In a new report, Survival of the fittest, Oxfam calls for governments and development partners in the East African region to invest in more sustainable development polices in arid and semi-arid (ASAL) areas, which will ensure pastoralists to cope with the impact of climate change. The ASALs of East Africa occupy over 70% of the Horn of Africa. This ranges from 95% of the total land area in Somalia and Djibouti, to more than 80% in Kenya, 60% in Uganda, and between 30–60% in Tanzania. Despite the suitability of mobile livestock herding to the vast arid lands that cover East Africa, and the evidence of its productivity and value, many pastoralist people are among the poorest and most vulnerable in Africa.
All too often the direct economic value generated by pastoralists is not retained in their communities, and the indirect value is un-rewarded and even unacknowledged by decision-makers. In Kenya, pastoralists provide the majority of the meat consumed in country, and livestock production from pastoralists contributed up to 10% of the GDP in 2002 and 25% in 2001. The livestock sector accounts for 90% of employment in ASAL, and as custodians of the dryland environments inhabited by Kenya’s world-famous wildlife areas, contribute to a tourist trade worth more than 50 billion Kenya Shillings ($700m) every year. In Uganda, up to 80% of the population derive their livelihoods from subsistence agriculture and livestock production, producing 85% of the milk and 95% of the beef consumed in the country, while the livestock sector contributes 7.5% of Uganda’s GDP annually, and in 2002, exports of hides and skins to Europe and Asia earned the country $10m. In Tanzania, pastoralists dominate the livestock sector, owning 99% of the livestock, and the sector contributes 6.1% to the national GDP. Through their land use system, pastoralists in Ngorongoro make a significant contribution to the $900m from tourism annually.
The report decries years of political and economic marginalization, inappropriate development policies, an increase in resource competition and abnormal climatic events that have reduced the ability of some pastoralists to maintain a sustainable livelihood. “Whether increasing climate change will see a worsening of their current situation or whether pastoralists will be able to adapt and even take advantage of the opportunities it may bring will depend on how these environmental and developmental challenges are tackled by both national governments and international donors, and the extent to which pastoralists themselves are involved in the process,” Paul Smith-Lomas of Oxfam added.
Governments in the region have historically had little economic and political interest in promoting development in ASALs, as they tend to see pastoralists as a ‘minority vote’ that isn’t worth winning. Kenya’s Minister of Development of Northern Kenya and Arid Lands, Hon. Mohammed Elmi, agrees with the findings of the report, adding “pastoralists make a significant contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) in many East African countries, provides majority of the meat consumed and provides a livelihood for tens of millions of people who live in ASALs. They have been adapting to climate variability for millennia and their adaptability ought to enable them to cope with this growing challenge. However, their adaptability cannot be realized without government support and investment.”
Pastoralists are the custodians of dry land environments, providing services through good rangeland management including biodiversity conservation and wildlife tourism. Beyond the provision of basic services like health care and education, there must also be an injection of investment into the pastoral economy across East Africa. Improving market access for pastoral products and developing marketing opportunities are essential to the ability of pastoralists to get the best value for their products. In the next 10–15 years climate change will mean a continuation of current trends including successive poor rains, an increase in drought-related shocks, and more unpredictable and sometimes heavy rainfall events,” Hon Elmi said.
Oxfam is calling for more appropriate development policies, and for those who are struggling and those no longer able to make a living from pastoralism, there must be a social welfare system in place. “Cash payments in place of food aid will enable the members of pastoralist communities to meet their basic needs in terms of food, health care, and education. Cash transfers, when combined with other suitable interventions, have the potential to empower pastoralists and ex-pastoralists to make their own investment choices. For example, a household might choose between restocking themselves with livestock, investing in alternative livelihoods such as fishing, or experimenting with more cultivation. Communities must be at the heart of efforts to build their resilience to climate change because adaptation is inherently local. It will only work if local people are leading the process,” Paul Smith-Lomas said. The threat of climate change should be a catalyst for providing these investments.