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Innovation, pastoralism and climate change in Africa’s drylands

Innovation, pastoralism and climate change in Africa’s drylands

Innovation, pastoralism and climate change in Africa’s drylands

Sponsored contentResearch shows that technological and social innovations can help pastoralists deal with unpredictable rainfall patterns.

The dryland regions of East and West Africa are unique in that they are populated by pastoralists and agro-pastoralists who have learned over the millennia how to make the most of the drylands.

Pastoralists in Africa like the Samburu and Pokot (East Africa) and the Fulani, Peuls, West Africa, rely heavily on livestock to sustain their livelihoods. These communities have traditionally raised cattle, sheep and camels and moved across the rangelands in synchronicity to seasonal rains and water.

It is used in nearly half of Africa, including the grasslands of East Africa and the deserts and drylands that make up West Africa and Sahel. Pastoralism has helped more than 50,000,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

However, these communities are facing numerous threats to their livelihoods as pastoral and agropastoral communities. Change of use of traditional rangeland coupled with changing weather patterns – evidenced by greater frequency of droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns – are increasing pressure on pastoral livelihoods, leading to higher levels of food insecurity.

The Horn of Africa will see an increase in wind speeds, heavy rains, and flooding in West Africa. Expect to experience greater intensity burstsFlooding and rainfall. These impacts are further exacerbated in conflict-affected regions, where traditional migratory movements and grazing routes are further disrupted.

Pastoral communities need solutions that will allow them to withstand and recover from the effects of climate change on their livelihoods. Innovative programmes, which think of how to ‘do business differently’, are an essential component of this.

Innovation to withstand climate shocks

Supporting Pastoralism & Agriculture in Recurrent & Protracted Crisis (SPARC), a program of Cowater and ODI, International Livestock Research Institute, Mercy Corps, aims at generating evidence and addressing knowledge gaps to improve resilience to climate change for dryland pastoralists / farmers.

SPARC has been mapping innovations that have been developed for pastoralists, agropastoralists, and farmers in drylands of Africa as part its programme. The goal is to understand how such innovations promote long-term benefits for pastoral communities – and break the cycle of poverty and vulnerability to shocks – and how they can be improved.

The mapping exercise emphasized fragile and conflict-affected environments and specifically looked at the role of young pastoralists in enhancing the resilience and livelihoods of pastoralists. Detailed findings of this research show how and where significant opportunities exist to ‘do business differently’ to support pastoralists in their effective use of rangelands.

SPARC identified almost 40 technological or social innovations by looking at all innovation leaders, business and academia. AfriScout, an app for pastoralists from Ethiopia and Tanzania that provides maps of rangeland quality, is one example.

Subscription based, the app enables users to identify unexpected changes in grazing conditions (land coverage and water availability) within the registered pastoralist’s rangeland using satellite data and interactive verification by the pastoralists themselves. The app is a technical solution to support pastoralism in light of climate change and its impact on the natural world.

Despite the availability of many innovations to improve pastoral livelihoods, these communities are still under-served or marginalized. There’s tremendous potential to scale up innovations, and keep pastoralism contributing effectively to local and regional economies.

Most innovations are focused on providing information and extension services through low-tech platforms like radio and SMS. While innovations in financial products or services are still rare, they are starting to scale up.

Moreover, the researchers found that these innovations often focus on addressing the symptoms of an underlying problem rather than the problem itself – they only address the tip of the iceberg.

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Mapping innovations with the iceberg model (Photo by ODI)

Innovations that seek to improve the access to finance for pastoralists are valuable but not addressed. Why should you have access to financeThis is a problem for pastoralists. Innovations must start with the root causes of pastoralists’ obstacles.

This includes challenging the False stereotypesPastoralism is not productive or contributes to societal well-being. It must be understood that rangelands are not marginal ecosystems, but highly productive and adaptable ecosystems.

“Research needs to look at what is unique about these fragile contexts and accept those differences,” says Carmen Jaquez, livelihoods, markets and economies lead at SPARC and one of the authors of the study. “Innovations should grow from the strengths of these contexts and play to those strengths,” she adds. A shift in ‘mental models’ might nudge perceptions and prioritise innovation that does not transform pastoralism but rather builds from the strengths of dryland systems.

SPARC researchers also found out that one of the biggest obstacles to innovation in pastoral systems is the availability long-term (patient capital), where investors are willing make an initial investment with no expected return in the short term. Patient capital is not only important for vulnerable livelihoods, but it also requires that investors are willing to adapt over the long term.

Find out more about SPARC HereFollow SPARC on Twitter @SPARC_Ideas.

This post was sponsored in part by Supporting Pastoralism in Recurrent and Protracted Crises (SPARC).. See our Guidelines for editors for what this means.

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