Future Agricultures blog

Opinion and comment from Future Agricultures researchers on agricultural politics, science and society in Africa.

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ASAL-sKenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (known as ‘ASALs’, highlighted on the map - click for large version) have never enjoyed the kind of policy attention that takes account of their unique capacities and challenges. Pastoralism, the dominant production system in much of the region, has been especially misunderstood.  Pastoralists and livestock move around; there is low population density but high population growth. Customary practices and indigenous knowledge play a strong role. National policy and practice has rarely taken account of these factors. The area is chronically marginalised and isolated, and literacy and vaccination rates are low.

The Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands was set up to address these challenges. A new working paper by Izzy Birch and Mohamed Elmi, Creating Policy Space for Pastoralism in Kenya (pdf), tells the story of how and why the Ministry was created, and some of the lessons learned.

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Mike Shanahan of IIED has written two great blog posts in two weeks on how pastoralism is viewed by politicians and by stories in the media.

The first covers how pastoralists have come to be viewed as ‘backward’ by some dominant policy narratives in Kenya, China and India.

"The dominant policy narrative casts pastoralism as a backward, irrational livelihood that takes place in fragile unproductive ecosystems and creates a catalogue of problems for non-pastoralists… the pastoralists themselves would of course disagree, and research suggests that they will have a critical role to play – if allowed to – as our climate changes."
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Ian Scoones has blogged at The Huffington Post on pastoralism in the Horn of Africa - a sector marked by incredible creativity, diversity and rapid change.

"Where in the developing world do you see the growth of a $1 billion per annum export trade, the creation of export corridors, the flourishing of the private sector, the expansion of towns with the inflow of investment, and the emergence of a class of entrepreneurs commanding a profitable market, and generating employment and other business opportunities; and all of this driven without a reliance on external development aid?"

The book Pastoralism and development in Africa: Dynamic change at the margins, which includes contributions from Future Agricultures Consortium members, is out now from Routledge.

Read and comment at the Huffington Post


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asal_rsI will be speaking at a workshop in Nanyuki, Kenya on February 23, on the topic of adaptation to climate change in arid and semi-arid lands. Below are some of the key points arising from my research.

Pastoralist communities in the Garba Tula area of northern Kenya are turning to alternative or complimentary income generation activities in the face of ravaging drought that has resulted in the death and deterioration of livestock productivity, significantly diminishing household income and increasing food insecurity.

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