Facing a changing climate in northern Kenya

Life in a hostile climate

Many challenges constrain the way of life of pastoralists in northern Kenya and stifle their ability to adapt to changes in their external environment. These challenges include political and economic marginalization, inappropriate development policies, increasing resource competition and climate change. Taken together, these challenges intensify poverty, lack of basic services and loss of livelihoods as well as lives.

Joining hands to generate knowledge

The northern Kenya situation demands a collective approach that involves local communities themselves, researchers, development professionals and policy-makers. Making knowledge available through participatory action research is an important and necessary step towards addressing complex challenges such as climate change on communities.

A two-year research effort, financed through the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa Programme of IDRC/DFID is being implemented by five partners: Practical Action, Kenyatta University, Maseno University, National Environmental Authority and FoodLink Resources Institute in the northern Kenya districts of Mandera and Turkana. The research will:

  1. Determine the ecological and structural factors contributing to vulnerability of pastoralists to climate change;
  2. Identify and evaluate gender dimensions of climate change vulnerability;
  3. Identify traditional and emerging climate change adaptation strategies;
  4. Determine factors limiting access to / use of climate change information by pastoralists; and
  5. Identify and analyze institutional barriers to and opportunities for incorporating climate change adaptation measures into national development policies.

What are we discovering?

Areas of research - Turkana and ManderaClimate models project an increase in regional total seasonal rainfall with extreme events as well as more frequent droughts. This raises the uncertainty of local livelihood planning. Water and pasture are becoming more scarce/less reliable - therefore more contentious - and an increasing source of conflict.

The indigenous climate forecasting methods on which communities depend are now unreliable. But communication links to modern weather forecasting sources are inadequate.

Wanted: supportive policies

The links between development and climate change adaptation, and reducing social and environmental vulnerability are now more urgent than ever in pastoral areas of northern Kenya. Supportive government policies are essential. Here are four that have emerged from the project work:

  1. Security and peaceful coexistence among local communities must be strengthened for effective adaptation of pastoralists through better access to pasture and water.
  2. Mobility of livestock herds for accessing pasture and water is the best adaptation strategy for pastoralists. This must be recognized and supported by government agencies responsible for protecting pastoralists' land and resource rights.
  3. Access to new adaptive skills in planning and managing rangeland resources as well as linking to sources of information such as seasonal forecasts and market intelligence.
  4. Removal of constraints to efficient livestock markets: improve market infrastructure, veterinary services, flood-proof roads and communication links.

Future vision

Adaptive capacity is closely related to both access to and use of new skills: skills in rangeland management, in seeking alternate means of livelihood when drought strikes again, in identifying markets for range products when rains return. Only a broad partnership and long-term commitment can address the need for developing these skills.

Download posters

Two posters on climate change in northern Kenya are available to download (PDF):

A1 climate change poster A2 climate change poster
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