Climate change coping strategies among pastoralists of Marsabit (Kenya) and implications for food security and public health

Contributing to the design of intervention frameworks aimed at increasing pastoralists communities’ resilience to climate change.

The challenge

Climate change is the major threat to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa countries, such as Kenya with consequences particularly extreme in arid and semi-arid areas where pastoralist-based livestock systems are an essential livelihood strategy.

In Marsabit county, the proposed study area, 81% of the populationrely on pastoral livelihoods as most parts of the county are arid and unsuitable for crop production. Additionally 75% of its population lives below the poverty line, thus are already vulnerable to environmental shocks. One of the major impacts of climate change on pastoralists has been frequent drought resulting in massive loss of livestock (up to 60% of the county’s livestock in recent years), with dramatic impacts on pastoralist lives.

Previous research findings suggest a shift from cattle to camels asone coping strategy. There is a lack of robust research regarding the extend of this change, its implications for the management of livestock and resources and the prevalence of camel-associated zoonotic diseases in Kenya. However, recent studies have shown the presence of neglected zoonotic pathogensin camelids in other areas of the country, including Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)(11).

What we're doing

We are investigating the relevance of the shift to camels in Marsabit for livelihoods, identifying other strategies that are being adopted jointly, and determining the implications of those on pastoralist livelihoods, such as changes in livestock management practices.

This project will establish a basis for future research that aims to investigate the prevalence of zoonotic disease in livestock (particularly camels), a crucial research gap in the north of Kenya.

To understand the context and learn about pastoralists and their practices in the current climate change scenario, we are conducting in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with them. We are also holding key informant interviews with state and non-state agents dealing with climate change and adaptation, animal and human health and food security.

How it helps

Pastoralism is a system of sustainable livestock production that links people, livestock and environment. Livestock functions as a food supply as well as a store of value, culture, wealth, and a source of power and authority for pastoralist communities. Furthermore, pastoral systems are compatible with biodiversity conservation and soil health preservation. This research aims to have direct impact on pastoralist’s livelihoods.

Participatory intervention recommendations will be developed through understanding and inclusion of local knowledge and pastoralists’perceptions.

Our findings will be shared with local authorities and communities, in order to contribute to designing intervention frameworks aimed at increasing pastoralists communities’ resilience to climate change. This bottom-up approach will support pastoralists’ involvement in those interventions.


  • Dr Cristina Ballesteros, Bristol Veterinary School
  • James Miser Akoko, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

cristina ballesteros Lead researcher profile

Dr Cristina Ballesteros, Bristol Veterinary School

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