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date: 20 January 2018

Adaptation to Current and Future Climate in Pastoral Communities Across Africa

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Pastoralists around the world are exposed to climate change and increasing climate variability. Various downscaled regional climate models in Africa support community reports of rising temperatures as well as changes in the seasonality of rainfall and drought. In addition to climate, pastoralists have faced a second exposure to unsupportive policy environments. Dating back to the colonial period, a lack of knowledge about pastoralism and a systemic marginalization of pastoral communities has influenced the size and nature of government investments in pastoral lands. National governments have prioritized farming communities and failed to pay adequate attention to drylands and pastoral communities. The limited government interventions that occurred were often inconsistent with contemporary realities of pastoralism and pastoral communities. These include attempts at sedentarization and modernization, and in other ways changing the priorities and practices of pastoral communities.

The survival of pastoral communities in Africa in the context of this double exposure has been a focus for scholars, development practitioners, and national governments in recent years. Scholars initially drew attention to the drought-coping strategies of pastoralists and later examined the multiple ways in which pastoralists manage risk and exploit unpredictability. What we have learned in recent years is that pastoralists are rational land managers whose experience with a variable climate has equipped them with the skills needed for adaptation. Pastoralists follow several identifiable adaptation paths. These include diversification and modification of their herds and herding strategies; adoption of livelihood activities that did not previously play a permanent role; and a conscious decision to train the next generation for non-pastoral livelihoods. On-going government interventions around climate change still prioritize cropping over herding. Sometimes, such nationally supported adaptation plans can undermine community-based adaptation practices autonomously evolving within pastoral communities. Successful adaptation hinges on recognition of the value of autonomous adaptation and careful integration of such adaptation with national plans.