Ecosystem-based adaptation: a buffer for pastoralists?

Payment for ecosystem services buffers pastoralist households from fluctuating income caused by the effects of a changing climate, say Osano et al in a paper published in International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management. Depending on land use restrictions, payment for ecosystem services can also generate other synergies or trade-offs.

20130329............................Untitled 1Pastoralists have indigenous ways of adapting to droughts, but climate change is now bringing new challenges that may render these indigenous adaptation strategies inadequate. The coping strategies of pastoralists focus primarily on livestock, but these communities also derive benefits from other ecosystem services. Thus, arises an interest in the potential for ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA)—the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to the impacts of climate change. In Maasailand, the establishment of wildlife conservancies, through partnerships between Maasai landowners and commercial tourism enterprises can be considered as an EBA because conservancies manage rangelands to enhance both wildlife tourism and pastoral livelihoods.

Income provision and poverty reduction are the direct benefits of payment for ecosystem services (PES). But little attention has been paid to the indirect benefits or co-benefits of PES, including its role in EBA. This study set out to fill this knowledge gap by evaluating the contribution of conservancies and PES to climate change adaptation among the Maasai pastoralists in southern Kenya. Enabling communities to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.

The research was conducted in three sites predominantly inhabited by the Maasai: Olare Orok (OOC) and Naibosho conservancies (in the Maasai Mara), the Kitengela, and the Ol Kiramatian conservancy, all located in Kenya. The sites were chosen based on the presence or absence of a PES program and existing differences in land tenure.

It was found that droughts are recurrent and severe across the three study sites, with more extreme and severe droughts recorded in the last two decades (1990s and 2000s) than in the three decades earlier (1960s, 1970s and 1980s). Moreover, the droughts are more localised, which means herders and their livestock have to move across the three sites and other parts of Maasailand in search for pasture and water. Drought increases the vulnerability of pastoral livelihoods in two ways. First, it leads to high livestock mortality resulting in the decline in per capita livestock holding among pastoral households. Second, it also leads to the reduction in the cash income derived from the sale of livestock and its products—creating short-term liquidity constraints. The conservancies and PES enable pastoral households to diversify to wildlife and tourism income sources.

There are also trade-offs. In both the Mara and Kitengela, participating households cannot diversify to crop cultivation. Moreover, in the OOC, the relatively high PES rates are offset by the limitation imposed on livestock grazing inside the conservancy. In Kitengela, landowners are paid to avoid crop cultivation and fencing but allowed to keep and graze livestock herds on PES enrolled land. In the OOC, human settlements are excluded and livestock grazing is also limited and controlled. In the Ol Kiramatian conservancy, livestock grazing is carefully planned allowing members to use the conservancy as a drought refuge in dry-seasons. Overall, the land use restrictions adopted in one site may also affect herders across all the sites because of considerable mobility of herders among the three sites during droughts.

Do conservancies offer potential for ecosystem-based adaptation? Can the pastoral communities inhabiting Kenyan Masailand adapt to climate change using conservancies and payments for ecosystem services? Yes. Conservancies and PES programs provide income that buffers pastoral families from fluctuating income and liquidity constraints. However, if droughts become more frequent and severe and have considerable negative impact on both livestock and wildlife, it can jeopardise the potential of conservancies and PES as a coping strategy. Conservancies and PES programs can generate synergies or trade-offs for pastoral families depending on stipulated land use restrictions. There is, therefore, a need to maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs arising from conservancy land management.

Read the full article.

Osano PM, Said MY, De Leeuw J, Moiko SS, Kaelo DO, Schomers S, Birner R, Ogutu JO. 2013. Pastoralism and ecosystem-based adaptation in Kenyan Maasailand. International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management 5 (2): 198-214


Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on

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