The Observatory is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Guyo Malicha Roba as Head of the Jameel Observatory, based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya.  He takes up his role this week, coinciding with the first face to face meeting of Observatory partners and collaborators in Nairobi.

Here, he introduces himself and some of his ideas on the mandate and contributions of the Observatory.

First, tell us about your experience and education

I am a natural resources scientist and livestock market specialist by training. Before joining ILRI and the Observatory, I worked for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA).

At IFAD, I designed, supervised and provided analytical support to livestock, value chain and natural resource management programmes. As senior program officer at IUCN’s Global Drylands Initiative, I provided technical leadership, project implementation support and contributed to the strategic growth of the programme. At KIPPRA, I researched policy issues in energy and infrastructure, providing policy advice to the government and private sector.  

Of special relevance to the Observatory, I come from the Borana pastoralist community in Northern Kenya so this gives me specific technical and cultural insights into pastoralist and agro-pastoralist livelihoods in the region. I have a PhD in agricultural sciences from Universität Kassel, an MSc in Energy Studies from the University of Dundee and a BSc in environmental planning and management from Kenyatta University.

What motivated you join the Observatory and where do you see the Observatory making most difference in terms of food security, nutrition and resilience against climate shocks? 

I was motivated by the potential contribution of the work of the Observatory at the nexus of policy and research on important matters of food security and malnutrition. The Observatory, with strong partnerships and requisite resources, has the potential to fix weak points in climate forecasting, long-term preparedness and emergency response to climate related food crisis that is common in our region.

In your recent ‘Elephant’ piece, you argue that the humanitarian and development communities are too often ‘reacting’ to droughts rather than managing their effects. Why is it so difficult to be more proactive? 

I attribute this primarily to two reasons. First is the weak Early Warning (EW) system that does not systematically document and timely report the drought situation(s) in different areas. The second reason is that EW is not systematically linked to response actions. The absence of a standing drought response fund/finance that enables agencies to take actions where and when required, invariably makes the actions be one step behind the drought. Without assured funding, it is difficult to plan, finance and execute “off the shelf projects” along the drought cycle.

The Observatory name calls for ‘early action’ for food security – in the face of climate shocks. How do you see this notion of ‘earliness’ shaping the Observatory’s work?  

From my viewpoint, early action and any possibilities to offer early interventions are the weakest aspects of drought response in the region. So, if the Observatory can build knowledge and understanding around this, it will contribute immensely to drought interventions. This should be one strategic pillar around which the work of the Observatory should be built (e.g improving systems for forecasting, data to provide accurate forecasts, etc).

Where, and how, do you see opportunities for community involvement to better drive prediction as well as response to climate shocks? 

Alongside his technical roles, Guyo is himself a livestock keeper

The opportunities for dryland communities are multiple. First, we need to integrate information from their indigenous prediction, such as animal behaviours, interpretation of weather/famine prediction discerned from animal intestine during ritual slaughter etc., as this will complement the scientific data from meteorology and Earth Observation. The second is to use their ecological data on the state of rangelands and forage conditions to correctly interpret food security and animal welfare in the short and long-run. Third, dryland communities themselves know important facts that can help shape appropriate drought responses, such as where required water points can be used to fix mismatch between water and pasture and vice versa. 

The Observatory brings together a mix of partners from research, academia, evaluation, and humanitarian action. What opportunities do you see this collaboration offering an area where there are already many people acting? 

The approach centred on the Community of Practice is an important “laboratory” where ideas can be explored, distilled and advanced. As such the rich knowledge and experiences from a multiplicity of partners will make the work of the Observatory enriching as well as evidence or demand based. This is one advantage that we should draw from such diverse partners. The second opportunity is that we could build on the different spheres of influence of the partners to leverage resources, networks and enhance the visibility of the Observatory’s work.

Finally, you yourself come from a pastoral region in Kenya. If you were meeting your younger self, how would you explain the relevance of early action and the Observatory? 

This is a very interesting question. Early action is primarily recognizing and handling the risk of drought, rather than waiting for it to affect us. In my childhood, pastoralists largely relied on their own predictions – which are fairly accurate – and they took actions such as outmigration, culling animals etc. They hardly relied on external interventions. The emergence of external drought interventions has weakened such pastoralist driven early actions of my younger days. Unfortunately, the State and humanitarian early actions are unreliable and occasionally delays have been costly to people and animals. This is a critical problem than needs to be fixed and the work of the Observatory is not only timely but will go a long way to advance the reliability of early actions. I feel the Observatory should aim to fix inconsistencies and inaccuracies of early warning systems, build partnerships for early actions and take on policy discussions with the aim to build sustainable solutions to drought responses.

Where can we find some recent articles and publications you have written?

Guyo is also on Twitter:

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