Livestock drives resilience in drylands

  • By Elizabeth Carabine and Catherine Simonet, ODI
  • 11/05/2016

Herder in Tessekre, Senegal, February 23, 2016. Credit: Elizabeth Carabine


Maitera Saitoti, a Maasai warrior from Kajiado, Kenya, knows what it’s like to have to rely on increasingly irregular rainfall for his livelihood.

During prolonged periods of drought in 2009 and 2010, he saved his family’s livestock herd by navigating seasonal rivers, fenced ranches and new tarmac roads to reach Nairobi’s grazing lands and livestock market.

In the past, interventions by governments, NGOs and donors aimed at helping pastoralists like Saitoti cope with drought were based on inaccurate assumptions about the ecological and social dynamics of drylands, which often led to negative outcomes. For example, the installation of fixed water points throughout drylands can lead to overgrazing and soil degradation as pastoralists are encouraged to settle their herds in these locations.


As evidence emerges about the value of livestock and capacities of pastoralists to build resilience to drought, the narrative around pastoralism in Africa has shifted.

Policymakers and donors are increasingly recognising that drylands can drive inclusive and climate-resilient economic development in some of the world’s poorest countries. But before this can be achieved, we need to know more about how pastoralism works.

The Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies (PRISE) research project led by the Overseas Development Institute, among other organisations, and funded by the International Development Research Centre in Canada and the UK Department for International Development, is examining effective adaptation interventions in African and Asian drylands through ecological and economic analysis.

The three-step approach – called Value Chain Analysis for Resilience in Drylands (VC-ARID) – seeks to identify adaptation options and opportunities for private investment in Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Pakistan, specifically for sectors where production is rooted in drylands, such as livestock and cotton.


Drylands cover 40% of the world’s surface and have highly variable ecological and climatic conditions. Around 2 billion people are estimated to live in these tough environments.

Drought is currently gripping the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, as it did in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Dryland agricultural systems globally will face increasing vulnerability as climate change is compounded by other trends like population growth and depletion of natural resources.

This will profoundly impact the wellbeing and livelihoods of people living in these areas. Growing populations will increase the demand for water and food, and prolonged droughts will put pressure on these resources while maize, millet and sorghum production declines across Africa.

This is why VC-ARID considers climate risks – such as increasing temperature and changing rainfall patterns – along each step of the value chain, from production and processing, to products being sold in domestic and international markets.

By understanding how each person and business in these value chains might be affected by climate risk, we can identify options to help them adapt to climate change, and ultimately allow dryland economies to grow in an inclusive and resilient manner.

Dryland areas are nearly always marginalised, both politically and economically, so VC-ARID positions these areas at the centre as drivers of growth in key national economic sectors.

Recognising the specific characteristics of drylands, VC-ARID considers seasonal effects on value chains, for example how markets function during the rainy and dry seasons. Our approach incorporates informal activities in value chains, such as the significant amount of underground trade of livestock that takes place in Africa’s drylands.

VC-ARID also explicitly explores gender dimensions by analysing, for example, how the livestock value chain can be diversified to benefit both men and women.


VC-ARID is replicated by seven research teams in five countries, offering unprecedented opportunities for comparison between dryland regions: What can Burkina Faso’s nationalised cotton sector learn from the more liberalised Pakistani cotton trade? What can Senegal’s domestic livestock market learn from financial and pharmaceutical services to the livestock sector in Kenya?

These questions will be explored in our VC-ARID PRISE report, due to be published in September 2016.

Step 1 of VC-ARID – mapping the value chain – has already taken place. In Step 2, our teams will work with actors identified in Step 1 such as pastoralists, butchers and traders, to identify climate risks.

Bringing together private and public sector stakeholders, Step 3 will identify opportunities for adaptation and investment in these value chains. In this way, PRISE will contribute a roadmap towards economic development that is both climate resilient and based on solid evidence.

On Thursday May 12, we’ll host a session at the Adaptation Futures 2016 conference in Rotterdam where we will present early evidence from VC-ARID.

Follow PRISE on Twitter @PRISEclimate

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