COMMENT: Livestock steps out of the shadows: value chain analysis for resilience in drylands

Maitera Saitoti, a Maasai warrior from Kajiado, Kenya, knows what it’s like to have to rely on increasingly irregular rainfall for his pastoralist livelihood. He had to rebuild his livestock herd after the 2009 drought by using his herding skills to navigate seasonal rivers, fenced ranches and new tarmac roads to reach Nairobi’s livestock market. In the past, interventions to help pastoralists like Maitera cope with drought were based on inaccurate assumptions about the ecological and social dynamics of drylands, which often led to negative outcomes.

Unique, interdisciplinary approach

The (PRISE) research project is taking a unique approach to identifying effective adaptation interventions in African and Asian drylands by bringing together ecological and economic theory. PRISE is implementing an original, three-step approach – called Value Chain Analysis for Resilience in Drylands (VC-ARID) –  to identify adaptation options and opportunities for private sector investment in key sectors of Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Pakistan.

At the core of VC-ARID is the interdisciplinary collaboration between us – Elizabeth Carabine and Catherine Simonet – as PRISE researchers, respectively an ecologist and economist by training. Taking traditional economic value chain analysis, we’ve tailored this approach specifically for sectors where production is rooted in drylands: livestock and cotton. Our systematic value chain approach allows us to identify weak links in these chains and opportunities for strengthening them through private sector investment.

This week at Adaptation Futures 2016 in Rotterdam, we’ll host a session, which focuses on our innovative approach, and present early evidence from VC-ARID. Several years ago, it would have been nearly unthinkable that livestock-based livelihoods would merit their own session at a conference like this. But the narrative around pastoralism in Africa has shifted.

Livestock-based livelihoods can be ‘drivers’ of inclusive, climate-resilient economic development

Policymakers and donors are now paying attention to the potential of these marginalised livelihoods to drive inclusive and climate-resilient economic development in some of the world’s poorest countries. But before this can be achieved, we need to know much more about how pastoralism works: Who is involved? How do these markets function? How can climate risk be managed?

Drylands cover 40% of the world and have highly variable ecological and climatic conditions. This is why VC-ARID explicitly recognises seasonal effects on livestock and cotton value chains. Around 2 billion people making a living in drylands have learned to manage these conditions through social practices based on local knowledge, including seasonal migration. So VC-ARID incorporates both informal and formal pathways in the value chains and explicitly explores gender dimensions. Dryland areas are nearly always marginalised, both politically and economically, so VC-ARID positions these areas as drivers of growth in key national economic sectors.

Ending humanitarian emergencies

Drylands face a range of risks. Drought is currently gripping the Horn of Africa, as it did in 2011, and the Sahel, as in 2012. The 2010 floods in Pakistan damaged the livelihoods of cotton farmers as crops and drainage infrastructure were swept away. Textiles, Pakistan’s largest industrial sector, also suffered as production declined and imports went up to meet demand.

Dryland agricultural systems globally will face increasing vulnerability as climate change interacts with factors like population growth and environmental degradation. This will profoundly impact the wellbeing and livelihoods of people living in these areas, and an increasingly globalised world. Growing populations will increase the demand for water and food. But prolonged droughts will put pressure on these resources while maize, millet and sorghum production declines across Africa.

This is why VC-ARID considers climate risks – such as increasing temperature and changing rainfall patterns – at each step along the chain, from production and processing, to domestic and international markets. By understanding how each person and business in these value chains might be affected by climate risk, we can identify options to help them adapt to climate change, and for dryland economies to grow in inclusive and resilient ways.

Unprecedented opportunities for comparison

VC-ARID is replicated by 7 research teams in 5 countries, offering unprecedented opportunities for comparison between dryland regions: What can Burkina Faso’s nationalised cotton sector learn from the more liberalised Pakistani cotton trade? What can Senegal’s domestic livestock market learn from Kenya’s financial and pharmaceutical services? These questions will be explored in our VC-ARID PRISE report, due to be published this September.

Step 1 of VC-ARID, mapping the value chain, has already taken place. In Step 2, our teams will work with actors identified in the mapping stage to identify climate risk. Bringing together private and public sector stakeholders, Step 3 will identify opportunities for adaptation and investment in these value chains. In this way, PRISE will be able to contribute a roadmap towards inclusive climate-resilient economic development based on solid evidence.

By Elizabeth Carabine @lizcarabine, Catherine Simonet @cat_simonet

Follow PRISE on Twitter: @PRISEclimate and Adaptation Futures @confAF2016

A version of this blog, Livestock drives resilience in drylands, was first published on


Image: Maasai ilmurran (warriors) in Kajiado, Kenya, by Damian Overton.