Pastoralism in Transition: Social and Ecological Dimensions of Vulnerability

Drylands cover 40% of the continent of Africa, and are the basis for traditional pastoralist social-ecological systems, in which societies have adapted to rely heavily or entirely on livestock production for their livelihoods in harsh and variable environments. Modernity has brought drastic political, social and land use changes, as well as unprecedented population growth, land degradation and more frequent droughts that decimate herds. Today, fewer pastoralists are meeting their livelihood needs through livestock and many are seeking novel avenues for livelihood diversification; dryland agriculture is a salient option. Such a transformation entails profound changes in ecological functioning of landscapes, in household- and collective-level risk exposure, and in the institutions governing evolving and emerging land use systems. Given the complexity and novelty of these changes, assessing whether social and ecological vulnerability is likely to be alleviated or exacerbated poses a profound challenge, but remains an urgent need as traditional pastoralist societies worldwide face similarly uncertain futures.

We are employing an interdisciplinary DSC00222approach to evaluate emerging patterns of vulnerability in two pastoralist communities in Kenya which have begun to diversify into maize agriculture alongside their struggling livestock-based livelihood system. We are adopting approaches to investigate how mixed land use affects the sensitivity of range productivity to drought and shifting grazing pressures; how composition and inequities in household livestock assets create differential patterns of risk exposure associated with entry into agriculture; and how evolving land use institutions affect the coping capacity and resilience at individual and collective scales.

Collaborators:  Laura German [Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia], Ryan Unks [ICON PhD program, University of Georgia], Trenton Franz [School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska], and Gabriele Volpato [CICR Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Georgia]

Funding:  NSF Dynamics of Coupled Human-Natural Systems