Drought / East Africa / Kenya / Pastoralism / Vulnerability

‘Better grazing holds key to coping better with Kenyan droughts’–David Western

Korr Scenes (7)

Korr, in northern Kenya (photo on Flickr by Hello Hillary).

In the face of the great drought engulfing the Horn of Africa, David Western, a savanna ecosystems expert who is chairman of the African Conservation Centre and a former director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, in Nairobi, Kenya, makes a persuasive case for better management of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid rangelands, which make up some 80 per cent of the country.

‘. . . Pasture in Kenya has declined steadily since the 1980s, and has recovered more slowly with each successive drought as pressures on land have grown. Livestock cycles now determine pasture abundance and the depth of drought far better than rainfall.

‘Traditional pastures set aside for periods of drought were exhausted by years of compressed grazing long before the rains failed in 2009, with the result that pasture shortages have grown more common and last longer, despite no drop in rainfall. . . .

‘Droughts are now spreading faster and persisting longer as herders move farther in search of pasture, and social bonds and networks break down. Pastures are recovering slower as herders and speculators truck in and re-stock herds with animals from elsewhere.

Traditional grazing practices in the rangelands demonstrate the adaptability of pastoralism, and gives pointers to how the problems in the rangelands can be addressed.

Pastoralism is an efficient way of using land in arid regions.

‘Like wildlife herds, herders get larger milk yields and higher rates of calf survival by migrating to the greenest pastures and using drought reserves during harsh times.

‘Seasonal livestock movements give pastures time to recover, enabling them to support large herds and a high human population in dry regions. Wide social networks, as well as close reciprocal ties among neighbours and neighbouring clans, insulate the individual herder against bad times. . . .

Korr Scenes (19)

The pastoral Rendille village of Korr, 1–2 hours’ drive southwest of Marsabit, in northern Kenya (photo on Flickr by Hello Hillary).

‘So why is there now a crisis in eastern Africa?

The capacity of pastoral economies has been overwhelmed by a ten-fold rise in pastoral population over the last century. Per capita livestock holdings have shrunk, and pastoralist lands and water resources have been annexed for parks, farms and towns. Shrinking lands, restricted movements and persistent grazing are weakening grass growth.

. . . ‘The current tragedy stems from the remoteness and marginalisation of the northern pastoralists, as well as the effects of civil war, banditry, soaring food prices, mismanagement of national grain reserves and political failure. . . .

‘[B]eyond emergency relief, we must lay the foundations of sustainable development in the marginal lands.

‘. . . [T]he land and resource rights of marginalised pastoralists that were usurped by governments must be restored. . . .

‘[T]he land-owners associations that have sprung up in Kenya over the last decade show how locally-adapted, self-assembling governance can promote development. These associations have re-established grass banks and seasonal grazing regimes, conservancies, ecotourism, cattle associations, enterprise groups, community scouts, and resources assessors, as well as Lale’enok information centres that gather and deploy information about development opportunities. . . .’

Read the whole article by David Western at SciDevNet: Better grazing practices hold key to Kenyan droughts, 5 Aug 2011.

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