What is adaptation and resilience in the context of environmental change? : Case studies from Laikipia and Turkana Counties, Kenya

Watch The Research and Evidence Facility’s debut webinar highlighting findings from environmental change and resilience research in Kenya.

Caitlin Sturridge presented her report Moving in contexts of environmental change, exploring rural-urban livelihoods in Laikipia, Kenya, and challenging common assumptions about mobility and livelihoods. Caitlin was joined by Greta Semplici, presenting Resilience in action. This report examines the concept of ‘resilience’ from the perspective of pastoralist communities in Turkana, Kenya as well as the development/humanitarian sector.

Turkana and Laikipia Counties face several comparable ecological, economic, and political challenges, which have had an influence on resident communities. In Laikipia, growing water scarcity, widespread economic decline and historical privatisation of land have come together to de-stabilise local livelihoods. Turkana’s primarily pastoralist populations, similarly, confront increasing land fragmentation, ineffective governance, conflict and competition over pasture and water, and climate change. In the face of these challenges and precarity, communities in Laikipia and in Turkana have devised various localised adaptations that challenge pre-existing popular notions about livelihoods, mobility and resilience, while compelling a shift in how policymakers and practitioners envision these.

In Laikipia, mobile and diversified livelihoods have emerged as a key response to these shifting ecological and economic circumstances. Individuals move to exploit unevenly distributed resources in the rural and urban landscape, with these movements tending to be relatively short-distance and bi-directional (rural to urban and vice versa). Improvements in transportation and communication infrastructure have further propelled these movements. Mobility and migration in this context arise from a complex set of environmental, socioeconomic and political factors and from both choice and coercion. However, diversified livelihoods transcend physical migration; social relationships and livelihood connectivity across the rural-urban spectrum have critical repercussions for linked economies and overall understanding of household resilience.

For pastoralists in Turkana County, adaptation has historically been a key strategy in the face of uncertainty and change. Although the popular view of drylands among policymakers and practitioners is one of vulnerability and degradation, pastoralists recognise and exploit the variability that drylands offer. Mobility, herd and livelihood diversification, and social networks are some of the principal ways pastoralists in Turkana ensure their ‘resilience’. Importantly, pastoralists’ constant adaptation to changing circumstances is at odds with development practice, which tends to not only view them as passive beneficiaries of aid but is also unable to keep pace with the dynamism inherent in pastoralism.    

Ultimately, the two papers urge a shift in conceptual understanding of such terms as ‘mobility’, ‘livelihoods’ and ‘resilience’. Practitioners and policymakers must not only re-examine established ideas that may lack nuance and complexity, but also strive to incorporate new knowledge and community perspectives about how people adapt to their shifting circumstances Only by questioning entrenched approaches can development practitioners and policymakers contribute to the resilience of communities in areas as varied as Laikipia and Turkana.

Photo by Joshua Brown on Unsplash

Explore the research from the Research & Evidence Facility

Moving in contexts of environmental change

This research by Caitlin Sturridge explores the physical movements, and the translocal connections that accompany them, through the perspective of rural-urban livelihoods in Laikipia County, Kenya.

Resilience in action: Local practices in development/humanitarian policies
by Greta Semplici

This research by Greta Semplici investigates the adoption of ideas of resilience in the drylands of Turkana by the development and humanitarian sector.

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