Last changed: 09 January 2024
Four field sites

Drylands have inherently challenging biophysical characteristics: degradation-prone soils and vegetation, water scarcity, and high rainfall variability.

In the drylands of East Africa, pastoral and agropastoral livelihoods are prominent. With increased political and economic interest in East Africa’s dryland regions, pastoralists find themselves increasingly confronted by processes of privatization, fragmentation and commodification of land based resources. This has led to pasture scarcity, resource conflicts and changes in land tenure that limits mobility of people and livestock.

In Drylands Transform we will investigate the links between land health, livestock-based livelihoods, human well-being, and land management and governance. We will use innovative field research approaches focusing on livelihood improvement through rangeland restoration and governance interventions in the border region between Kenya and Uganda.

Read more about the 4 project sites.

Dryland challenges

Multiple challenges in drylands

Drylands face multiple challenges including land degradation, persistent poverty, and remoteness of decision-making and infrastructure, which makes them particularly vulnerable to e.g. climate change and droughts. These issues, in addition to degradation-prone soils and vegetation, water scarcity and high rainfall variability – pose critical challenges to reliable food production and livelihood opportunities. Not surprisingly, dryland populations tend to lag behind the rest of the world in terms of human well-being and development indicators. Given that the commitment of “leaving no one behind” is the cornerstone of the Agenda 2030, drylands emerge as
priority hotspots for action to achieve the SDGs.

Climate change is projected to further increase dryland degradation, cause reductions in crop and livestock productivity and reduce biodiversity, which will have major negative impacts on food security and livelihoods of dryland people. Interrelated stressors of climate change, natural disasters, violent conflicts and displacement pose a heavy burden on communities and threaten economic and sustainable development.

Seasonal migration

Populations dependent on dryland ecosystems have successfully used seasonal migration as a strategic way to adapt to climate variability. Thus, the drylands incorporate a source of inspiration for how migration is used as an essential climate adaptations strategy. Drylands are also an example of climate vulnerability as large population groups are displaced due to natural hazards like droughts and floods.

Land health is closely related to livelihood options affecting human health and nutrition. In East Africa, one third of the children are stunted (short for age) and at least two thirds are affected by hidden hunger (lack of vitamins and minerals). Poor people survive to large extent on starchy grains and tubers as their staple foods, with a very low intake of fruit, vegetables and animal-source foods such as milk, meat and eggs. 

Geographical focus

Karamoja cluster

The geographical focus will be the Karamoja cluster, the cross-boundary area between Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. This area has experienced a range of challenges, including drought and food insecurity,
animal diseases, internal and cross-border cattle raids and violence fuelled by a high prevalence of illegal arms. The Karamoja pastoralist communities frequently move their livestock across the common border and across climate zones in search of pasture and water; and livestock from both sides of the border often make contact.

Four field sites

The field studies will take place at four sites; Chepareria (West Pokot County) in Kenya and Matany/Poron (Napak District) in Uganda where agro-pastoralism is common, and Lokiriama-Lorengippi (Turkana County) in Kenya and Rupa (Moroto District) in Uganda which are dominated by traditional pastoralists. The areas in the north (and east) receive less rainfall, and thus the four selected sites provide variation in livelihood strategies and a gradient in climate.

Tree savannah, which is characteristic for the landscape in Karamoja region, is a fragile ecosystem. Any changes in the balance of this ecosystem can easily lead to desertification and encroachment of invasive species. Pastoralist communities in the region have adapted by relying on flexible migration strategies and a balanced composition of the livestock herd.

People with livestock

Land resources and rights

Pastoralist systems in East Africa are increasingly exposed to market forces with impact on pastoralist land, livestock and livelihoods. The characterization of rangelands has changed from being marginal, remote and unproductive to become lands of untapped resources that needs to be “opened up”. As a consequence, pastoralists find themselves increasingly confronted by processes of privatization, fragmentation and commodification of land-based resources through infrastructure projects, exploitation of oil and minerals, agricultural expansion, land reforms, and an expanding livestock trade.

Following the new political and economic interest, the governance of rangelands has emerged as a challenge high on the policy agenda. At the core of this challenge is the longstanding puzzle of how to solve the paradox of livestock keepers simultaneous need for both secure and flexible rights to land. Despite attempts in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia to come to terms with this paradox, the governance mechanisms have so far not proved capable of providing a sustainable way forward.

Trade-offs in livestock production

Livestock production is in the centre of complex interactions, including both synergies and trade-offs among different SDGs and their targets. Animal-source foods are nutrient-dense, including both high-quality protein and many essential micronutrients more difficult to obtain from plant-based foods. On the other hand, ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) are producing methane, a potent greenhouse-gas (GHG) contributing to anthropogenic climate change. Improved livestock management practices with better feed quality and quantity are necessary mitigation options for reducing GHG emissions per livestock product.

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