Mitigating the Impact of Drought on Pastoral Communities in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-arid Lands (ASAL)
This post is written by Bernard Owino, livelihoods and Resilience Program officer, World Vision Kenya , Jedidah Ganira, Livelihoods and Resilience Advisor, World Vision Kenya, and John McCormack, Senior Technical Advisor, Agriculture, Food Security and Livelihoods , World Vision USA.
Introduction and Background
The arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) region (see Map 1 of Kenya), which accounts for 89% of the total land mass and hosts 35% of the country population, and the bordering regions of Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan are no strangers to the impacts of shocks and stresses, notably the impact of frequent and prolonged drought (see Table 1) and increasing tensions and conflict over utilization of and access to resources (grazing areas and water). These stresses have been compounded in recent years with the increasing failure and frequency of lower seasonal rainfall patterns (Table 1) leading to a livestock and humanitarian crisis in the ASAL today (2021-2022). In the last 20 years, the period between droughts has decreased from 5-10 years to 2-3 years. From 2016-2021, 75% of the 12 rainy seasons in Kenya had below-average rainfall, crucially reducing the recovery time for communities living in the ASAL region.
Livestock rearing, primarily pastoralism, is a major source of livelihoods for populations in the region and has been for many generations. This type of landscape use (pastoralism) has evolved and adapted over generations as one best suited to the ASAL regions. It serves two primary and interrelated purposes: a) livelihoods provision from marginal lands and b) a strong socio and cultural relationships between livestock ownership and social and cultural traditions and practices, contributing to the social fabric of pastoralist communities.
With more frequent and prolonged threats to this system of landscape use growing, livelihoods are made more precarious. The drought situation continues to worsen in 20 of the 23 counties. This is attributed to the deficient performance of the 2021 short rains (November-December) coupled with two previous failed consecutive seasons and early cessation of the 2022 long rains (April-June) season. The March, April and May rainfall was depressed with late onset and early cessation and poor and uneven distribution. The projected short rains in October to December 2022 are expected to be below average and, because of the failure of the long rains (April-June), the crop harvest will be below par.
The drought’s impact on rangelands and pasture has been dramatic, with most below their normal productivity levels. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) indicates that up to 4.35 million people will be impacted and in need of assistance by October to November 2022. All this has led to increasing conflict over access to and utilization of water and grazing areas. Coupled with external factors of a worldwide cereal shortfall caused by the Ukraine-Russia conflict, including fuel prices and especially high dependency on wheat imported from Russia, this has further impacted food insecurity in Kenya and ASAL region border countries.
Some 1.4 million livestock in 15 ASAL counties have died as a result of the prolonged drought; this has an enormous impact on livelihoods and community assets and wealth. In agro-pastoralist areas, reduced agriculture (farming) activities have reduced opportunities for casual labor, resulting in depleted household reserves and purchasing power. Reduced access to water has impacted some 2.8 million people in the ASAL counties, such as Turkana and Marsabit, drying up of water pans, boreholes, wells and dams.
Lessons from Mitigating the Impact of Drought on Livestock and Pastoralism
World Vision Kenya (WVK) has worked closely with ASAL pastoralists to mitigate shocks and stresses to livelihoods among pastoralist communities. This has been through a range of measures, some illustrated below.
Support to asset retention and mitigation of loss of assets, which is conducted through provision of livestock feed and supplements, disease surveillance, and treatment and vaccination against emerging disease threats. WVK has collaborated with communities in Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo and Sambaru, introducing initiatives such as Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) with private sector actors. IBLI utilizes low cost, accessible and reliable satellite data — Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to monitor pasture condition in defined geographical zones — Unit Areas of Insurance (UAIs). Below-normal pasture conditions trigger payouts by insurance to pastoralists to compensate the loss of their livestock as a livelihood. Between 2013 and 2015, WVK through Garbatula Pastoralist Livelihoods Project (GAPLIP) — Canada funded — partnered with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Takaful Insurance of Africa (TIA) and APA Insurance Company to enhance risk management of drought-related livestock losses through IBLI in Isiolo County, reaching 287 farmers. In 2019, the GAPLIP ex-post evaluation revealed success of the initiative with uptake growing from 8.4% to 20.5% within 3 years.
IBLI presents a promising, innovative approach to mitigate climate-related shocks by households in the ASAL areas. Leveraging public-private partnerships, WVK, with the World Food Programme, Pula Advisors, UAP Old Mutual and the government of Kenya (Kenya Agricultural Insurance Program), is targeting smallholder producers and food-insecure, vulnerable populations in in Kitui, Makueni and Taita Taveta to realize sustainable, inclusive food systems and increased resilience to climate shocks to meet their food and nutrition needs through a threefold, integrated approach on: a) risk reduction through asset creation for soil and water conservation, b) risk transfer through index-based crop insurance — hybrid of area yield and weather index, and c) risk reserves through savings. This innovative project has farmers co-contribute and save their insurance premium through their savings groups and submit to the insurance provider at the beginning of the seasons. In 2020, 603 farmers in Kitui and 2,640 in Makueni received a payout worth $50,062 and $55,802 respectively for crop damage during the October-November season.
Other interventions include access to water through water trucking, fuel for borehole operations and rehabilitation and maintenance of water facilities. Another useful tool used by WVK and other international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) is the Savings for Transformation (S4T) model savings groups. WVK has successfully implemented this approach through 4,264 groups with a membership of 82,434 and savings valued at $3,244,067 (i.e., 24 groups in Wajir, 59 groups in Marsabit, with $16,635 and $15,374 savings respectively). As a result, 31 livestock trading, 11 beadworks and 69 retail businesses started between 2019-2021 in Marsabit, enhancing recovery and resilience building. Linkages of the groups to Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO) benefited 1,169 program participants (1,124 females and 45 males) with 5.2 million Kenyan shillings (KES) ($43,029) disbursed as microloans. The county governments and finance/financial service providers (Cooperative, KCB, Equity Bank and First Community Bank) have supported in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and business development for sustainability.
Local natural resource management (NRM) institutions’ development and strengthening to facilitate equitable and sustainable natural resource exploitation are but some of the tried and tested measures adopted by actors to minimize and mitigate the effects of stresses, such as drought, on community livelihoods. In addition, WVK utilizes information and communication technology (ICT) to support improved management of the natural resource base. WVK has partnered with private sector actors, communities, county governments (National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Flying Labs, Global System for Mobile Communications and Ushahidi) and Kenya forest service to sustainably manage rangelands and improve ecosystem services using innovative ICT. In 2021, WVK partnered with Kenya Flying Labs (ICT provider) to implement Tana River Climate Change and Livelihoods Restoration Project (T-CLIRP). WVK and its implementing partners have embraced drones (Photo 1) as a technological solution to accelerate the mapping of the worst-affected areas in dire need of assisted natural regeneration (Photo 2), helping to restore over 2,500 acres of degraded lands. The Kenya Flying Labs use drones to generate geo-maps (with data and artificial intelligence), which are then used to calculate vegetation cover and identify degraded areas, prompting timely response. The results are validated collaboratively with communities, county government and Kenya forest services. Key action plans are jointly developed for implementation by NRM committees (formed and/or existing) to manage rangeland. Benefits of using this technology include: a) provision of timely early warning signs, which has led to increased production and preservation of fodder and pasture for livestock, and b) improvement in agroforestry practices. In addition, the use of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (a simple, low-cost and scalable approach) to restore land for sustainable agricultural intensification has proved effective in climate change and shock mitigation. Over 18,103.6 acres of land have been restored by the T-CLIRP project using this approach. WVK has established a partnership with Seedballs Kenya, a private company that increases indigenous tree reseeding using biochar seed balls. Also known as “the seed-to-ash wood fuel circle,” the technology is low-cost and highly efficient in regenerating forests. It has been successfully implemented in the Drylands Development Programme (DryDev), Integrated Management of Natural Resources for Resilience in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (IMARA) and T-CLIRP programs in Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu and Wajir Counties to mitigate shocks and improve household and community resilience and adaptation to climate change. WVK, in partnership with other stakeholders, has engaged and built the capacity of households and communities in the ASAL to sustainably: a) identify and develop natural resource value chains for development, b) manage natural resources and improve ecosystem-based services and enterprises and c) access and strengthen markets and market systems and linkages with key private and public sector actors. This has led to diversified livelihood options, increased income (empowered women and youths) and resilience in households. Some examples include:
a) The FONSAREP12 project (GIZ Kenya-funded, 2015-2019) strengthened camel and shoats milk value chain development for 700 farmers organized in 35 producer women groups in Marsabit County — WVK partnered with Africa Harvest to build capacity (trainings, equipment, establishment of aggregation centers and market linkages) of the groups; b) the Anolei Camel Milk Women’s Cooperative in Isiolo, one of the groups supported by the project, processes an estimated 2,500 liters of milk daily during the dry spell and 4,200 liters during the rainy season; and c) the IMARA program (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)-funded) has strengthened the capacity of communities in Marsabit, Samburu and Isiolo to engage in nature-based value chains development (gum arabica and raisins, apiculture, and pasture and fodder production) for income. In Marsabit, income of $104,316.75 was realized from the sale of 19,314 tons of gums and raisins in 2021. In the same year, 31,293 kilograms of honey was sold, earning an income of $125,172 to households. Hay production (see Photo 3) as an embedded enterprise in pasture and fodder production realized 67,989 bales worth $214,165.35 when sold. Noticing this potential, the county governments have increased budgetary allocations for infrastructural development and extension support to the cooperatives for sustainability. According to the IMARA program end evaluation report, 63.4% and 23.6% of communities in Marsabit and Isiolo, respectively, were engaged in trading NRM products.
While these are but some examples of intervention measures supporting livelihood resiliency among ASAL communities in the face of ongoing threats (notably drought), they provide an optimistic note in the current (2022) dire situation and can — and do — demonstrate that with foresight, planning and with all actors working together, one can mitigate the negative impacts of periods of drought on people’s livelihoods. Critical to these efforts of a variety of actors is the use of appropriate tools. WVK has enabled and leveraged a wide variety of tools to support the resiliency of communities. Among them are tools aimed specifically at the most marginal and ultra-poor, such as the ultra poor graduation (UPG) model, which together with safety net programs (productive safety nets — including cash transfer-conditional and unconditional), can cushion households from shocks and reduce the negative impact of these shocks and stresses. The uptake of UPG can build assets and savings of households by 12% and a savings of 96% while sustaining household access to food and income.
A wide variety and range of measures and tools exist to help mitigate the impact of shocks and stresses, but critical to mitigation efforts and enhancing livelihood resiliency is the enabling and facilitation of a range of actors, working in closer alignment under a common framework. This is enhanced when government, donor, private sector and community-led responses, interventions and mitigation measures are aligned and are complementary to a systems response and aimed at addressing bottlenecks in systems, community challenges, improved service access and delivery. When household and community livelihood measures being promoted and adopted place resiliency (i.e., at household, community and system level) as a top priority, and when intervention measures are carefully planned and well-prepared, and tools adopted with the engagement of all relevant actors in the community, both public and private, then the impact of major shocks and stresses on community livelihoods and systems can be mitigated, resulting in greater community, household and system resiliency.