Climate change impacts on pastoralism and women in Uganda and Kenya

The article features the recent online discussion by Enviro Wild on advancing climate action in Africa. Climate change knows no territorial boundaries so it will always be a grave mistake to restrict pastoral mobility as pastoralism practices equally have no borders.

Climate change is a cross-cutting phenomenon affecting all sectors of societies, as it stifles the global attainment of development objectives. The effects of climate change on dry lands in the Horn of Africa pose serious and difficult policy challenges. The arid climate together with the poverty faced by its inhabitants mean that the higher temperatures, intensifying rains and increasingly frequent extreme weather events that climate science projects for the region can only exacerbate the problems of development. [1]However, the dry lands have under exploited development potential and the dominant land use system is pastoralism with unique adaptive characteristics that, together with the right enabling policies, suggest that climate change can be adapted to, and development can be achieved.

Climate alone is rarely the reason many pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALS) continue to remain poor; instead, it interacts with existing problems. For example, migration as a climate adaptation strategy increases population pressure and environmental degradation if concentrated in one point. Failed rainy seasons will result in reduced agricultural yields in already highly fragmented landscapes, and increased climatic shocks electuary fuel conflict over resources and access.

Women and young children fetch water at crowded borehole

Demand for water already exceeds supply in many parts of the world it is estimated that 783 million people lack access to clean water. The global demand for food is expected to double by 2050 — yet wild pollinators are dying, 75 billion tons of soil disappear every year, and droughts are becoming more common. The global political economy of climate change is already evident. The Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission-driven by climate change knows no boundaries and does not respect states’ territorial sovereignty. The consequences of climate change in Africa include a fall in agricultural production, water shortages, mass migrations and greater risk from vector-borne diseases.

Pastoralist driving cattle for grazing in Kaabong

Pastoralist are community or group of people that herd or keep livestock (cattle, shoats, camels, alpacas, donkeys etc.) in a mobile system obtaining nutrients and materials from an expansive landscape also known as rangeland. Pastoral groups in the Kenya and Uganda which includes; Karamojong, Turkana, Pokot, Samburu and Masai among others. Pastoralists use mobility to respond quickly to fluctuations in resource availability, dictated by the dry lands’ scarce and unpredictable rainfall. They also employ a number of highly specialised risk spreading strategies to safeguard their herds against drought, floods, diseases and social unrest[1]. These strategies include building up herd sizes as insurance against times of hardship, splitting herds across different locations to spread risk, keeping different species and breeds and loaning surplus animals to family and friends – ensure the rational use of the natural resource base and also develop and strengthen social relations as a form of social capital.[2]

Climate change as a threat to livelihoods: meanwhile pastoralist continue to adapt to changing climatic conditions through herd mobility, resource scouting, and traditional insurance systems like herd splitting, marriage prizes, and livestock to markets and herd diversity. While it is also important to note that climate shocks and stress is affecting pastoralist households. Due to droughts induced by climate change factors resource conflicts linked to land grabbing, struggle for scarce pastures and water in some parts of Kenya and Uganda still take stall. Communal related conflicts such as cattle raids and rustling experienced by pastoralists during discriminate mobility has since lead to lose of lives and property. A drought for example leads to drying off of pasture, causing wild fires that destroys and degrades the rangeland pastures making it unavailable at the right time. Hence force a shift of mobile herders to areas that can adequately provide with enough feeds. Climate change their matters to pastoralists looking at the needs to protect and safeguard livelihoods and society from food and nutrition insecurities including violent conflict and are inevitable in human relations as it acts as a motor of change.

The young herder milking the female goat while the other is looking.

Perception of pastoral communities on climate change: nature will always clean its systems. For pastoralists in Kenya and Uganda border corridor punishment that a rises from a change in environment is a sign of annoyance from the gods. For the pastoralist in Uganda (Karamojong) shrines that are always around forests and mountains are most sacred places were elders go to determine future of the society and the environment they live in.

Women and Climate change: As the effects of climate change begin to be felt heavily by different genders and with mixed response mechanisms among pastoralists the herders are the first always to detect the change through animal behaviours. Young herders and the course with Men always have to move with livestock for fodder scouting for long periods of time. It is said of recent mobility without any close proximity to the homestead takes 3 to 5 month of year for herders to stay in the rangeland location until the onset of the wet season.

The women in Kalapata sub county fetch water to support water security needs for their households

An article published by DW, 2019 titled “Climate Change and sexual violence; growing resource scarcity also increases the risk that women and girls will be victims of violence. With increasing drought and desertification in the global south, more and more water sources and wells are drying up. Fetching water is often a woman’s job, and if they’re forced to walk farther for that water the risk of sexual assault also increases, especially in regions characterized by armed gangs. Due to pastoral mobility women in pastoral communities are left with new and tougher responsibilities to execute that include tend for young children, lactating animals and elderly persons in absence male assistants (men and boys). The women tasks at this time round always is to ensure continued flow of nutritious food to the family, coordinate between the family at the homestead and the family at the rangelands, to secure food and health system of the family. Also a similar article posted by an organisation Eviro Wild, 2020 titled “How women pastoralists suffer climate change effects the most” noted that in Karamoja and Pokot communities of Uganda and Kenya climate change has not only enslaved women pastoralists but subjected them to continued retrogressive cultures such as Female Genital Mutilation.

The devastating impacts of climate changes are linked to drought, for instance, is an effect of climate change, leads to drying of fodder, rivers, women in most cases have been linked to daily exposure to rape and abductions conditions by bandits while they move long distances to find clean water, food (wild fruits) and firewood (energy sources). It is also noted that climate change has continued into forced female genital Mutilations (FGM) among the Pokot pastoralists in Kenya and Uganda. High cases of malnutrition have risen up among large size families because one person cannot be able to continue providing enough nutritious food and health needs for the family without support.

Addressing impacts of climate change in a pastoral context: Meanwhile countries in Africa are taking stiff efforts to manage the effects induced by climate change. Most of these issues are linked to inadequacy of stronger policy relationships with the public domain. For example environmental governance suffers from both a lack of political will, poor policy implementation, limited sensitization, and limited institutional resources … Therefore, it is fundamentally important to mainstream Climate Change in our interventions. The projects such as pastoral resilience to climate change funded by World Bank has components of enhancing natural resource management, peace building, One health programmes supports pastoralist to cope with increasing shocks and stress as a result of climate changes.

Pastoral women harvesting local pasture seeds in a pasture demonstration garden supported by DADO/ COPACSO/ Oxfam funded Right to Food project in Loyoro Kaabong

Civil society organizations have recently increased efforts of local communities’ capacity building, Utilizing spaces of advocacy on policy and development frameworks on resources and infrastructural development, sharing voices of communities and civic education to respond to climate change. However, as more actions are taken both at local, regional and international levels of engagement there is need for states, national development partners to increase efforts on engaging with pastoralists to identify development means through participatory development models, protection of the rights of pastoralists on natural resources such as land, water and traditional forests, recognize the traditional knowledge and include cultural shrines as part of endangered environment.

The environmental variability in dry lands and pastoral systems are leading to drought, desertification that are effects of climate change impacting livelihoods, Changing climate has forced the pastoralists to change their ways of lives—most are moving from entirely depending on livestock to mixed farming (small-scale agriculture), occasioned conflicts (ethnic clashes, cattle rustling) as communities fight for ownership and utilization of the limited available natural resources. The examples are Pokot and Ilchamus/Tugen communities in Baringo Kenya, Karamoja of Uganda, and Turkana of Kenya, Irregular weather patterns have provided a basis for illegal cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation among the Pokot community that go unnoticed, Loss of identity among the pastoral communities is becoming a reality because what pastoralists have been known for culture is slowly losing value. But at worst pastoral communities are advised to reduce their herds to manageable sizes that can thrive in the current climate state and adopt improved livestock breeds and practices, most of which can’t travel long distances and are not resilient enough to long periods of drought.

The most important action is to address knowledge gaps about climate and Climate Change in communities taking into consideration that pastoralists are not static to change but rather dynamic and quickly adjusting to change.

[1] Pastoral Development Pathways in Ethiopia; the Policy Environment and Critical Constraints, 2015; Mohammed Yimer, Department of Civic and Ethical Studies, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Arba Minch University. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5789pastoralism_development_pathways_rev2.pdf [2] 0DI 2009 Pastoralism and climate change Enabling adaptive capacity: [1] World bank 2014; Climate Change Is a Challenge for Sustainable Development,

Published by Arid Landscapes Initiative- ALIN Africa

Arid Landscape Initiative (ALIN Africa) is a think tank social group with a focus on ASALs biodiversity, pastoralism, natural resource governance, and policy development.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: