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Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity in Garissa County, Kenya

This document explores the impacts of climate change on livelihoods in pastoral and agro-pastoral households in Garissa County, Kenya

In Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, livelihoods are dominated by pastoralism. Pastoral communities are accustomed to dealing with drought and erratic rainfall and have traditionally utilized systems and practices that minimized the impact of climate-related shocks to their livelihoods. Recently however, the impacts of climate change have combined with other environmental, economic and political factors to create a situation of increasing vulnerability for poor and marginalized households.

The situation is particularly serious for women, who face additional social, cultural and political constraints to resource access and adaptive decision-making. In response, some households have transitioned into an agro-pastoral way of life, combining the traditional livestock rearing with crop production and other economic activities. While this shift represents an innovation for these communities, it has also exposed them to new risks and a different set of challenges in securing their livelihoods.


Vulnerability to climate change is influenced by multiple, inter-connected factors.

Increasing exposure to climate shocks and stresses is only one dimension of increasing vulnerability to climate change in Garissa County. The adaptive capacity of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists is dynamic, affected by a range of social, environmental, economic and political variables, many of them beyond the control of the community. Analysis of vulnerability must go beyond exposure and sensitivity to climate impacts, to explore the different dimensions of adaptive capacity and identify barriers that communities face in applying their existing capacity to respond to climate impacts. This leads to identification of adaptation options that reinforce and build upon existing adaptive capacity.

Informed, adaptive and forward-looking decision-making is central to adaptive capacity.

Poor people in Garissa County are in an ongoing process of making decisions to sustain their livelihoods in the face of multiple, evolving challenges. Climate change is among the most serious of these challenges, exacerbating existing problems, exposing people to new and evolving risks and creating further complexity in decision-making. In order for people to respond to and anticipate changes and to engage in adaptive decision-making, they require information, knowledge and skills that enable them to actively address climate risks to their livelihoods. Adaptation efforts must aim to facilitate access to information and the development of the skills and knowledge needed for adaptation, while also working with institutions and policies to ensure an enabling environment for local adaptation efforts.

Adaptive capacity is shaped by gender.

Within communities and households, women and men have differing levels of adaptive capacity. Somali society places limitations on women’s voice, movement and participation in public and household decision making, which in turn creates constraints on their adaptive capacity. This limits the ability of families and communities to realize the potential contribution of women’s specific knowledge and skills to adaptation efforts. Analysis of vulnerability and adaptive capacity must uncover these differences and build understanding of the specific roles, responsibilities and challenges faced by women and men in securing their livelihoods and adapting to climate change.

Climate change is a driver of changes in gender roles and relations.

As the impacts of climate change become more apparent and households are increasingly required to shift from their traditional livelihood strategies and practices, there is potential for changes in gender roles and relations. These changes have both positive and negative implications, with the potential for increased empowerment of women, but also the possibility of repercussions for women as they move beyond traditional roles and responsibilities. Adaptation efforts must take these ongoing changes in gender relations into account and facilitate dialogue and negotiation within communities to enable positive change for women and avoid potential backlash.

Diversification of livelihoods is an important strategy for building the resilience of the most vulnerable women and men to climate change.

Having multiple options for securing food and income provides people with alternatives when one strategy fails.However, in the absence of the necessary information and support, the effectiveness of diversification as a strategy for building livelihood resilience may be limited. Engaging in new activities requires new skills and knowledge. New activities may also involve new risks and create additional pressures on ecosystem services. These must be understood in order to ensure the right mix of strategies in the household livelihood portfolio. CBA actors must support communities to make decisions around diversification in an informed and forward-looking manner, taking into account existing and future stress on resources, equity in access to resources and opportunities and changing climate risks over time.

Resilience may look different from wealth.

In Garissa County, wealth is determined based on the number of livestock owned. Households that are perceived to be rich are those that own the largest numbers of livestock. These households are also assumed to be more resilient, however they may be highly sensitive to climate-related shocks and stresses due to their reliance on livestock for income and food. Agro-pastoral households, with a mix of livestock rearing, crop production and other income generating activities, seem to be more resilient as they have more options available to them. In order to facilitate risk management and adaptive decision-making, there may be a need to overcome traditional perceptions of wealth and to build understanding of the value and locally-specific characteristics of resilience.

Access to climate information is critical for adaptive management of livelihoods.

In order for the communities in Garissa County to effectively adapt to climate change, their wealth of indigenous knowledge must be complemented with scientific and technical information that enables adaptive decision-making. The ALP analysis demonstrated a need to create demand for this information and to help community members to understand the value and necessity of using scientific information for planning, whether short-term seasonal planning or longer-term livelihood decision-making. Facilitating access to climate information on an ongoing basis is fundamental to building adaptive capacity.

Appropriate governance is essential for sustainable management of resources and risk management at community level.

Pastoral communities traditionally had systems and practices that enabled them to manage climate variability and recurrent shocks in the form of droughts. Sadly, with changing social dynamics and recurrent crises, as well as new approaches to policy, governance and development in the region, these systems have been eroded and there is increasing focus on individual household needs as well as more reliance on external support. Adaptation efforts in pastoral areas should aim to revive and strengthen these traditional systems, linking them to modern governance systems and formal institutions and enabling them to operate in a way that is equitable and effective. These recommendations are applicable to CBA initiatives in Garissa County and beyond.

Citation: Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity in Garissa County, Kenya. CARE International, 2013.

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