Understanding resilience pathways to climate change in a changing rangeland environment amongst pastoral societies of Afar Region, Ethiopia
Fenta, Muluken Mekuyie
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Change in climate and climate extremes are increasingly being acknowledged as a vital challenge to pastoral production systems. The resilience of pastoral households to climate-induced shocks depends on the knowledge, skills of households and assets. The present study was conducted in the Southern Afar region in Ethiopia to understand the resilience of pastoralists to climate change and variability in a changing rangeland environment. This study used the Mann-Kendall statistical test, the Sen’s slope estimator test and the Standardised Precipitation Index to analyse the trends of climate change and variability and the annual and seasonal anomalies of rainfall, and assess the severity of droughts in the study area. A household questionnaire survey and focus group discussion were employed to collect primary data at household level. A total of 250 pastoral households were sampled using stratified random sampling. The data obtained were analysed using descriptive statistics, principal component analysis and linear regression, as well as Tobit models. In addition, satellite image analysis and field observation were used to analyse the land-use/land-cover changes in the Southern Afar region. The results indicated a significant declining and increasing trend of Sugum (spring) season and Karma (summer) season rainfall, respectively in the study area. However, significant trend was not observed for long-term annual rainfall. The coefficient of variation of seasonal rainfall ranged from 25.2 to 42.7, indicating the strong variability of rainfall among the seasons. Precipitation Concentration Index values also indicated a strong, irregular distribution of rainfall in the study area which was more irregular in the Gewane than in the Amibara district. Analysis of the Standardised Precipitation Index indicated that the total percentage of dry years (negative anomalies of rainfall) ranged from 53.3% (at Amibara) to 43.3% (at Gewane), implying more drought periods in the Amibara than the Gewane district for the observation periods. However, the percentages of extreme drought years were from 6.7% (at Amibara) to 10% (at Gewane). The research has confirmed a significant increasing trend of monthly, seasonal and annual temperatures for the period 1983–2014. The results also indicated that the mean annual temperature of the Southern Afar has increased by 0.67 °C dec–1which is almost twice the national increase. Due to the unreliability and erratic nature of rainfall and recurrent droughts in the region, pasture and water availability became scarce and livestock assets and productivity reduced to a high degree, the income and asset ownership of households declined and the market price of livestock decreased, while the price of grain food increased. Due to deepening of poverty in the Southern Afar region, the informal safety net/mutual support system was eroded and individualism was increased. Furthermore, the pastoral households pursued different strategies to adapt/cope with climate-induced shocks and stresses. The most important strategies deployed by the local people included mixing livestock–crop farming, mobility, changing herd species composition and herd splitting, reduced consumption, remittance, cash-forwork, charcoal burning and firewood selling and food aid. The indigenous early warning system and mutual support among the extended families, neighbours and community were still significant to enhance the resilience of the pastoral households, though the indigenous early warning system was not integrated into the formal early warning system and the informal safety nets were eroded. The results further indicated that agro-pastoral households were more resilient than pastoral households to climate-induced shock. Furthermore, households in the Gewane district were more resilient than those in the Amibara district. In addition, female-headed households were less resilient than male-headed households. The findings further indicated that irrigation crop farming, livestock ownership, education level, per capita income, mobility and herd splitting, herd composition change, labour, remittance, food aid, access to credit, market and formal early warning information had a significant impact on the resilience of households to climate-induced shocks and stresses. The findings of the household vulnerability analysis indicated that 28.8%, 53.6% and 17.6% of pastoralists were highly vulnerable, moderately vulnerable and less vulnerable, respectively, to climate-induced shocks and stresses. The most important drivers that determine the vulnerability level of households were gender, age and marital status of the household, household size, educational level, extension services, farming experience, early warning information, livestock asset, irrigation farming, non-farm income, livestock mobility, radio ownership, distance to market and veterinary clinic, access to credit and agricultural inputs, the number of sick family members, the number of months with food shortages during the normal season of the year and number of dependents in the household. The results also indicated that substantial loss of grassland cover (64.5%), moderate decline of cultivated land (24%) and a dramatic increment of shrub and bushland cover (114.3%) occurred between 1985 and 2015. Consequently, access to rangeland resources and farmlands for pastoralists was highly restricted, putting the pastoral communities under increasing threat. The identified drivers of land use/cover changes in the order of decreasing influence were the invasion of Prosopis juliflora, climate change, and variability, government intervention, and population growth. If enhancing the resilience of pastoral households is the final aim, the government and other partner organisations should focus more on long-term strategic livelihood interventions than on emergency relief interventions by equipping the local people with the capability to manage and respond to climate-induced shocks and stresses in the early stage of the crisis. Furthermore, the decision makers should develop a policy for controlling P. juliflora and ensuring accessibility of the rangeland to grazing and strengthening of the customary institution for effective management of rangeland resources.