Oxfam Publication:Pastoralism & Climate Change

Photograph: Safariskenya.com

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone but Oxfam has said that the African Maasai tribe can help fight climate change by spreading their survival and adaptability skills across Africa. Oxfam has issued a report entitled Survival of the Fittest: Pastoralism and Climate Change in East Africa.

From the report:

Pastoralists in East Africa have been adapting to climate variability for millennia and their adaptability ought to enable them to cope with this growing challenge.

As Matt reported here, indigenous tribes are already fighting against governments and corporations to preserve their way of life. Similarly, the pastoralists in sub-Saharan African are being continually marginalised in the decision-making. If the concept of trading skills could be adopted it may halt this habitual disregard for the tribalists and their way of life, as well as provide a valuable contribution to the fight against climate change.

For this to work, the tribes would need cooperation and support from the officials, as Kenyan minister, Mohammed Elmi said . . .

Their adaptability cannot be realised without government support and investment

I think perhaps we all should try to embrace some aspects of the Maasai lifestyle. I’m sure the West could certainly benefit from a few lessons in adaptability. I’m not suggesting we should all go and live off-grid in some arid desert or in the middle of a jungle but it’s a fact that pastoralism is a sustainable lifestyle with minimal emissions and if these tribes were empowered and enabled rather than hindered or disregarded, then I’m convinced they could teach us a great deal about adaptability, sustainability and ultimately survival.

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11 Responses to Oxfam Publication:Pastoralism & Climate Change

  1. matt says:

    They could certainly teach us how to survive in extreme conditions. It actually amazes me any of these tribes still exist, with the tentacles of the modern world reaching far and wide to dominate and consume all before it.

    I guess a meeting of minds is needed, an almost half way house, where ideas can be exchanged on the best ways to live and work within the boundaries of one’s environment. The first lesson for westerners; consume less crap!

  2. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    Have you, by any chance, given any thought to the fact that your ancestors, and mine, not that long ago scratched out a meek subsistence living in England? And, have you thought about the fact that, way back then, the sustainable population level was around a million people. What have y’all got now, 60 million? Don’t feel bad, the rest of the industrialized world is in the same boat, except for the US, where our population is declining except for immigration. The semi-industrialized world, China and India, are much worse.

    My point is that, while the vision of a primitive sustainable agricultural society may be a shining attraction for those who haven’t had to live without toilet paper, the dream will only support so many people. While I admit that I am opinionated, and while I have given his considerable thought over the years, I have yet to come up with a way to decide who we need to kill to get to the population levels necessary for the world to move toward the sustainable primitive model.

    I’d love to know who you think we need to off.

    the Grit

  3. keithsc says:

    Hi Grit I wonder if you are missing the point here. The report says that pastoralism is best for arid and semi arid conditions where no other way of life is sustainable. It’s not suggesting that in the green temperate climate we all change back to a pastoral existence. It won’t sustain many people but it will sustain some where growing crops might just not be possible.

  4. Yakumi Negash says:

    Hi there! My name is Yakum Negash and I am an Ethiopian citizen. I work and live in one of Ethiopia’s remote and marginalized part the Afar region. The people, who prefer to be called the Afars, are pastoralists and thier cousins live across the border to Eritrea and Djibouti.

    It is a fact that pastorlism emerged as a response to climate change millennia. These people have managed their environment in a sustainable way until recently. The question, I think, is can these group of people continue to manage thier environment tehy way they used to two decades ago? let alone a centuary ago? The environmet is changing beyond their control and thier assets as well as resources to manage thier environmet is depleting before they know it. The once appreciated indeginous knowledge on managing resources are now things of the past, mainly due to the unbearable pressure by climate change and the subsequent effects, drought and conflict, that have eroded thier willingness to protect their environment.
    My point, friends of the pastoralists, is these groups, whom I belong to, can’t be left alone anymore. I do strongly agree to Matt’s opinion that their knowldege on managing resources should be carried forward, but with close support from policy makersand integration to the wider national agenda. In the past, I have witnessed the clear marginalization of pastoral groups in issues related to them and in the resouces they once used to have user rights. Their indegious knowledge should be intermarried with the national one so that thiers could be best utilised.
    I hope you will forward me your opinions soon.


  5. matt says:


    Great to hear from you. It is better to hear from the people themselves as to what is really happening. Thank you for your insight.

    There are peoples everywhere that need empowering. They need to be listened to, taken seriously, resourced, supported and given room to breathe (ie. try different ways of combining new and old ways) so as to produce the best outcomes to their lives.

    Domination of western ways or their national government’s mantras cannot work. But as you also imply pastoralists are facing too many pressures to allow them to live their same lifestyles into the future.

    Man has always faced change by eventually adapting their methods. Sometimes this has meant emmigrating out of an area that can no longer support them. Desertification is a huge problem that pastoralists will know about as a part of their everyday struggle.

    If they’re not to leave the land for the cities like 100s of millions of people do every year across the globe then probably those technologies available to city dewellers needs to come out to them in the rural areas.

    Ground pumps, solar electricity, mobiles as examples of smaller technologies right up to larger investments such as irrigation or the introduction of drought tolerant grasses.

    But linked with technology investment is empowerment at community level which links into wider nation and international networks, including for knowledge and market transactions (e.g. selling livestock at best prices).

    So much to do! Some western NGOs are starting to work with local groups in African by supporting (sometimes helping to set up) local NGOs. Some western govt international development departments are also getting better at this, targeting monies at more useful programmes.

    But we now hear of east Asian countries buying up huge areas of fertile African land just to fed their own people, so clearly there is a long way to go to resolve the problems for pastorialists.


  6. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    While there’s something to what you say and those concepts have their place, I have to point out that without Western ways of doing things, the world couldn’t support anything near the current population levels, average life expectancy would drop back down to 40, and half our children would once again die before they learned to walk. While I think people should have a reasonably free choice as to how they live – my experiences growing up without indoor plumbing, doing morning chores before walking to school and evening chores when I walked back home, and watching neighbors and family die because medical care just wasn’t available in our remote community make me very hesitant to spend group resources to keep people living in similar conditions.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d bet that one trip to the out house (especially in mid-winter or mid summer,) where you discover too late that that bucket of corn cobs is your only choice of cleaning material would change your point of view.

    the Grit

  7. matt says:


    You misinterpret what I was putting across I suspect. No one wishes for poverty and certainly no one is asking for it. Having ones choice of culture and way of living respected is a quite different matter. And lets not forget, peoples within a community will have that debate about the influence of outside changes themselves, particularly on whether those changes are good or bad.

    I’d rather let them have their own debate . It’s not for me to say.

  8. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    Sorry. Poverty, and our Government’s tendency to perpetuate it, is a touchy subject to me and I tend to over react. I’ll check with my doctor about upping the dose on my meds.

    the Grit

  9. Yakumi Negash says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Matt. You are absolutely right in saying that those groups need empowerment. But, what kind of empowerment are we talking about? The clear and present dangers that pastoralists of Afar community are facing are too many to count. To start with, climate change and its adverse impact is a big threat that these groups face. The decrease in the amount of rainfall and its subsequent increase in evaporation caused by warmer temperatures have forced the pastoralists to pay the unpleasant price for which they had no role. Second, frequent droughts are weakening their ability to cope up to calamities and are eroding the pastoralists’ asset base-livestock.
    The list goes on and we have a grim reality of the pastoral groups. I can assure you Matt that my cousins now feel the pressure and are desperate to do away with the vicious cycle of extreme poverty. My cousins have now less number of livestock and other economic bases than their fathers. What is worse, their fertile lands are being taken away by external factors in the name of “Development”. So far, I am not sure if these interventions are for the intended purposes. Time will tell!!!
    Now, back to my first argument. When I say empowerment, I mean the kind of empowerment that will give them the potent weapon to help them address those issues in the short term and long term. For me, the short term strategy to help them help themselves is to address the issue of food security and climate change in a participatory manner. The long term strategy for me is to educate the children, tomorrow’s managers of their family, and let them be masters of their fate. That’s where the help of others comes in the radar screen.
    I am sure we will keep in touch.

  10. Yakum Negash says:

    Hello friends, How are you all? I was expecting your comments, but none of you has responed. I need to discuss about the effects of climate change and its impacts on the pastoral people, as my cousins in Ethiopia and the Greater Horn of Africa in general are suffering a lot. Average precipitation is on the decline and the carrying capacity of ranges is shrinking, and they are confused as to what to do. We need to integrate our efforts in combating the issue and we need to exchange and learn from each others’ experinces. Keep in touch

  11. Yakumi Negash says:

    Hello Friends, this is Yakum again. I have been closely following the debates over climate change and how the issue has been hijacked and politicized by those who took the opportunity for their short term, immoral benefits. I was completely shocked by some of our politicians and the developed nations of their stubborn stance in defending the so called “national interests”. We Africans are the ones who are taking the price for something we had no role at all. If we could get the chance to visit some of the lowland areas of Ethiopia, for instance, we could witness how climate change is affecting and wiping our brothers and sisters at an alarming scale. I think we should stand and take this opportunity to unite our voice so that we be heard and our issues be taken seriously.

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