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Modernity has resulted in the erosion of historical natural resources management practices without providing a viable alternative for managing competing demands from different groups.  This has contributed to loss of animals and people from conflict over pasture and water especially in the Arid and Semi Arid Lands of Kenya. Loss of the rangelands to other uses and the increasing fragmentation of common land is slowly but surely reducing the area left for pasturing livestock.

This is undermining pastoralists’ time-tested strategies to produce high value foods – milk and meat – under conditions of rainfall variability and to respond to extreme events such as drought.  Today we are seeing changes to the climate.  The seasons seem to be shifting with greater uncertainty of when the rains will come, or end and increasing events of more erratic and violent rainfall followed by severe drought. The current formal natural resource management system and formal administrative and justice system are not in tune with these changes and in many respects are undermining the ability of local people to respond to climate change.

Discussions on mass irrigation to turn arid counties into agricultural productive areas have also emerged in the recent past.  Consequently, some counties such as Isiolo have bought tractors in readiness for agricultural production and in the process shift the economic livelihood of the communities from pastoralism to agriculture. But is this what the community wants? 

Or is it even appropriate for a dryland county like Isiolo, which is a major livestock, producing area supplying highly nutritional milk and meat not only to the local population but also as far as Nairobi.  And this is being done with very little government investment or support.  Large-scale irrigation of the drylands is very costly and highly unsustainable often causing major environmental damage as shown by past schemes in Turkana and Tana River as well as in other dryland countries like Sudan and even South-Eastern Australia.

Muhamud Sheikh Mohamed, a Dedha elder endorses the Dedha system, a community driven institution among the Boran pastoralists that ensures the rationale management of the rangelands to ensure livestock find pasture and water in both the rainy and the dry seasons, and even during drought years. He believes that this system if supported by the county government will allow the community to better manage climate change.

He states that in the past the system was highly recognized by the community and through it they were able to mitigate conflict and save their animals from drought. Access to pasture by other counties was also negotiated prior to their migration. Through the Dedha system, resources were demarcated and land preserved for the drought, dry and wet seasons. He notes that this system was successful, as the communities were able to take and enforce decisions in response to what was happening locally with respect to water and pasture conditions.

“During the Dedha reign, herds were divided into two, with lactating animals grazing near the homestead whereas the rest of the animals were taken further a field in search of pasture and water” he said.

“When herding the animals, two people were assigned to collect animal dung from the water point to ensure that the water remained clean. If and when the water was finished, the Dedha elders would consult amongst themselves and recommend a different watering point. This process would go on until the drought was over,” he added.

Through the Isiolo County Adaptation Fund (ICAF), the Adaptation Committees have revived the Dedha customary natural resource management system to govern the use of their resources. The revival was informed by the resilience assessment surveys undertaken by county government staff. These identified that the biggest impediment for communities to withstand the recurring drought is poor natural resource governance.  As part of the process of reviving the Dedha system, the community has also conducted cross border resource sharing meetings with the Counties of Wajir and Garissa to agree with pastoral communities from these areas consensual rules for reciprocal access. This is essential for effective resource sharing and mitigation of conflict.

“Our animals survived the August 2014 drought due to better management of resources. We didn’t receive any rains for the last two seasons and no animals died due to reserving our dry grazing area well. When the drought period came, people went to graze in this area”, Muhamud Sheikh Mohamed added.

The Isiolo County government has recognized the importance of the system and is currently in the process of passing a Bill that will give the Dedha’s authority to manage the resources. “We have traditional grazing patterns that include places for the wet season, drought season and dry season grazing the areas that are well demarcated.

We have collected all the data and what is remaining is to formalize it and create the structure to govern”, said Suleiman Guyo, County Executive – Agriculture, livestock, Fisheries and physical planning - Isiolo County. “Once we have the areas and institutions to govern, the community will greatly benefit. Pasture will flourish, animals will be healthy, and there will be control of influx and diseases”, he added.

A recent study undertaken by the Adaptation Consortium has identified the following benefits as result of the revival of the Dedha System: Reduced livestock mortality by 60% as compared to previous years of droughts; Community empowerment, and well managed resources through clearly defined and adhered to rules of the customary institution of Dedha; reduced disease eruptions due to controlled livestock influx from other wards and counties. 

This has reduced household expenses on drugs by 40%, and resulted in a constant supply of milk during the dry season leading to improved nutrition for the elderly and children, and reduced need for pastoral households to sell animals when prices are low to buy expensive cereals.

“You can teach people how to build houses and roads, how to perform operations in hospitals but you can not teach people to govern themselves - that they should learn themselves,” said Daoud Tari. “When you empower Dedha you empower the whole community, you make them resilient against all shocks of drought,” he added.

By Jane Kiiru

The fragmentation of the rangelands due to the sprouting of informal settlements is exacerbating pastoralists’ ability to manage the increasingly variable production of pasture due to more erratic rainfall. Successive droughts have led to diminishing of pasture and eventual pastoral drop outs that engage in informal settlement along the wet season grazing zones.

This will have long term effects of rangeland degradation and fresh pasture mutilation. Pastoral communities are accustomed to dealing with drought and erratic rainfall and have traditionally utilized systems and practices that minimized the impact of climate-related shocks to their livelihoods.

Recently, however, the impacts of economic and political factors are combining with the changing climate to increase vulnerability for poor and marginalized households. The situation is particularly serious for women, who face additional social, cultural and political constraints to resource access and adaptive decision-making. As a result, some households have transitioned into an agro-pastoral way of life, combining traditional livestock rearing with crop production and other economic activities. 

While this shift represents an innovation for these communities, it is also driving the development of sparsely distributed permanent settlements on wet season potential pasture zones thereby exposing them to new risks and a different set of challenges in securing their livelihoods.

In Wajir, the impacts of climate change are already being felt and communities are seeking ways to adapt to the changes and to build resilient livelihoods. The adaptive capacity of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists is dynamic, affected by a range of social, environmental, economic and political variables, many of them beyond the control of the community. 

Analysis of vulnerability must go beyond exposure and sensitivity to climate impacts. It must explore the different dimensions of adaptive capacity and identify barriers that communities face in applying their existing capacity to respond to climate impacts for this will lead to the identification of adaptation options that reinforce and build upon existing adaptive capacity.

Residents of Wajir County have been engaging in consultative meetings on how to sustain their livelihoods in the face of multiple, evolving challenges. Climate change is among the most serious of these challenges, exacerbating existing problems, exposing people to new and evolving risks and creating further complexity in decision-making.  

In order for people to respond to and anticipate changes and to engage in adaptive decision-making, they require information, knowledge and skills that enable them to actively address climate risks on their livelihoods. Adaptation efforts must aim to facilitate access to information and capacity build communities while also working with institutions and policies to ensure an enabling environment for local adaptation efforts.

Within communities and households, women and men have differing levels of adaptive capacity. Somali society places limitations on women’s voice, movement and participation in public and household decision-making, which in turn creates constraints on their adaptive capacity.  This limits the ability of families and communities to realize the potential contribution of women’s specific knowledge and skills to adaptation efforts. Analysis of vulnerability and adaptive capacity must uncover these differences and build understanding of the specific roles, responsibilities and challenges faced by women and men in securing their livelihoods and adapting to climate change.

Arid Lands Development Focus (ALDEF) under the Adaptation Consortium are supporting a process to create a landmark shift of mindsets toward resilience of pastoralism in the future.  This is being achieved through the formation of the Ward Adaptation Planning Committees (WAPC) as a platform to ignite and propel climate justice in face of pastoral rangeland defacement.

ALDEF Kenya with support of the county government is on verge of tabling the County Climate Change Adaptation Fund Bill - CCCAF bill in the county parliament to trigger the journey of transforming from emergency to resilience, to realize informed decision-making on public investment (to be funded by CCCAF basket). ALDEF Kenya enable county government planners to undertake resilience assessment to understand the community needs in relation to climate change.

The resilience assessment methodology is designed to empower communities, men and women, to articulate the factors that with proper investment will build their resilience. Once the bill is passed, it will enable Wajir county harvest and harness the highly anticipated Global Green Climate Fund and other funds to neutralize climate change effects locally.

Mohamed Turane


Governance Project Officer