Adaptation decision-making shifts to locals in Kenya

by Erin Berger | @erineberger | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 15 July 2013 10:30 GMT

A Kenyan woman walks with her donkeys carrying water after trekking 6 km (3.7 miles) to the only well with water in the Kenyan town of El Wak, 1,530 km (951 miles) from the capital Nairobi, December 19, 2005. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

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Pilot projects in northern Kenya will put pastoralists and farmers in charge of their own climate responses, with money to back their plans

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new series of pilot projects in Northern Kenya will place greater decision-making powers about climate change adaptation into the hands of community members – a move backers hope will create sustainable solutions for area farmers and pastoralists.

In the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, crop farmers and mobile pastoralists live within the same areas but have very distinct lifestyles. Until now, climate change planning systems implemented by a centralized government have mainly ignored those differences.

But with Kenya’s new constitution published in 2010, local governments now have more autonomy. The new pilot projects, implemented by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Christian Aid and CARE, aim to translate this power shift to an even more local level.

A Climate Adaptation Fund (CAF) will be set up this year in Garissa, Isiolo and Kitui Counties, with additional counties joining over the next three years. Regional decision makers will then determine the best way to disperse CAF money for climate adaptation projects, based on what their communities say they need.

In Isiolo County, for instance, pastoralists rely on the Boran dedha system of rotating grazing lands, in which some areas are grazed while others are reserved for times of drought. The system relies on community consensus and enforcement by local institutions, both of which have degraded over time, said James Pattison, a consultant for IIED who has worked on the project since 2009. 

In terms of climate adaptation, “one thing people said they would focus adaptation on is to re-empower these local dedha councils since it’s become easier for people to flout local rules and regulations,” Pattison said. That might mean that some of the CAF funds would go toward designing local bylaws in order to manage resources in a more coordinated way.

The project’s main aim is to build capacity and skills at the county level so that local officials could eventually work on their own to request national funding for projects.


A key to achieving that, Pattison said, is building greater mutual understanding between local people and their governing officials. Government officials often look down on local knowledge and specifically on pastoralist practices, he said, so officials need to learn why farmers operate the way they do. Farmers, similarly, can benefit from understanding the constraints on government.

To start the process, participating counties went through a resilience assessment process involving community meetings, household interviews and meetings with youth and women’s groups. These conversations started in 2009, Pattison said.

“It seems unusual that you get such a long investment at the beginning to build relationships and understand the context before you start,” he said. “But that’s very important.”

Much effort has also gone into ensuring adequate representation for groups including women and young people. Pattison said that these groups often agreed with the broader community on important priorities, but also had goals of their own that previously went unheard.

“We heard from women time and time again that all the strong women who could speak well in a public context were never invited to meetings,” he said.


Women, for instance, said ensuring water was available for household uses was key, as fetching it took time away from activities to diversify household income.

“They presented it in terms of opportunity cost,” Pattison said. “And the community agreed that actually those priorities were important.”

Local people also spoke of the need for a radio station, which is now set to become operational in the coming months, to fulfill a variety of needs. Its main purpose is to provide accessible weather information so farmers can plan ahead. 

Residents have already requested additional programming, from music and wedding announcements to information about nearby outbreaks of conflict. 

“Not everyone has a radio, but everyone has access to a radio,” Pattison said. “So this will reach pretty much everyone.”

The station will be run by locals and, like the rest of the pilot project, is open to changes as the community sees fit. Pattison stressed that IIED and the other organizations involved don’t plan on having a role beyond the pilot phase; their focus is simply on building capacity so the communities can eventually push ahead on their own.

“That’s what this project is really about,” he said. “Trying to come up with a structure with local people and local government for being more inclusive. Climate change adaptation is just the window through which we can do that.”

Erin Berger is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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