Pastoralism and climate change: Enabling adaptive capacity

Research reports and studies
March 2009

The effects of climate change on the drylands of the Horn of Africa pose particular 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. However, the drylands have under-exploited development
potential and the dominant land use system – pastoralism – has unique adaptive characteristics that, together with the right enabling policies, suggest that climate change can be adapted to, and development can be achieved.

The study on which this Synthesis Paper is based argues that, of all the natural resource-based land uses in the drylands, pastoralism functions best within the prevalent context of wide rainfall variability and unpredictability. With the right policies, investment and support, pastoralism presents a logical adaptation route in areas of increased climatic variability, and has an important role to play where other livelihoods are likely to fail. However, pastoralists are increasingly vulnerable to drought and other shocks as a result of policies at odds with the unique needs of the drylands, and years of poor and inadequate investment in the development of these areas. Pastoralists’ resilience to drought and their adaptive capacity must be built upon and supported. Evidence suggests that, alongside improved drought preparedness planning, disaster management structures and risk reduction efforts, it would be more effective to enable and strengthen the inherent adaptive capacity of pastoralists, finding ways to encourage their autonomous adaptation, rather than providing adaptation strategies for them.

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