To ease your site search, article categories are at bottom of page.

August 29, 2011

Better grazing practices hold key to Kenyan droughts

by David Western

Failed rains have tipped the balance from poverty to starvation for 12 million in the Horn of Africa. But they don't explain the depth of the tragedy, any more than the growing threat of climate change explains the recent decades of rangeland deterioration.

Early warning systems have improved greatly since the Sahelian disaster of the 1970s. Several agencies, including the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), predicted severe drought in 2011.

But proxy measures don't predict the depth of droughts. In contrast, data we've collected in southern Kenya over the past four decades with community resource assessors not only show the necessity of monitoring pasture on the ground, but also point to the causes of worsening droughts.

Such data also show that a successful transition from faltering subsistence economies to self-sustaining development depends on addressing the human causes of the tragedy.

Pasture shortages

Pasture in Kenya has declined steadily since the 1980s, and has recovered more slowly with each successive drought as pressures on land have grown. Livestock cycles now determine pasture abundance and the depth of drought far better than rainfall.

Traditional pastures set aside for periods of drought were exhausted by years of compressed grazing long before the rains failed in 2009, with the result that pasture shortages have grown more common and last longer, despite no drop in rainfall. As a result, Kenya's rangelands were abandoned as herders dispersed to the highlands and into neighbouring states in search of forage. Two-thirds of their livestock died in the process, yet this drew little attention in the media or from politicians.

Droughts are now spreading faster and persisting longer as herders move farther in search of pasture, and social bonds and networks break down. Pastures are recovering slower as herders and speculators truck in and re-stock herds with animals from elsewhere.

Traditional practices

Traditional grazing practices in the rangelands demonstrate the adaptability of pastoralism, and gives pointers to how the problems in the rangelands can be addressed.

Pastoralism is an efficient way of using land in arid regions. Like wildlife herds, herders get larger milk yields and higher rates of calf survival by migrating to the greenest pastures and using drought reserves during harsh times.

Seasonal livestock movements give pastures time to recover, enabling them to support large herds and a high human population in dry regions. Wide social networks, as well as close reciprocal ties among neighbours and neighbouring clans, insulate the individual herder against bad times.

All this allows herders to spread their risk and restock their herds faster than a solitary rancher in fenced rangelands...

Systemic problems

So why is there a now crisis in eastern Africa?

The capacity of pastoral economies has been overwhelmed by a ten-fold rise in pastoral population over the last century. Per capita livestock holdings have shrunk, and pastoralist lands and water resources have been annexed for parks, farms and towns. Shrinking lands, restricted movements and persistent grazing are weakening grass growth.

In short, the environmental problems faced by the pastoral lands are systemic.

But 2011 should not have been the tragedy it is: a press release by the Kenya Meteorological Department, for example, shows that four of six stations in northern Kenya had higher rainfall deficits in the 1980s and 1990s than in the last two years.

The current tragedy stems from the remoteness and marginalisation of the northern pastoralists, as well as the effects of civil war, banditry, soaring food prices, mismanagement of national grain reserves and political failure.

Foundations for development

There are no quick fixes for these drought-prone areas. The main priority is to get food and health care to the starving millions. But beyond emergency relief, we must lay the foundations of sustainable development in the marginal lands.

Development will falter unless built on two pillars. First, the land and resource rights of marginalised pastoralists that were usurped by governments must be restored. Property rights will give back to pastoralists the security of tenure needed to conserve resources against outsiders, to counter droughts, to invest in the land and to leverage capital inputs for development. Pastoralists in southern Kenya who have been granted such rights are developing fast, and famine has receded in this region, despite severe droughts.

Second, the institutions and governance that underpin development must be based on common interests. The land-owners associations that have sprung up in Kenya over the last decade show how locally-adapted, self-assembling governance can promote development. These associations have re-established grass banks and seasonal grazing regimes, conservancies, ecotourism, cattle associations, enterprise groups, community scouts, and resources assessors, as well as Lale'enok information centres that gather and deploy information about development opportunities.

Pastoralists are also benefitting from modern technology. For example, cell phones link up community members, and provide both market information and mobile banking facilities. The landowner associations have now come together as the Kenya Rangeland Coalition to mobilise community conservation development initiatives.

If these two pillars of development are built on strong reciprocal ties, mutual interests and the skill of local communities in governing their own resources, famine will recede, the economic transition will be self-sustaining, and climate change will become more manageable.

David Western is Chairman of the African Conservation Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya.


SciDev.net

Article Categories

AGRA agribusiness agrochemicals agroforestry aid Algeria aloe vera Angola aquaculture banana barley beans beef bees Benin biodiesel biodiversity biof biofuel biosafety biotechnology Botswana Brazil Burkina Faso Burundi CAADP Cameroon capacity building cashew cassava cattle Central African Republic cereals certification CGIAR Chad China CIMMYT climate change cocoa coffee COMESA commercial farming Congo Republic conservation agriculture cotton cow pea dairy desertification development disease diversification DRCongo drought ECOWAS Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia EU EUREPGAP events/meetings exports fa fair trade FAO fertilizer finance fisheries floods flowers food security fruit Gabon Gambia gender issues Ghana GM crops grain green revolution groundnuts Guinea Bissau Guinea Conakry HIV/AIDS honey hoodia horticulture ICIPE ICRAF ICRISAT IFAD IITA imports India infrastructure innovation inputs investment irrigation Ivory Coast jatropha kenaf keny Kenya khat land deals land management land reform Lesotho Liberia Libya livestock macadamia Madagascar maize Malawi Mali mango marijuana markets Mauritania Mauritius mechanization millet Morocco Mozambique mushroom Namibia NEPAD Niger Nigeria organic agriculture palm oil pastoralism pea pest control pesticides pineapple plantain policy issues potato poultry processing productivity Project pyrethrum rai rain reforestation research rice rivers rubber Rwanda SADC Sao Tome and Principe seed seeds Senegal sesame Seychelles shea butter Sierra Leone sisal soil erosion soil fertility Somalia sorghum South Africa South Sudan Southern Africa spices standards subsidies Sudan sugar sugar cane sustainable farming Swaziland sweet potato Tanzania tariffs tea tef tobacco Togo tomato trade training Tunisia Uganda UNCTAD urban farming value addition value-addition vanilla vegetables water management weeds West Africa wheat World Bank WTO yam Zambia Zanzibar zero tillage Zimbabwe

  © 2007 Africa News Network design by Ourblogtemplates.com

Back to TOP