country cannot continue ignoring these dry areas without hurting people’s food production and livelihoods. Some of the worst impacts of the drought can be avoided if the region’s dryland livestock systems are well regulated.”

The best way to prevent famine in arid lands is to ensure herder access to critical dry-season grazing and watering areas. All the herders interviewed in this research assessment reported that obstacles to the movement of their herds—caused by lack of roads, land conflicts and demographic pressures—constituted the largest problem they had in protecting their animals and livelihoods.

Thus, the ILRI study findings reinforce what others have found—that migratory herding is the most productive use of much of this land.

A second major problem was a dearth of functioning commercial livestock markets. Destocking—where herders sell off those animals they can no longer feed or water to the government—does not work where there are no dynamic livestock markets. Thus, during droughts, it is more helpful for local government agencies to organize the slaughter of excess cattle on site—paying herders for the fresh meat, and giving the meat to the local herding communities to consume—than it is to ship large amounts of hay or other fodder to drought-struck areas, or to try to transport cattle out of such areas.

The authors found that investments such as better roads, markets, information access, agricultural outreach and schemes that pay herders for wildlife conservation and other ecological services may cost money in the short run, but in the longer term will help stabilize dryland communities and prevent famines.

In general, the ILRI report found that the response to the 2008–2009 drought, while better than that for a major drought a decade earlier, was still too little, too late.

The report was funded by the European Union to help Kenya improve its drought management system. Since 1996, with support from the World Bank and the European Union, the country has been moving to improve drought management through a national arid lands management program. Still, the 2008–2009 drought was devastating; more than half of all livestock died in many districts. The loss of livestock assets in successive droughts has had the effect of steadily impoverishing many herders in Kenya and other countries of the Horn of Africa.

To harvest the economic and other potential of Kenya’s drylands, we need new approaches and effective models for managing risk and promoting sustainable development, especially in the face of climate change and increasing droughts in many areas, said de Leeuw. Investments in pastoral livestock systems and markets, and in transportation, communication and energy infrastructure, is vital, he said.

The best way to tap into the potential of the drylands is to invest in systems that support pastoral livelihoods, rather than ignoring them and hoping they go away,’ said de Leeuw. ‘While such investments are risky, these areas support most of the animal protein consumed by the residents of the Horn countries.’

Unfortunately, however, drylands and the pastoral livelihoods they support have long borne the brunt of underdevelopment, underinvestment and ineffective government policies that have tended to encourage mobile herders to transit into more settled ways of life. Many dryland regions lack the infrastructure and services that would help people cope with the hazards of climate change, variable rainfall and droughts. These and other factors are partly responsible for the Horn’s recurrent hunger crises.

Furthermore, high population growth is putting pressure on agricultural farmland and urban centers in the Horn of Africa. More people (including non-pastoralists) are settling the drylands, as they are the frontier for agricultural expansion, said Polly Ericksen, another co-author of the ILRI paper. ‘The resulting sub-division and development of communal lands raises concerns about the management of Africa’s drylands, highlighting the need for national policies on how such lands are used.’

One successful national program, for example, helps provide income to pastoralists, while at the same time preserving the ecosystems. Kenyans herders who live near the country’s protected wildlife areas are receiving payments for managing their ecosystems, and these payments are providing a stable, reliable and predictable source of income that both reduces poverty and protects wildlife.

Such ecosystem protection efforts are going on in the Masai Mara region of southern Kenya and in the Kitengela rangelands near Nairobi, where Maasai people have formed ‘eco-conservancies’ to protect their grazing areas for livestock and wildlife alike.

Read more about the ILRI drought assessment on the ILRI News Blog: Best ways to manage responses to recurring drought in East Africa’s drylands, 7 Aug 2011.

The productivity of ‘nomadic farming’ over the long term

Africa Everyday

Bao game, on loan from Gary K. Clarke, Cowabunga Safaris (photo on Flickr by Topeka and Shawnee Country Public Library).

Jan de Leeuw, a Dutch ecologist who leads research on pastoral and agro-pastoral production systems at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, likens investments in livestock herding systems to investments in the stock market.

‘Both have their ups and downs,’ he says, ‘but in spite of the current crisis many pastoralists are facing in the Horn of Africa, most of those who invest in livestock herding here as elsewhere make a good profit over the longer term.’

‘The ongoing drought and hunger and famine crisis in the Horn is a terrible “depression,” de Leeuw says, ‘but some of the worst impacts of the drought could have been avoided if the region’s dryland livestock systems had been well regulated, just as the recent financial meltdown of some rich countries could have been avoided if the stock market and sub-prime mortgage investments had been better regulated.’

This idea that pastoral livestock herding actually works well much of the time, and that that is one reason why pastoralists continue to engage in it, is echoed in an article by Curtis Abraham published in the Nairobi Star earlier this year, who reminds us that although a current drought has devastated pastoralists in Kenya’s arid Northeastern Province, ‘other herders in Kenya are fighting back by adopting new ways of dealing with issues of water management, herding strategies, livestock health, conflict resolution/ security issues and land fragmentation—due to land purchases by foreign countries and companies.

‘Additionally, new markets are opening up, helping to improve livelihoods and generate substantial new wealth for local and national economies. New technologies such as mobile phones as well as improvements in roads are opening up pastoral areas to greater movements of people, goods, and ideas.

In Kenya, mobile pastoral farming accounts for 50 per cent of the country’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to an IUCN study “Economic Importance of Goods and Services Derived from Dryland Ecosystems in the IGAD Region”, the estimated Potential Value of Livestock in Kenya amounts to $2.5 billion (Sh212.5 billion) annually, while natural products that might be derived from dry-land ecosystems is $3.6 billion (Sh306 billion)—a total of $6.1  billion (Sh518.5 billion).

Yet pastoralism has been criticised as a backward mode of production that ties its workers to poverty as well as leading to desertification and the decline of wild animal species. But the plight of pastoralists usually stems from ineffective government policies that have tried (or are trying) to change effective and viable production systems into something inferior such as ranching or settled agriculture.

‘Recent studies have shown that nomadic farming is 20% more productive than ranching in terms of annual calf and milk production. This has been widely documented in scientific literature. In 1995, for example, Ian Scoones, of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, published Living with Uncertainty where he demonstrated that pastoralism is not only viable, but is by far the best option for drylands, and that African livestock systems can produce more energy, protein and cash per hectare than Australian and US ranches.

‘“The trouble has always been that administrators and service providers don’t like mobility, and in many cases neither do neighbouring communities,” says Dr Jonathan Davies, regional drylands co-ordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa at the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Nairobi, Kenya. “So everything possible has been tried to settle pastoralists. This restricts the opportunistic strategy of pastoralism and undermines its viability, leading to the images that sometimes appear on TV.”

What the colonial and post-independence African governments failed to understand was that pastoralist communities have from time immemorial depended on their natural surroundings for survival and, precisely for that reason; they have devised ways of sustaining their environment in the long run. . . .

Read the whole article at the Nairobi Star: Pastoralists innovate in the face of adversity, 19 May 2011.

Best ways to manage responses to recurring drought in Kenya’s drylands

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The carcass of a cow that died of starvation in the Kitengela rangelands, near Nairobi National Park, in the great drought of 2009 (photo on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Those working to mitigate the impacts of the current drought in the Horn of Africa and to help prevent severe hunger and starvation from occurring here in future will profit from a close reading of a 2010 report by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). This report—An Assessment of the Response to the 2008–2009 Drought in Kenya: A Report commissioned by the European Delegation to the Republic of Kenya—reviews the effectiveness of livestock-based drought response interventions during Kenya’s devastating 2008–2009 drought and suggests ways to improve the current drought management system and to incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into the country’s drought management policies.

Major findings of the report

The overriding importance of mobility
Without a single exception, all pastoralist groups interviewed consider mobility and access to natural resources as the most potent mechanism for coping with drought. Ironically, this is also the activity that is increasingly the most impeded. Interventions that facilitate and/or maintain critical migratory movement and/or allow access to unused grazing areas will continue to serve as the most powerful way to mitigate livestock losses during a drought. Often the funds required to achieve this are minimal compared to other interventions and as such it is also the most cost-effective intervention. Interventions targeting the removal of restrictions to mobility and access should be considered as prime activities during preparedness.

The importance of functioning livestock markets
Participants of a one-day workshop on commercial destocking in Marsabit District said that a successful commercial de-stocking intervention is next to impossible if the district does not already have a functioning, fully fledged, dynamic livestock trade as an ongoing activity during ‘normal’ times. ‘Emergency’ commercial de-stocking, they said, should in that case not be necessary because the commercial sector, if functioning, should be capable to up-scale its activity if and when there appeared a drought-related market surplus of stock.

Drought responses are falling behind
Although the drought responses presented here appear to be more effective and timely than responses to earlier droughts, these recent responses are not keeping up with an ongoing decline in many pastoral households in livestock assets and coping capacities. Furthermore, poor governance, lack of political will and mismanagement of funds plague efforts to move from relief responses to longer term development interventions. And conflicts over land, closely linked to a rapid population growth in Kenya, remain largely unresolved, with indications that these conflicts are only increasing and severely restricting pastoral mobility.

Lack of involvement of local communities
Local communities were not involved in the design and implementation of most interventions to help them cope with the drought. The single community to be consulted was in Laikipia, and that consultation was restricted to just one topic: livestock off-take. A Kajiado Naserian community that wanted support with finding alternative livelihoods so that it could stop relying on relief food actually found a goat distribution project that involved the community to be more successful than any relief interventions. Another community, in Isiolo’s Merti location, prefers a viable livestock market to any government-funded livestock off-take program and sees investments in pasture management as one way to solve the feed problems during drought.

Lessons learned
The good news
Increased semi-permanent presence of key non-governmental organizations in critical areas that are able to encompass a realistic drought management cycle approach has substantially improved information and speed of response. This, in combination with improved collaboration between agencies, together with improved coordination has at face value improved both the quality and timeliness of responses to droughts. The continued implementation of a basket of suitable preparedness activities remains the most cost-effective approach to reduce the impact of shocks. Activities such as those implemented by a regional ‘Drought Preparedness’ program of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) and a project on ‘Enhanced Livelihoods in the Mandera Triangle’ funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are beginning to show a marked impact.

The bad news
But this good news is largely negated by other factors, such as reduced line ministry capacity, administrative/institutional changes such as the relentless creation of new districts, and conflicts. In some arid districts and in overall humanitarian terms, drought emergencies are no longer caused solely by prolonged periods of rainfall deficit; rather, such emergencies are increasingly provoked by many factors acting in concert, with the most important contributing factor being reduced access to high-potential grazing lands. This situation is itself caused, and heavily exacerbated, by a relentlessly increasing demographic pressure that is creating whole populations with scarce access to any animal resources at all. These dryland communities are left highly vulnerable to shocks.

Other major findings

The problems underlying dryland livestock-based livelihoods cannot be solved by relief interventions alone; their solutions require long-term research and development strategies and programs that build on and strengthen rather than undermine local institution, livelihood strategies and coping strategies.

Population growth and the continued and unplanned creation of settlements without access to permanent water continue to put a huge burden on humanitarian sources during a drought.

Communities found corruption and mismanagement to be bigger problems than ineffective interventions.

A Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS, 2009) handbook, summarizing livestock-specific interventions, is an excellent toolkit supporting relief practitioners, but much remains to be improved regarding the appropriate timing of such interventions.

The lack of a coordinated approach in, and access to, reliable livestock statistics, both numerical and distribution wise, remains a huge constraint in the overall management of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands.

To prevent delays in the release of emergency funds, drought contingency plans should be regularly updated and contain agreed-upon quantitative triggers for the release of funds to implement interventions and creation of a sufficiently endowed national drought contingency fund deserves the highest priority.

About the report
In late 2009, at the conclusion of Kenya’s 2008–2009 drought, the European Union delegation funded this review of responses to the drought to help Kenya improve its drought management system by recommending more appropriate, effective and timely livestock-based interventions. The report begins by characterizing the severity of the two-year drought and assessing how well its impacts were forecasted. It then reviews 474 livestock-based interventions carried out during the 2008–2009 drought in six arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya. It recommends which livestock-related interventions to implement during drought (including specific advice on commercial destocking) and provides a checklist of advised livestock-based interventions for different scenarios. It offers guidelines for effective monitoring and evaluation. And it identifies where the drought response intervention cycle is hampered by policy constraints and how these might be addressed.

About drought in Kenya
Drought is the prime recurrent natural disaster in Kenya. It affects 10 million, mostly livestock-dependent, people in the country’s arid and semi-arid lands; remarkably, these non-arable lands cover more than 80 per cent of the country’s land mass. While reducing the country’s economic performance, recurring droughts particularly erode the assets of the poor, who herd cattle, camels, sheep, goats over the more marginal drylands. This regular erosion of animal assets is undermining the livelihoods of Kenya’s pastoral herding communities, provoking many households into a downward spiral of chronic hunger and severe poverty.

About Kenya’s drought management system
Since 1996, the Office of the President in Kenya, supported by the World Bank, has been implementing an Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) in the country’s drought-prone and marginalized communities. The ALRMP, further supported by the European Union, funded a Drought Management Initiative and consolidated a national drought management system with structures at the national (Kenya Food Security Meeting, Kenya Food Security Steering Group), district (District Steering Group) and community levels. This drought management system includes policies and strategies, an early warning system, a funded contingency plan and an overall drought coordination and response structure. The main stakeholders involved, in addition to the Government of Kenya and its line ministries, are various development partners and non-governmental organizations. The most far-reaching changes to Kenya’s drought management system since its inception are now under way and include major institutional changes through the creation of a Drought Management Authority and a National Drought Contingency Fund.

About the drought of 2008–2009
The results of this study confirm that the 2008–2009 drought was extreme not only in meteorological and rangeland production terms, but also in terms of its devastating impacts on livestock resources. It is estimated that some 57 per cent of cattle and 65 per cent of sheep, for example, perished in Samburu Central District in 2009; in Laikipia North District, it is reported that 64 per cent of the cattle and 62 per cent of the sheep died over the 2008–2009 period. (Note that these estimates, being mostly subjective, give more of an impression than a reliable estimate of the impacts of the drought on Kenya’s livestock populations.)

What’s in this report?
Chapter 3 provides a general characterization of Kenya’s 2008/2009 drought. Chapter 4, assesses the drought responses in six arid and semi-arid districts of Kenya (Kajiado, Isiolo, Samburu, Laikipia, Turkana and Marsabit), incorporating feedback from a variety of stakeholders at district and national levels. Chapter 5 provides a checklist for drought-response scenarios; Chapter 6, guidelines for monitoring and evaluating responses to drought; and Chapter 7, a plan for commercial destocking in one of these districts. Chapter 8 summarizes climate change forecasts for Kenya and assesses the need for incorporating climate change adaptation policies into the country’s drought management strategies. Chapter 9 discusses the implications of the findings and makes recommendations. Chapter 10 distils lessons learned. This report is similar to an evaluation of responses to the 2000/2001 drought in Kenya (by Y Aklilu and M Wekesa) and reviews to what extent their recommendations were effectively implemented.

The report’s findings in a nutshell
The number of livestock interventions made increased dramatically between the 2000/2001 and 2008/2009 droughts. The total expenditure was also greater in 2008/2009 (USD4.6 million for 6 districts) than in 2000/20001 (USD4 million in 10 districts). ALRMP and the Kenya Government were the main funders of the efforts. Unfortunately, most livestock-related interventions began very late, in early to mid 2009, well past the optimal timing closer to the onset of the drought, in mid-2008. The ALRMP interventions started earliest, reportedly because it was the only organization with funds readily available through its Drought Contingency mode, when the drought became apparent to all. A total of more than 1.5 million people benefited directly from the interventions made in 2008/2009. The cost per individual reached was Kshs3,362, ranging from Kshs163 for water trucking to Kshs8,652 for emergency destocking. An estimated 15,873 tropical livestock units were purchased as part of emergency off-take. Over 5.7 million animals were reached by health interventions between July 2008 and December 2009. Over 1.5 million people were reached by interventions, 413,802 with traditional livestock interventions (destocking, animal health and feeds).

Practical lessons learned

Lesson 1
The most effective interventions were those that facilitated access to under-utilized grazing and watering resources. Those districts in Kenya with little new access to these natural resources are the most vulnerable.

Lesson 2
So-called ‘commercial de-stocking’ remains the least cost-effective drought intervention in Kenya. Long distances to markets, poor timing of interventions and lack of economies of scale all play important roles in making this kind of de-stocking unviable. But more than anything else, lack of an existing dynamic marketing system virtually precludes a commercial de-stocking operation from being cost-effective.

Lesson 3
‘Livestock-fodder-aid’ comes a close second in terms of poor cost-effectiveness. Shipping substantial quantities of bulky commodities such as hay to remote locations is extremely costly and moreover has had little if any measurable impact.

Lesson 4
Slaughter off-take, preferably carried out on the spot, with the meat distributed rapidly to needy families, is a popular intervention with beneficiaries and can provide substantial benefits. Those that sell a live animal often benefit also from the distribution of its meat. And the availability of this high-protein food can benefit household nutrition while allowing the selling households to maintain a little purchasing power a little longer.

More specific findings

The number of livestock-related interventions and the funding associated with these both increased considerably over the interventions carried out during the last drought in Kenya, in 2000/2001.

Once established, risk management systems tend to become static, but effective risk-management systems need to be adaptive and to build in mechanisms for people to ‘learn’.

Few interventions were made by mid-2008, when the drought was already apparent. Early interventions are preferable as they are more effective. Yet 63 per cent of all interventions, and all destocking programs, were conducted after June 2009, when the drought was at its peak.

Centrally managed interventions from Nairobi, such as the provision of fodder and the Ministry of Livestock Development-funded market off-take through the Kenya Meat Commission, had little impact and would have been many times more effective if funds had been made available through Drought Management Structures. (Considerable harm was done when publicized sales of stock never materialized, with large numbers of the animals herded to specified collection points suffering horribly and dying for lack of water and fodder.)

Unmanaged resource-related conflicts among ethnic groups were reported to be a major constraint to an equitable use of the diminishing natural resource base.

Bringing in water with tankers, maintaining and developing boreholes and destocking by slaughter in the affected areas were generally considered to be the most effective interventions. Most ‘other water’ and animal feeding interventions were considered ineffective.

Being more effective is not simply a question of spending more money; significant gains can be made by improving the way current resources are spent. (Across all types of interventions, no significant relationship was found between the effectiveness of a given intervention and its cost per individual reached.)

The problems of many unsuccessful interventions, such as animal feed and health, were due largely to inefficiency of implementation and/or poor timing.

A third more animals were moved in 2008/2009 than in 2000/2001. As disease killed many of the animals that migrated, animal health interventions should be included in future migration strategies.

Hay provisioning, which when well done might be an appropriate intervention, was generally too late and too little to have any significant impact on supporting animal herds through the drought.

Apart from Turkana and Samburu districts, no information on livestock marketing was disseminated or off-take exercises publicized, resulting in late off-takes and a greater expenditure of resources for off-take during the emergency stage than during the alert/alarm stage.

Bulletins put out by EWS (Early Warning Systems) provide overly generalized information, with no specific livestock focus, making the information inappropriate for livestock interventions. The information also often appears late, is too generic for district-specific interventions, and defines no thresholds for the release of contingency funds.

A lack of publicly available near-real-time and historic rainfall data hampered the real time analysis of rainfall anomalies. From a timeliness perspective, rainfall data is the most appropriate source of information for early warning, as it allows the longest response time to scale up relief operations. A number of organizational issues in the hands of government could improve this situation.

Analysis of monthly vegetation greenness anomalies does not appropriately reveal rangeland drought conditions relevant for livestock, as livestock manages to cope with shorter periods of reduced forage availability. A twelve-month running average of NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) detected historic droughts much more precisely, indicating the usefulness of running average techniques for rangeland early warning purposes.

Satellite imagery allows near real time to screen opportunities for migration and identify for remedial conflict resolution in areas of high insecurity.

The reporting on livestock body condition, milk production and productivity proved to be inconsistent across districts, frequently incomplete and with units of measurement unspecified, indicating the need to harmonize the collection of livestock statistics.

Read ILRI’s whole report: An assessment of the response to the 2008–2009 drought in Kenya: A report to the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Kenya, 2010, by Lammert Zwaagstra, Zahra Sharif, Ayago Wambile, Jan de Leeuw, Mohamed Said, Nancy Johnson, Jemimah Njuki, Polly Ericksen and Mario Herrero.

* * *

Read an earlier ILRI News blog on this report: Livestock-based research recommendations for better managing drought in Kenya, 18 Jul 2011.

Three other recent ILRI research reports, published since that above, also assess the effectiveness of past drought interventions in Kenya’s northern drylands and offer tools for better management of the region’s drought cycles.

(1) ILRI research charts ways to better livestock-related drought interventions in Kenya’s drylands. ILRI Policy Brief (this is a distillation of recommendations in the report above), Jul 2011, by Jan de Leeuw, Polly Ericksen, Jane Gitau, Lammert Zwaagstra and Susan MacMillan

(2) The impacts of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMPII) on livelihoods and vulnerability in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya. ILRI Research Report 25, 2011, edited by Nancy Johnson and Ayago Wambile.

This study assesses the impacts of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMPII), a community-based drought management initiative implemented in 28 arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya from 2003 to 2010 to improve the effectiveness of emergency drought response while at the same time reducing vulnerability, empowering local communities, and raising the profile of ASALs in national policies and institutions.

(3) Livestock drought management tool. Final report for a project submitted by ILRI to the FAO Sub-Regional Emergency and Rehabilitation Officer for East and Central Africa, 10 Dec 2010, by Polly Ericksen, Jan de Leeuw and Carlos Quiros.

In August 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sub-Regional Emergency Office for Eastern and Central Africa contracted ILRI to develop a prototype livestock drought management decision support tool for use by a range of emergency and relief planners and practitioners throughout the region. The tool, which is still conceptual rather than operational, links the concepts of ‘drought cycle management’ with best practice in livestock-related interventions throughout all phases of a drought, from normal through the alert and emergency stages to recovery. The tool uses data to indicate the severity of the drought (hazard) and the ability of livestock to survive the drought (sensitivity). The hazard data has currently been parameterized for Kenya, but can be used in any countries of East and Central Africa. The tool still lacks good-quality data for sensitivity and requires pilot testing in a few local areas before it can be rolled out.

La Nina, not climate change, probable cause of East Africa’s drought–ILRI livestock scientists

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One of thousands of dead cattle in the southern Somali Region of Ethiopia five years ago, in an earlier drought in the same region of the Horn of Africa (photo on Flickr by Andrew Heavens).

Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, are saying that the current drought cycle in East Africa’s Horn, which has already led to famine in southern Somalia, cannot be ascribed to climate change, although there is evidence that La Niña is a probable cause.

Interviews by IRIN of ILRI scientists Phil Thornton, a systems analyst specializing in climate change in developing countries, and Jan de Leeuw, an environmental scientist leading ILRI’s rangelands research, were published in the Guardian‘s Development Network Blog.

‘. . . Philip Thornton, a senior scientist who works part-time with the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Edinburgh-based Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, has done some pioneering work on projections of climate-change impact in eastern and southern Africa.

‘He told IRIN via email that projections of the climate change impact in east Africa were “a problem” as the authoritative inter-governmental panel on climate change’s (the IPCC) fourth assessment report “indicated that there was good consensus among the climate models that rainfall was likely to increase during the current century.

‘”But work by other climate scientists since then suggests that . . . certain Indian Ocean effects in east Africa may not actually occur.

‘”Some people think that east Africa is drying, and has dried over recent years; currently there is no hard, general evidence of this, and it is very difficult as yet to see where the statistical trends of rainfall in the region are heading, but these will of course become apparent in time.”

‘The IPCC’s fifth assessment report will be released in 2014.

‘Jan de Leeuw is the operating project leader in the vulnerability and sustainability in pastoral and agro-pastoral systems within ILRI’s people, livestock and environment theme. He points out that this La Niña event is one of the strongest since the 1970s. But he says La Niña, along with El Niño, appear in cycles that “we don’t understand”.

‘What we do know is that La Niña started to develop in August 2010. It cools surface waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, while allowing warmer water to build in the eastern Pacific. “The pool of warm water in the east intensifies rains in Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Domino-style, this pattern also increases the intensity of westerly winds over the Indian Ocean, pulling moisture away from east Africa toward Indonesia and Australia. The result? Drought over most of east Africa and floods and lush vegetation in Australia and other parts of Southeast Asia,” according to the US government’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

‘De Leeuw writes: “La Niña events were common from 1950 till 1976. Since then we had two decades [until about 1996] with fewer events of lesser depth. This has changed since then and over the last 15 years or so we have had more frequent La Niña events.”

‘Events as deep as the current La Niña occur once in 20 or 30 years, writes De Leeuw. “We are in a period now of more frequent La Niña events, but such a situation was there from 1950 till 1976 also.”

‘Thornton has the last word when he says research attention must focus on developing effective early warning systems and ways to help people affected by these events, who have no use for “academic” consideration of the linkages with climate change to cope better with the current levels of weather variability, “whatever happens in the future”.’

Read the whole article by IRIN on the Guardian‘s Development Network Blog: La Niña blamed for east African drought: Environmentalists call for the development of early warning systems to help countries prepare for adverse weather, 14 Jul 2011.

Numbers of wildlife in Kenya’s famous Mara region have declined by two-thirds or more over last 33 years

Landscapes from the Mara

Landscape taken on safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya, July 2009 (photo credit: jschinker‘s Flickr photostream). ‘Sadly, wildlife are apparently being monitored into extinction in the Mara. Without urgent, decisive and resolute actions, more local extinctions may yet occur and the spectacular migration for which the Mara is world famous may continue to dwindle’—Joseph Ogutu.

Some devastating news has just been published in a leading scientific journal about wildlife declines in Kenya.

Scientists have found that wildlife populations in Kenya’s famous Mara region declined progressively after 1977, with few exceptions. Populations of almost all wildlife species have declined to a third or less of their former abundance both in the protected Masai Mara National Reserve and in the adjoining pastoral ranches.

Human influences appeared to be the fundamental cause. Besides reinforced antipoaching patrols, the expansion of cultivation, settlements and fences and livestock stocking levels on the pastoral ranches need to be regulated to avoid further declines in the wildlife resource.

Populations of many wild ungulate species in Africa are in decline largely because of land-use changes and other human activities.

The four authors of this paper, published online last week in the Journal of Zoology (20 May 2011) include lead author Joseph Ogutu, formerly of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and now at the University of Hohenheim, and last author Mohamed Said, of ILRI.

Read a short brief providing background to this new item.

Read the abstract of the paper: Continuing wildlife population declines and range contraction in the Mara region of Kenya during 1977–2009

For more information, please contact:
Joseph Ogutu in Germany at jogutu2007 [at] gmail.com
Mohamed Said at ILRI Nairobi at m.said [at] cgiar.org
Jan de Leeuw, ILRI team leader, at ILRI Nairobi at j.leeuw [at] cgiar.org