Impacts of increased climate variability on Pastoralists livelihood, Tana River Kenya.

Impacts of increased climate variability on Pastoralists livelihood, Tana River Kenya.

Abdulahi Halake WATO

NDMA Tana River County, Kenya


Tipping Point: Impacts of increased climate variability on Pastoralists livelihood, Tana River Kenya. 

The Orma Pastoralist of Tana live in the arid and semi southern part of Kenya with less the 700 mm of annual rainfall. Rainfall distribution in space and time is not uniform and community migrates across the rangeland to tack good pasture and water. Earth pan and natural ponds provide water during rainy season, when moderate dry spell sets-in and pans dry the community depend on shallow wells. The wells are excavated along seasonal river bed manually, initially one or two persons are required to bring water up. The wells are deepened as dry spell progress, more persons required to drawn water, the person at the bottom of the well passing water container to the person above until the ninth person or more in worst case. Migration towards the delta is resorted to when all other alternatives are exhausted. 

The community relies on rich indigenous knowledge of seasonal variability or performance by adjusting to changes in their grazing environment from time to time. Traditionally Orma pastoralists manage grazing lands collectively with clear regulation on access to key grazing resources, and enforceable sanctions for people who fail to abide by the rules. Council of elders played critical role in organizing the community. Consensus building and respect of elders consider holy and wise made natural range resource management and conflict resolution a norm. The community depends on elders to provide tentative information of how next season will perform. Observation of animal behavior, stars and reading of slaughtered animals’ intestines are some of indigenous knowledge which elders have to predict seasonal performance.  Information generated from such observations and historical trends guide grazing/migration decision making and also ceremonies. Furthermore mastery of appropriate skills and knowledge in grazing management is important to cope with environmental challenges and emerging threats. Grazing and finding water for livestock are main responsibility every Orma engages in from childhood. Pastoralism practiced by Orma entails adjusting to environmental conditions and natural shocks like drought. Families are in constant movement with their herd, from one zone to the other. During rainy season they move away from grazing areas with permanent water and return back to this area as dry spell sets in. Like in all pastoral areas of Kenya and common practice of mobile pastoralism world over, resilience in their ecosystem is determined by flexibility and continuous monitoring of the grazing environment.  However, finding of post disaster needs assessment (PDNA) following drought of 2008-2011 puts doubt on the capacity of indigenous knowledge and practices to cope with frequent and more severe drought associated with enhanced climate variability. Recent phenomena associated with climate change including variation of the seasons in terms of onset, temporal distribution and averages and change in the flooding cycle has interfered with the way communities use to monitor and respond to change in their environment. For example onset of rainfall for both long and short rains seasons has shifted from what community was accustomed too. Long rain use to in the months of March, April, May (MAM) has changed, onset are experienced as late as mid-April in the last four years. Timing of the season to guide decision making is one of challenges the community is facing. Dry months of January, February, August, September and October are now warmer, average temperatures exceeding 370C during the day. Pasture and browse development after rain is to some extent affected by relative high temperature less soil moisture. Livestock require frequent watering traditionally cattle return for water after every one to two days, this is now not practicable with high temperature and all most always dry pasture. Regeneration of pasture is an expectation which occurs soon after rainfall. Enhanced variability and depressed rainfall resulted environmental conditions which is more challenging to Orma Pastoralists. 

As practiced today Orma Pastoralism is facing much bottle necks like, frequent drought, torrential rainfall which occurs in short time causing more run-off and less soil moisture and high temperatures. Pasture regeneration is low between seasons, before community recovers fully from one drought event another sets in. Migrations to dry delta are frequent and out of a costumed seasons. Delta zone are utilized during severe drought, currently livestock migrate to it more often. Livestock disease incidences is now more frequent, pests like tick and biting insects are now more prevalent. Cost of livestock production is increased by frequent need of treatment and application of pest control chemicals. The community which used to meet basic needs is now shifting towards to food aid dependent over some time. Generally, locations pre-dominantly occupied by Orma pastoralist in Tana River County are ranked high priority for emergency relief food aid since 2004. Droughts are more frequent and last for longer duration, relief food is emerging as an important source of food among the Orma now. Other none climate factors like population increase, more land put under crop production through irrigation, creation of national parks in areas traditional used as grazing areas are yet other factors affecting Orma’s livelihood. Crop production is also facing challenges from poor rainfall performance. To facilitate adaptation in Agricultural sector the government established various irrigation projects. This is positive development moves to address food security but has negative effect on Pastoralism. Land tenure practice in key does not recognize grazing area as a form of land ownership i.e. crop farm can claim ownership of a piece of land which he or his father produced crop on. Attempts to develop community land policy are still ongoing but no tangible framework has been developed so far.



I am working at Sub-National level for National Drought Management Authority as resilience officer. In addition, I am from pastoralist background and belong to the same group am working for. I am a Borana and there more similarity and less difference between way of live of my community and Orma.

I have facilitated implementation of various micro-projects to build communities resilience. Climate change has been a major challenge, the pace of our development efforts are over whelmed to overcome enhanced variation of the climate.

Because I closely interact with Orma community on a day to day basis I share with them their frustration as each season comes with more challenges. Weather patterns are less predictive and weather related shocks are more frequent

We're Starting In

Social media

#indigenous knowledge #climate change #indigenous2016 

Stay Connected on:


Have questions? Contact us at: