A new approach to climate resilient drylands agriculture

A new book which aims to provide fresh perspectives on drylands development will be launched in Nairobi on 28 April

News, 27 April 2015
Isiolo County, Kenya: dryland areas make up more than 80 per cent of Kenya's land and are home to some four million pastoralists (Photo: James Patison/IIED)

Isiolo County, Kenya: dryland areas make up more than 80 per cent of Kenya's land and are home to some four million pastoralists (Photo: James Patison/IIED)

The new book will be launched at a press conference on Tuesday 28 April at 7am at the Intercontinental Hotel Nairobi. 1

The Kenyan National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) and the Pastoralist Parliamentary Group (PPG) are launching the publication, entitled 'Valuing variability: new perspectives on climate-resilient drylands development'.

A product of research from drylands counties, drawing from experiences of pastoralists and farmers in Kenya, India, China and elsewhere, 'Valuing Variability' seeks to challenge those who see the drylands as inherently vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty.

The book, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), argues that improved agricultural productivity in dryland environments is possible by working with climatic uncertainty rather than seeking to control it – a view that runs contrary to decades of development practices in arid and semi-arid lands.

A panel of speakers will discuss – among other issues – how the book's findings can be applied to the Kenyan interventions in the arid and semi-arid (ASAL) counties. Key highlights include:

  • Improved agricultural productivity is possible by working with climatic uncertainty rather than seeking to control it
  • Agricultural investment controlling dryland environments and land fragmentation has undermined local economies and livelihoods creating inequity, degradation and conflict.
  • ASALs/drylands can be food secure if policymakers and development agents would stop 'controlling' drylands (for instance through imposition of inappropriate moist highland agriculture models), and instead provide the necessary investment in consultation with local people whose design safeguards the natural resilience of the drylands and promotes an alternative path to productivity that builds on the natural comparative advantage of the ASALs and thereby protects the environment.

Hon. Mohammed Elmi MP Tarbaj Constituency in Wajir County says: "In such a fluid environment, policymakers and practitioners need to start 'seeing like pastoralists' if they are to find the right way forward.

"Family farmers and herders see the inherent variability of the drylands as a resource to be valued, rather than a problem to be avoided: they work with their surroundings to manage variability, they do not seek to control it. Policymakers will benefit from better understanding the way in which pastoral societies successfully manage risk."

The team behind the book hopes that by sharing examples of how dryland communities undertake agricultural production that embrace climatic variability, dryland economies may yet reach their true potential.

Hon. Ekwee Ethuro Speaker Senate Kenya says: "There is need to understand pastoral societies differently – to recognise the potential, but also to appreciate that this could be enhanced if there were more equitable investment in public goods. The 'foundations for development'  i.e. security, infrastructure, human capital - the basics that any production system needs to thrive. 

"At present the policy and investment 'playing field' is very far from level. By reading this book we also welcome the diversity of lives and livelihoods and the richness of the communities reflected within its pages. This book provides new and compelling community perspectives that policy-led strategies for the drylands need to adapt if they are to be truly successful: they should be rooted in integration and flexibility, focus on relationships between people and the environment."

Many dryland people know how to live with climate change and work with variable rainfall. They recognise variability as an inherent feature of their landscapes and use it productively for generating the foods we all eat.

Mr. James Oduor, chief executuve officer of NDMA, says: "This book reminds us that the strongest tool at the disposal of dryland peoples in managing climate uncertainty is their own resourcefulness.

"Pastoralists and dryland farmers are threatened by climate change not because dryland ecosystems are inherently vulnerable, but because those systems have not been properly understood by outsiders. Our role should be to support dryland producers as they work with variability, and then deal with the risks that lie beyond their reach in ways that reinforce their chosen strategies."

The launch is co-hosted by IIED, Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative (DLCI), the Adaptation Consortium and funded by the Ford Foundation.

Notes to editors:

  1. The publication of the book 'Valuing Variability - New Perspectives on Climate Resilient Drylands Development' and its associated research has been generously funded by the Ford Foundation. The launch will be presided over by Hon. Ekwee Ethuro, the speaker of the Kenyan Senate, Hon. Mohamed Elmi, current Member of Parliament for Wajir and former Minister of State for Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands, and Mr. James Oduor, chief executive officer for NDMA, who will be debating the relevance of the book for building a climate resilient economy and society in Kenya.

The ADA consortium is a four-year initiative funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) that is central to the National Drought Management Authority strategy, aimed at preparing county government to access global climate finance fund in support of adaptation and climate resilient development and to mainstream mechanisms that allow communities to prioritise investments in public goods that build their resilience to climate change.

The DLCI for improved policy and practice in the Horn of Africa is a knowledge management and advocacy resource organisation registered in Kenya. It supports collaborative learning and documentation on drylands development, and advocacy for improved policy and practice in the region.

IIED is a policy and action research organisation promoting sustainable development and linking local priorities to global challenges. We are based in London and work on five continents with some of the world’s most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in the decision-making arenas that affect them.