Colorado State University Researchers Address Climate Change Impacts on Maasai Pastoralists in Kenya

Two Colorado State University researchers are launching a research project that will ultimately help Maasai livestock herders in Kenya adapt to impacts from climate change.

The project, “Pastoral Transformations to Resilient Futures: Understanding Climate from the Ground Up,” is led by Kathleen Galvin, a professor in CSU’s Department of Anthropology and senior research scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. Robin Reid, director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation in the Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU, is a member of the project team. Kenyan collaborators include Jesse Njoka, professor at the University of Nairobi, Kenya; David Nkedianye, director of Reto o Reto, a non-governmental organization in Kenya; and Philip Thornton, senior scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi.

Galvin and her collaborators will help Maasai pastoralists to create strategies for sustaining livestock production based on an understanding of the most important climate and social changes affecting livestock management and the cultural, socio-economic and physical impediments to climate change adaptation.

“If we can understand pastoral perceptions of climate and other changes and their effects on livestock management, the environment and the economy, we can help communities develop a vision for their future that includes solutions to these problems and allows for sustainable livestock production,” Galvin said.

The future of traditional mobile livestock herding in Kenya is under attack from a number of fronts. Increasingly, land is fragmented by human settlements, roads, crop production, wildlife preserves and land grabs. This patchwork of land ownership and management makes it difficult for herders to access seasonal forage and water resources they need to maintain their herds, often their main source of livelihood. This situation will only be further compounded by climate change, which will shrink vital resources, further limiting access and increasing competition and conflict.

“This project is about helping people help themselves,” Galvin said. “We do not have the answers. Rather, we hope to give them the information and resources they need to move further along in thinking about their future.”

This project is funded through the Adapting Livestock Systems to Climate Change Collaborative Research Support Program, established in May 2010 through a $15 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded to CSU’s Animal Population Health Institute and the university’s Institute for Livestock and the Environment. The goal of the program is to pursue interdisciplinary research, education and outreach in semi-arid regions to better the lives and livelihoods of small-scale livestock producers by developing strategies to help them cope with the impacts of climate change. For more information, visit