At last week’s COP28 food systems pavilion session on ‘Land, Livestock and Livelihoods – Early actions for adaptation and resilience-building from Africa’s rangelands and drylands‘, Laureen Ongesa from RECONCILE hosted a small group discussion around the potential of pastoralism and priority intervetions for East Africa. 

Here she reports on key points from the discussion.

Pastoralist response and adaptation to climate change

Practicing pastoralism in itself is a response and adaptation to climate change; it is a rational use of the drylands. Pastoralists respond to and use, even choose and profit from, variability of rangelands in a number of ways: Thus, pastoralists use mobility to respond quickly to fluctuations in resource availability, dictated by the drylands’ scarce and unpredictable rainfall.

They also employ a number of highly specialized risk spreading strategies to safeguard their herds against drought, floods, disease and social unrest. These strategies include, building up herd sizes as insurance against times of hardship, splitting herds across different locations to spread risk, keeping different species and breeds and loaning surplus animals to family and friends. They ensure rational use of the natural resource base and also develop and strengthen social relations as a form of social capital. Lastly, pastoralist are diversifying their livelihoods and maximizing nature-based solutions for adaptation and resilience.

How land rights support pastoral livelihoods and adaptation

Pastoral communities face increasing pressure on their livelihoods due to depletion and degradation of their productive resources. They also face pressures on their land as a result of misconceptions about pastoralism, changing demographics, urbanization, climate change, and environmental degradation. Secure customary/communal tenure rights is the central axis of this institutional structure and sustainable pastoralism can define the rights over the main economic asset of pastoralists: grasslands, water points, mobility routes etc.

Such collective land tenure regimes guarantee access and managed use of rangelands for sustainable livelihoods system year round, including allocation of minimum land area suitable for extensive production systems, allowing for access to resources, etc. Policies therefore, should promote collective land tenure regimes that provide the institutional basis for more sustainable production systems and emphasize support for the maintenance of collective land tenure regimes and improving community mechanisms to manage land under collective access in pastoral areas.

Priorities for governments and the international community

  • Promote better understanding of the adaptive capacity of pastoralism and of different pastoralist groups to climate change;
  • Establish climate foresight and integrated it into planning for pastoralist development;
  • Increase and improve awareness of how to access and use climate projections and data at different levels of planning and implementation;
  • Calculate the full socio-economic costs and benefits estimates for different adaptation strategies involving pastoralists. The costs and benefits should consider livelihoods, ecosystems and wider economic contributions;
  • In general, policy ‘action’ needs to be improved – many good policies and commitments exist but have little action taken;
  • Build pastoralists voices through national, regional and global initiatives like the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists;
  • The returns – in terms of enhanced adaptive capacities – on investments in pastoralism for income generation (through better market access), human and animal health, education and information provision, and empowerment of local adaptive decision-making, need to be assessed and factored into adaptation policy development. Especially now that carbon credit conversion has gained traction in the pastoral lands.
  • Scale up successful pilot community-based adaptation projects with pastoralists and other vulnerable dryland communities to ensure the documentation and rapid replication of these activities across communities;
  • Action research is required to build and share knowledge on climate adaptation by pastoralists and to share and disseminate learning to key regional and national institutions;
  • Regional cooperation must be advanced to help scale up successful initiatives and address pastoral development issues.

Read a full report of the session.