From the Field Borana pastoralist struggling to survive under the recurrent drought in Ethiopia

by Sintayehu Alemayehu and Sintayehu Workeneh (PhD)

Ethiopia is a home of about 15 million pastoralists and is ranked 5th in the world. Oromia region is one of the regions in Ethiopia with a large number of pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. Most of the communities in zone are pastoralist and agro-pastoralist, and therefore, are reliant on livestock as both a source of income and food. Livestock is also a symbol of pride and social status for families and communities. The zone have been experiencing one of the most severe climate change induced droughts following four consecutive failed rainy seasons since late 2020 which results in massive livestock deaths, disrupts the flow of income and food sources for pastoralists. It is one of the worst droughts in the area of the last 40 years.

The Alliance of Bioversity International and The International Center for Tropical Agriculture team recently conducted a fieldwork to drought-affected areas of Borena Zone to assess the current status of water points as part of livestock water source monitoring and risk management system project funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). We witnessed that due to recurrent drought;

  • Pastures and water become very scarce. This, in turn, results livestock mortality. Livestock mortality jeopardize livelihood assets of pastoralists and forced for internal displacement.
  • Rangeland and many water ponds are dried; roadsides scattered with carcasses of dead livestock and met pastoralists struggling to provide food and water for their families. 
  • In places where there is water, livestock are very weak and emaciated body conditions due to shortage of feed, leading to lower incomes for pastoralists who sell their livestock or their products or not marketable   
  • Sources of clean water for domestic use are also disappearing due to the drought. Thus pastoralists forced to share water with livestock 

The drought is causing food insecurity, a severe disruption to pastoralists’ livelihoods, and displacement of people searching for food and water. Therefore, pastoralists in the zone are in urgent need of food, water, healthcare, and livestock assistance. The ongoing humanitarian assistance also needs to be urgently scaled up. 

What the livestock water source monitoring and risk management system project is doing to build climate resilient pastoral system?

An elderly pastoral man said "we, pastoralists, are nothing without livestock. In the past, we saved them during drought by moving from place to place, but today it is impossible because everything has dried out everywhere we went. He hopes that the rains will come, and things will get better but we wonder about our future”. He also expressed his fears for their survival as a pastoral community in the future”. 

In the view of this, drought in zone is a major social, economic and environmental challenge. Therefore, long-term action is needed to respond to their fear, which is expected to happen in the future due to drought occurrence.  To this end, the Alliance Bioversity and CIAT team in collaboration with Government and Non-Government Organizations is actively working to deliver research-based solutions to address and support the commitment of countries to solve developmental challenges as well as enhance pastoralist resilience to climate change. Since November 2022, a livestock water source monitoring and risk management system project has been implementing to enhance resilience to the changing climate in pastoral areas of Ethiopia.  The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and led by Alliance Bioveristy International and CIAT in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, along with other key national and local institutions with the aim to improve climate adaptive capacity of agriculture systems by creating a platform that integrates water source demands with water availability in real-time, supporting decision making and dissemination to the pastoralists for risk management. Moreover, the project builds capacity for a robust pastoral community of practice and equip them with well-evidenced livestock risk management practices built on a near real time water monitoring information system

Climate induced drought is not a new event in the area, rather, the severity and frequency of droughts are growing. Thus, it will worsen in the future, with more negative consequences for rural pastoral communities in the area and beyond. There is an urgent need for proactive drought risk management solutions to ensure their survival. Thus, Alliance and CIAT will continue its commitment to develop research based proactive drought risk management solution to identify risks before it happens and figure out ways to avoid or alleviate the risk. These in turn require collaborative action, continuous funding and improved coordination to link resilience and recovery to the proactive drought management efforts. 

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