Analysis: Why pastoral, Agro-pastoral livelihoods in Horn of Africa face an inevitable threat

Hussien Mohamed Yusuf

Addis Abeba, September 24/2019 – The IGAD region is one of the most food-insecure regions in the world. Prolonged and widespread drought is a recurrent feature of the arid and semi-arid lands that is exacerbated by climate change, advancing desertification and ecological degradation. These harsh ecological circumstances contribute to severe hardships among the affected communities including dislocation, poverty, persistent hunger and conflicts within and across boundaries in the region.

In addition to the recurrent natural and human-induced shocks from which vulnerable populations currently suffer, climate research predicts an increase in the frequency, severity and extent of extreme weather events in the region. In combination with political, economic and conflict-related shocks, these events threaten livelihoods and food and nutrition security, undermining development gains and eroding resilience to future shocks. This is particularly evident in countries or areas where government systems are unable to provide adequate support to those affected.

The intensity and frequency of climate-driven natural disasters and conflicts are increasing. One drought will follow another, every time stripping away the limited assets of poor and vulnerable people, robbing them of their self-reliance and wounding their humanity and dignity. Across the region, expanding needs, competing priorities and limited resources mean that timely and effective interventions are essential to ensure that the impacts of droughts are limited before they can grow into even more costly humanitarian disasters

Climatic shocks across the Eastern Africa region has been increasing in terms of both severity and frequency during recent years, aggravated by desertification, land degradation. In the Horn’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL), pastoralism and agropastoralism are the dominant livelihood systems, for which pasture and water scarcity is a constant challenge. Pastoralists and agropastoralists are among the most affected by what has become a chronic vulnerability to food insecurity, economic and environmental shocks, and intercommunal resource-based conflicts.

Climate change and the combined effects of soil erosion and reduced vegetation cover/deforestation is also leading to biodiversity loss with its longer consequences of loss of indigenous knowledge and information systems on pastoral production and natural resource management, veterinary knowledge, weather forecasting etc.

Consecutive droughts have led to chronic water scarcity across the area, leading to acute water crises. Though indirectly, climate change is perceived to have led to the erosion of traditional institutions and the overall disorientation of environmental governance, leading to environmental degradation and increased conflicts, especially on land. As competition for resources increase, equally conflicts arise between and among herders, charcoal producers and wildlife. Climate change has also exacerbated human-animal conflicts. The scarcity of wild foods and pasture is driving these animals to adopt aggressive grazing and food collection habits which bring them into conflict with humans. As a result of climate change, pastoralists’ way of life is undergoing great transformation and the trend is moving towards higher vulnerability, loss of solidarity mechanisms for coping with droughts, destitution and dropping off from pastoral life.
Pastoral production system depends on the availability of natural resources which are sensitive to climate change.

What complicates their situation is that pastoralists do not have a diversified pool of resources to draw from, which makes them more vulnerable. Due to the prevailing vulnerability of pastoralists as well as uncertainties over the pastoral productivity, many households have diversified their means of livelihoods to cope with climate change. Commercialization of milk is now common and many pastoralists have switched to charcoal production to compensate for economic losses from pastoralism, but are aware that this will also not be sustainable in the long run. An increasing number of pastoralists who lost their animals are leaving livestock production altogether, making their way to major urban centers. The pattern of land use is undergoing a great transformation. Some individuals have resorted to fencing communal land (enclosures) for their own exclusive use to ensure continuous access to grazing land as well as farming

Research in the Eastern Africa region has shown the critical role that milk plays in providing key nutrients to children in pastoral areas. However, during difficult years with below-average rainfall, children’s’ access to milk can be constrained, resulting in rapidly increasing malnutrition rates. To avoid the devastating consequences that can result, urgent actions are required during these years of crisis to preserve pastoral livelihoods and ensure stable access to food, especially milk for young children.

Experts in this area recommend a number of policy options and strategies towards climate change. They also propose need for policy advocacy at national and international levels on climate change issues as well as increasing efficiency and productivity in water use; soil conservation and flood reduction; sustainable agriculture; promoting economic diversification and alternative livelihoods. There is also the need for research and development of innovative solutions to the challenges affecting pastoralism.

The other major areas of intervention needed to adapt to the climate change include, among others, early actions to be implemented before the drought negatively impacts livelihoods and the food security and nutrition status of affected households. Rapid response actions, implemented to protect assets and ensure access to food.

Integrated early warning, including food security monitoring activities, to track the evolution of climatic conditions and impacts. AS


Editor’s Note: The writer did his Masters Degree ( MSc) in Environment and Climate Change Management and has worked in the Pastoral and agro-Pastoral areas of Somali Region and Somaliland  for many years.  He can be reached at

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