On 8 February, the Centre for Research and Development in the Drylands, the Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action at ILRI and the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University convened a dialogue among researchers, practitioners, and policy shapers to join up efforts to build pastoralist resilience to shocks.

Aiming to overcome disconnects between policy and practice, the discussion identified areas where coordinated and joint actions can lead to early warning, anticipatory action, humanitarian response and resilience-building efforts better matched to pastoral contexts and realities.

Despite massive investments in response and interventions, extreme climate-related shocks in the drylands continue to be associated with persistent, widespread vulnerabilities. It is important that we interrogate missing links in dryland policy frameworks, especially how they can be more attuned to the social relations and networks that underpin pastoralists’ response abilities – Hussein Tadicha Wario, Executive Director, CRDD

Many of the most pressing climate adaptation challenges facing Africa are concentrated in the drylands. They cover two-thirds of Africa, are home to half a billion people, are warming at up to twice the global average; yet they contain enormous natural and human assets.

Drought, as well as other shocks like disease outbreaks, floods or conflicts, has long been a characteristic feature of these drylands. Pastoral communities have dealt with such shocks and uncertainties for generations, building strong networks and collective action, flexing their livelihoods, proactively reacting to risks and opportunities while stewarding landscapes and biodiversity and producing livestock and other products for urban markets.

Still, they remain vulnerable. Their capacities to respond, recover and build resilience in the face of these shocks is hampered – by the recurring and more intensive nature of the shocks themselves that stretches their coping strategies, by policy misconceptions, for example that drylands are marginal or empty lands or that pastoralists need to diversify out of pastoralism if they are to be resilient, and by incomplete, incorrect and negative understanding of the complex nature of pastoral systems.

These continuing vulnerabilities partly result from disconnects in policy and practice that marginalise drylands and rangelands and overlook the knowledge and expertise of the people in them.

Paradoxically, they also exist against a backdrop of decades of multi-billion dollar investments in drylands early warning, anticipatory action, humanitarian response, social safety nets and other resilience-building efforts by national governments, non-governmental organizations, and international bilateral and multilateral donors. While these activities have had a broadly positive impact across the region, recurrent drought continues to erode livelihoods, regularly resulting in famine-like conditions and crisis levels of hunger in pastoralist areas.

Recent shifts in some regional and national debates provide space for optimism. We are seeing a wider acknowledgement that pastoralism is an adaptive and effective livelihood strategy in uncertain and high variability settings. There is also a growing recognition that pastoralist communities and their knowledge are critical assets that must be included into early action-early warning approaches and practices.

This one-day dialogue brought together practitioners and researchers to take stock of the disconnects and determine where opportunities exist to advance this agenda by working together and better connecting policy with practice.

In the face of climate and economic uncertainties, it is important to question policy contexts for development and humanitarian action in pastoral areas. We need to identify practical and joint actions towards early warning, anticipatory action, humanitarian response and resilience-building efforts that better match pastoral realities – Rahma Hassan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Tufts University

Recurring and frequent crises facing pastoral regions require us to revisit our understandings of the complex nature of pastoral systems – and the contributions of early warning, anticipatory action and resilience-building to respond to shocks and disasters. One essential action we need to take is to minimize pervasive disconnects between policy and practice – Guyo Malicha Roba, Head of the Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action

About the co-convenors

The Centre for Research and Development in the Drylands with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is implementing a project titled ‘Resilience from below: Exploring local constructs of ‘resilience’ in the face of chronic uncertainty in the Drylands’, which aims to identify emerging alternative narratives towards resilience and climate adaptation in drought-affected rangelands and pastoralist areas, testing out approaches to building resilience ‘from below’ in pastoral areas.  The project will document local pastoralist practices along with local assessments of their efficacy and reliability, aiming to achieve a deeper understanding of ‘high-reliability’ management processes in pastoral settings, establish a ‘community of resilience practice’ within and between the study areas, foster experience-sharing among ‘high-reliability’ professionals within and across project sites, engage government, NGO and donor stakeholders involved in ‘resilience’ programming, and help build the capacities of next-generation researchers.

The Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action, an international partnership led by the University of Edinburgh collaborating with the International Livestock Research Institute, Save the Children UK, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and Community Jameel, with a hub at ILRI in Kenya, combines the local knowledge and concerns of communities facing on-the-ground threats of hunger with innovations in data science and humanitarian action; teaming up to devise solutions that can predict, prepare for, and overcome climate-related food security and malnutrition challenges in dryland areas. The Observatory convenes dialogue, generates evidence, catalyses collaboration, develops capacities and communicates for change to improve the lives and livelihoods of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in East Africa.

The Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University, with support from the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Action, implements a project ‘Re-examining Early Warning Systems and Humanitarian Responses in Pastoral Areas’ which aims to identify concrete recommendations for the humanitarian community to ensure that early warning systems and humanitarian actions are better attuned and more responsive to pastoral realities. The project starting point is that early warning systems and responses do not adequately incorporate an understanding of pastoralism and drylands into their approaches. It will bring together the perspectives of communities, institutions and researchers investigating early warning systems in pastoral areas and their understandings of pastoralism and drylands, emerging issues, in particular the seasonality of malnutrition, the evolution of crisis dynamics, and the potential for localization, and ways forward to improve early warning and humanitarian responses to complex crises in pastoral areas.