New perspectives on climate-resilient drylands development


Drylands policy in Africa and Asia usually tries to resolve perceived problems, bringing productivity, order and stability to what policymakers mistakenly see as marginal, disorganised and unstable environments.

Ploughing with cattle in Andhra Pradesh, India. We worked with partners in India, Kenya and China to help forge a  new policy narrative for the drylands (Photo: Deccan Development Society)

Living in some of the world’s most variable and unpredictable environments, people in the drylands have long learnt how to live with and harness this variability to support sustainable and productive economies, societies and ecosystems. Although drylands have their problems, these are often caused more by applying poor policies than by drylands' low, erratic and variable rainfall.

But the problem is not the dryness and variability themselves; it is how policy accommodates the variability and dryness. 

For too long, policymakers have ignored the experience and expertise of the people of the drylands with dire consequences. It is time for a new policy narrative – one that is based on a good understanding of dryland ecology and economics, that is built on local knowledge, informed participation and the wisdom of customary institutions and that aims for more equitable outcomes for the people who live there. 

From 2012 to 2016, IIED worked with partners to pull together evidence to help build this new narrative; to show that, with supportive policies, drylands can be sustainable and highly productive ecosystems where pastoralists manage uncertainty and maximise productivity. 

Funded by the Ford Foundation, we worked with China's University of Peking, India's Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture and Rainfed Livestock Networks, and Kenya’s Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands to find new perspectives on climate-resilient drylands development.

This project researched the assumptions, arguments and evidence national governments and global institutions use to support drylands policy. Our findings included: 

We consolidated this work into a book, which helped us design a more progressive framework based on both sound scientific evidence and local experience.


Valuing variability: new perspectives on climate-resilient drylands development, Saverio Krätli (2015), Book | 中文 

A review of China’s rangeland management policies, YanBo Li, Gongbuzeren and WenJun Li (2014), Country Report

New perspectives on climate resilient drylands development: refining the arguments, Various (2013), Workshop Report 

Global public policy narratives on the drylands and pastoralism, Saverio Krätli (2013), Briefing Paper

Rainfed agriculture for an inclusive, sustainable and food secure India, Srijit Mishra, A. Ravindra and Ced Hesse (2013), Briefing Paper

Moving beyond the rhetoric: the challenge of reform in Kenya’s drylands, Michael Ochieng Odhiambo (2013), Briefing Paper

Pastoralism: the custodian of China’s grasslands, Wenjun Li and Gongbuzeren (2013), Briefing Paper

Media perceptions and portrayals of pastoralists in Kenya, India and China, Mike Shanahan (2013), IIED Report

Following the herd: why pastoralism needs better media coverage, Mike Shanahan (2013), Briefing Paper

Ecology, equity and economics: reframing dryland policy, Ced Hesse (2011), Opinion paper 

Additional resources

Devolved climate finance approach forges new ways of working between citizens and state, by Sam Greene, IIED Blog, 9 May, 2018

Insuring against climate risk in Kenya, by Vincent Mutie Nzau, IIED Blog, 6 June, 2017

New film shows Chinese mountain communities protecting biocultural heritage, IIED News Story, 14 March, 2017

Funding local adaptation in Kenya: nationally vs. locally managed funds, by John Nyangena, IIED Blog, 4 December 2016


Ford Foundation


Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network

Rainfed Livestock Network

Peking University

National Drought Management Authority