Closing the environment-migration gap in climate policy and programmes in the Horn of Africa

This blog series is related to the REF’s ongoing study on climate change and migration in the Horn of Africa. This research study is being carried out in Ethiopia (Somali Region), Kenya (Tana River County) and Somaliland (Togdheer and Maroodijeex regions). The study investigates how people use migration as a strategy for adapting to environmental change and how people’s circumstances and profiles influence their migration decisions. The study also explores the political, economic and academic interests behind the narratives shaping climate policy and programmes. Lastly, the research will consider the impact of these findings for the development of climate-related policy and programmes in the Horn of Africa.

Below are reflections from fieldwork from the three researchers for this study. The final report will be available in September 2022.

Hussein Abdullahi Mahmoud, United States International University Africa, Kenya

Two men in a field in Kenya talking to eachother.
Hussein Mahmoud, pictured with a pastoralist in Asa village watering his cattle from a pan in the rangelands of Tana River County

The Tana River County, located at the Kenya coast, hosts communities who live in different ecological zones that provide them with various livelihood resources. While the Pokomo are farmers and live mainly along the Tana River and in the Tana River Delta, the Orma and Wardey pastoralists live in the vast rangelands located in the north and west of the county and also in the delta. The Munyu Yaya and Wailwana are minority communities and practice farming along the river bank while the Waata are a hunting and gathering community, but now live on the fringes of towns doing menial jobs or living on the main roads burning and selling charcoal. These communities are affected by climatic changes in different ways. For example, while pastoralists migrate long distances from the north and west of the county into the delta during the dry season, farming communities are displaced by floods and move short distances from river banks. In addition to droughts and floods, areas in the delta also witnesse communal conflicts and insecurity, which has led to displacement of communities, as was seen in 2012/2013 due to conflict between farming and herding communities.

Pastoralists from Tana River County as well as adjoining counties such as Garissa and Wajir migrate to the delta during prolonged droughts. In fact, as this blog is being written (August 2022), the drought in the rangelands is worsening, leading to massive movement of camels, cattle, sheep and goats to the delta, which is fondly referred to as “the bathroom of Tana River County” as it is always wet. The delta is now congested with pastoralists competing amongst themselves and with farming communities for grazing land that is increasingly becoming crowded. Some pastoralist communities who have settled in the delta permanently raise crops as a diversification strategy, but this practice reduces land area available for dry-season grazing. As well, farmers are cultivating land previously used as access routes for livestock to the river. This sometimes make pastoralists move their livestock into farming areas in order to access water thereby creating conflict between them and farmers.

Migration and displacement resulting from environmental change bring all these communities into each other’s migratory paths. While the Orma pastoralists and the Pokomo farming communities have lived together quite amicably in the delta for a long time, the pressure exerted on the rangeland and the delta’s resources by newly arriving Somali pastoralists from Garissa and Wajir Counties seems to aggravate the already dire grazing and security situation in Tana River County.

Abdirahman Ahmed, Jigjiga University, Ethiopia

“There is nowhere to move. The drought has equally affected places that we used to migrate to in the past. That is why we name this drought as Sima (equalizer), as it equally affected everywhere in the region”, reflected Mohamud, a local elder in Goljano Kebele of the Kebribayah district in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. “In the past, this area was relatively better than other parts of the region in terms of pasture and water, but now the recent drought has equalized us”.

Goljano is an agropastoral village located in the north of Kebribayah bordering Awbare district of the Somali Regional State.  It is one of the study locations for the REF’s study on climate change and mobility. The main livelihoods in the area include agriculture/farming (maize, wheat, and some cash crops like onion) and livestock. According to the residents, the area used to be a safety valve for managing droughts for pastoralists from Jarar, Korahey, Shabelle, Nogob, and Doollo zones of the Somali region, as well as for those from the Somaliland side of the border. The pasture in the area used to be relatively better than other areas. Due to the worsening situation of the pastoralists as a result of climate change, mobility into this area in search of pasture was unprecedented over the last two years. The worst was in 2021 and the village was overwhelmed by the numbers of people and livestock moving into the area because of the drought. Traditional structures for managing drought were not effective and to some extent non-existent. Meager resources such as Birkas (cisterns for water), grass, and agricultural savings were managed at an individual and/or household level. Formal structures and community elders strongly suggest the locals share their water, pasture, and agricultural reserves with the immigrants displaced by the drought. This generosity and culture of sharing, common among pastoralist communities, has led to a situation where residents have run out of reserves. “If this situation persists, we will move to the towns”. Despite this situation, however, no resource (pasture and water) based conflict was mentioned by the informants.

In the past, movement to nearby and far areas, grazing and agricultural reserves were the main coping mechanisms during the dry season for the residents. Since the reserves have already been consumed and shared with those who migrated with their livestock, now the residents were digging the ground, uprooting the grass to feed the roots (Burxaan in Somali) to their remaining livestock. This could potentially affect the dormant grasses even after the rains leading to land degradation.

Long-distance mobilities are becoming less common due to the widespread drought. Pastoral and agropastoral communities use mobile technologies instead of scouts to figure out movements. They use transports to move their livestock from distant places. For this reason, one finds livestock from distant transported into areas where water is available. Yo’ob village of Doollo zone, another site for this study, historically known for its water points (schemes), was a case in point accommodating livestock from the four zones of Afdheer, Shabelle, Korahey, and Jarar. There are around 10 schemes and they were accessible to everyone.

Early warning information and climate change awareness are nonexistent in the areas visited. This was mainly due to two reasons: the lack of functional early warning systems and structures that deliver the information to the lower administrative structures; and the fact that pastoral and agropastoral communities believe that climate-related information and changes were not for humans to predict and therefore they would not take actions according to climate predictions. “Whether it will rain or fail, that is for Allah to determine. But we will not move because someone told us it is not going to rain. It is a sin to believe it”.

Mohamed Fadal, Social Research and Development Institute (SORADI), Somaliland

Pastoralism today in Somaliland is a way of life for millions of rural people and to continues to be the backbone of its economy. The ravages of climate change are obvious everywhere in rural Somaliland, manifested in the form of seriously degraded common rangelands, depleted of the essential pastures and bushes – the preferred feed of the hoofed wealth of sheep, goats and camels. These used to sustain the pastoralists and also augment the incomes of the city people through the year-round open ‘seylad’ – livestock market. 

However, since the proliferation of rainwater harvesting infrastructure such as earth dams and Berkado (cemented reservoirs), their mobility pattern has changed to a semi-settled shorter seasonal movements. Due to this change and other factors related to climate, environment and socio-economic considerations, their livelihoods have become precarious.

A field suffering from drought
South Togdheer rangelands in Somaliland

During the field research of the REF’s study on climate change and mobility in May 2022 in the southern Togdheer and Maroodijeex regions (known as “Haud”), we observed that Gu’ (major rains) were only sporadic and did not produce the nutritive pasture as expected. The livestock, as a result, is weak and unproductive. The milk and meat for consumption sales are not there today. In fact, pastoralists are spending more money on feeding livestock, than they are getting from livestock production.

Today, drought, having continued since 2016, is no longer something out of the ordinary in the lives of pastoral and agropastoral communities.  If you ask them about climate change, they understand much better than the Somaliland planners and urbanites, but nobody asks them or bothers to tap into their rich traditional knowledge.

For these communities, Cimilo (climate) is extremely important for their livelihood systems; they used to observe its features such as wind directions and the seasonal temperature changes, to predict the timing and strength of seasonal rains. All these factors are changing from what they knew, leaving them in limbo to plan their breeding calendars, their seasonal migrations, their Jilaal (dry season) water reserve decisions, their farm and livestock product sales and multitude of other decisions critical to their livelihoods. Despite their understanding of climate change, sometimes far superior than planners and urbanites, their rich traditional knowledge remains to be adequately harnessed. Left with few options, they may be forced to move to IDP camps, swelling with those displaced from the drought, that now dot the major roads and cities in Somaliland.

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