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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 1.71

Can non-pastoral activities build resilience among pastoralists?


  • Dr. Peter LITTLE

Primary authors


This paper addresses the questions: (1) can non-pastoral activities and livelihood diversification be important keys for building resilience among pastoralists of northern Kenya; and (2) what types of non-pastoral activities may sustain pastoralism in the future under rapidly changing contexts, and which ones may undermine it? To answer these questions, the paper uses the case of the Il Chamus community of Baringo County, Kenya who for most of the past 100 years have pursed a mainly pastoralist livelihood. This community has confronted multiple environmental shocks, including drought, floods, conflicts and insecurity, and the invasion of the prosopius juniflora plant, and considerable economic changes that have reduced livestock numbers. To account for the decline in livestock numbers and reduced access to grazing areas, households have increasingly diversified into a range of non-pastoralist livelihood activities, especially irrigated agriculture, wage labor migration, and trading and small business. The paper argues that as livestock numbers have declined and large expanses of grazing have become inaccessible, dependence on cash income and expenditures has grown. This type of diversification, however, has not meant a withdrawal from pastoralism as a large majority of households still own and sell livestock, practice customary livestock loaning and exchange practices, and pursue new forms of mobility to maintain herds during dry seasons. Despite considerable changes, livestock continue to be important means of holding wealth and maintaining social status. Data presented in the paper are based on anthropological research in northern Kenya spanning 35+ years, including a recent 2016-2018 study.