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  • Dr. Wyclife Ong'eta Mose

How we Can Keep Pastoral Communities Resilient to Drought

By Faith Mwende Mwangangi


A pastoral community is a group of people, whose way of life is based on pastoralism and is typically nomadic. Daily life is centered upon the tending of herds or flocks. These communities whose area of land borders between south-western Ethiopia, north-western Kenya, south-eastern Sudan and north-eastern Uganda are referred to as Karamoja cluster in eastern Africa. The area is populated by around 14 pastoralist tribes who share a common language, culture and the way of life. The cluster is composed of arid and semi-arid savanna grading into wooded grassland to the north and desert to the south. This puts stress on pastoralist economies, leading to livestock losses and inter-ethnic conflicts.

According to my own research study, these pastoral communities are prone to drought and therefore, strategies need to be established to enable the pastoral communities become resilient to severe drought conditions. Areas like Turkana, Pokot and other vulnerable areas, when drought strikes, they develop conflicts over the scarce grazing and water resources. In the past, when drought or diseases decimated herds, people recouped stock and ensured their survival by exchanging or loaning stock or by raiding cattle from neighbouring tribes. Raiding was confined to times of extreme environmental stress and carried out by large groups of warriors armed with spears and arrows. Raiding is now a continuous activity carried out by small groups of men armed with automatic weapons and driven by criminal motivation for profit. The proliferation of modern weapons along with changes in traditional rules of engagement have transformed an adaptive practice into a maladaptive and the ongoing conflict has increased poverty and famine in the area, placed vast tracts of grazing land and water sources out of reach of herders and rendered many pastoralist families destitute. Conflict management should therefore be an integral part of any drought mitigation strategy in conflict prone areas.

For the people in those areas to be resilient to adverse drought effects, (i) humanitarian organizations need to focus on strengthening the ability of those vulnerable people to use technology in its broadest sense to cope with threats from natural disasters, environmental degradation and conflicts. For example, rain water harvesting technology through roof catchment water tanks, water pans, construction of shallow wells and the construction of underground water tanks as opportunities to increase access to reliable water sources which will minimize conflicts over water resources during drought. Easy access to water will make many women get time to participate in peace rallies with their counterparts from across the border.(ii) Destocking, restocking and moving of herds to other grazing areas strategies need also to be promoted to mitigate drought effects for the herders. In times of stress, herders often find themselves selling stock at low prices due to the challenge of accessing reliable information, which is a key constraint for pastoralist communities to make informed decisions and manage the idea of externally assisted emergency destocking of pastoralists so as to increase the incentives for pastoralists to sell animals or remove the constraints to sell animals in the early stages of drought. (iii) Creating better Market Systems by linking private business with government organizations and teaching pastoralists how sell their produce in the market will provide a place for pastoralists to sell their livestock before drought, leaving them with a smaller herd that can easier endure the drought, as well as with an income serving as a financial buffer to support their families during drought.(iv) Dialogues also need to be initiated to ensure the communities in the transboundary areas can share grazing and water resources during drought. You find that Kenyan can share resources to Ugandan neighbours hence preventing conflicts over resources. Mobility policy also can be a key resilient strategy to help the pastoralists deal with the unpredictable weather conditions and availability of resources in arid environments. Restrictions imposed on their movements undermine their livelihoods and their ability to cope with drought. (v)Community based animal health services need to be provided to reduce losses from livestock diseases and recover from drought.(vi) We need to enable better responses to drought and improve livelihoods through diversification activities such as increased fodder production, bee keeping and pasture management. Programs should be initiated to support fodder enterprises to ensure the provision of hay during drought. Trainings need to be offered from experts and other humanitarian stakeholders on land preparation, farming practices, bee keeping, harvesting, hay making, storage and seed production and bulking. Improved fodder availability and accessibility will benefit the productivity and the health of animals, enhance milk production and consequently household food security during dry periods. (vii) Provision of seeds and tools for dry land farmers. Crop production in these arid and semi-arid areas is relatively difficult as it depends upon the intensity and the frequency of rainfall. Crop production in these areas is mainly rain fed and it gets an average rainfall of between100 to 200 mm or less which is unevenly distributed, highly uncertain and erratic. Farming outside the river belt is technically termed dry land farms. Dry land farmers need to be given assorted certified seeds and tools inputs to scale up food security in these areas where farming is practiced during the rainy season alone.

Water Pans of Hope for the pastoral communities

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