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A new approach to climate resilient drylands agriculture

A product of research from drylands counties – including Isiolo and Turkana, both scheduled to receive AfDB funds – and drawing from experiences of pastoralists and farmers in India and China and elsewhere, Valuing Variability seeks to challenge those who see the drylands as inherently vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty.

The book, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), argues that improved agricultural productivity in dryland environments is possible by working with climatic uncertainty rather than seeking to control it – a view that runs contrary to decades of development practices in arid and semi-arid lands.

The Panel will discuss – among other issues – how the book’s findings can be applied to the Kenyan interventions in the ASALs. Key highlights include:

  • Improved agricultural productivity is possible by working with climatic uncertainty rather than seeking to control it
  • Agricultural investment controlling dryland environments and land fragmentation has undermined local economies and livelihoods - creating inequity, degradation and conflict.
  • ASALs/drylands can be food secure if policy makers and development agents would stop ‘controlling’ drylands (for instance through imposition of inappropriate moist highland agriculture models), and instead provide the necessary investment in consultation with local people whose design safeguards the natural resilience of the drylands and promotes an alternative path to productivity that builds on the natural comparative advantage of the ASALs and thereby protects the environment.

Hon. Mohammed Elmi MP Tarbaj Constituency in Wajir County said: “In such a fluid environment, policy-makers and practitioners need to start ‘seeing like pastoralists’ if they are to find the right way forward. Family farmers and herders see the inherent variability of the drylands as a resource to be valued, rather than a problem to be avoided: they work with their surroundings to manage variability, they do not seek to control it. Policymakers will benefit from better understanding the way in which pastoral societies successfully manage risk.”4

The team behind the book hope that by sharing examples of how dryland communities undertake agricultural production that embrace climatic variability, dryland economies may yet reach their true potential.

Hon. Ekwee Ethuro Speaker Senate Kenya said: “There is need to understand pastoral societies differently – to recognise the potential, but also to appreciate that this could be enhanced if there were more equitable investment in public goods. The 'foundations for development' - i.e. security, infrastructure, human capital - the basics that any production system needs to thrive. At present the policy and investment 'playing field' is very far from level. By reading this book we also welcome the diversity of lives and livelihoods and the richness of the communities reflected within its pages. This book provides new and compelling community perspectives that policy-led strategies for the drylands need to adapt if they are to be truly successful: they should be rooted in integration and flexibility, focus on relationships between people and the environment.”5

Many dryland people know how to live with climate change and work with variable rainfall. They recognise variability as an inherent feature of their landscapes and use it productively for generating the foods we all eat.

Mr. James Oduor, CEO of NDMA said: “This book reminds us that the strongest tool at the disposal of dryland peoples in managing climate uncertainty is their own resourcefulness. Pastoralists and dryland farmers are threatened by climate change not because dryland ecosystems are inherently vulnerable, but because those systems have not been properly understood by outsiders. Our role should be to support dryland producers as they work with variability, and then deal with the risks that lie beyond their reach in ways that reinforce their chosen strategies.”

The launch is co-hosted by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), the Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative (DLCI), the Adaptation Consortium and funded by the Ford Foundation.

For more information, interviewees and images, please contact:
Jane Kiiru, ADA Consortium: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone: +254 721 629 251 Katharine Mansell, IIED: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone: +44 (0)20 3463 7399