Exploring the strategies for households to adapt to climate-change in arid and semiarid East Africa

Stanley K. Ng'ang'a

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In this thesis I set out to investigate how households cope and adapt to climate change in the context of arid and semi-arid areas of East Africa. This research fits well in the wider literature on the relationship between climate change and variability and household responses in term of coping and adaptation. Yet, there is still much to be learned about coping and adaptation strategies in light of climate change in the arid and semi-arid areas. I present evidence from the semi-arid areas of Kenya and Ethiopia based on household level data using a range of analytical methods.

In Chapter 1, I present an overview of the importance of arid and semi-arid areas to the livelihoods of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist, and the risks and uncertainties that these households face. I also highlight climate-related risk and the expected exacerbation of these risks due to future climate change. This discussion leads towards highlighting the importance of the impacts and risks associated with current climate variability to understand how households adapt now and how they could adapt to future, greater risks.

In Chapter 2, I analyse how natural environment and market accessibility affect coping and adaptation strategies of pastoralist, using a set of detailed data collected from a sample of 500 households in Samburu County in Kenya. Specifically, the research question that I seek to answer is whether households accumulate livestock wealth and invest in structural and cognitive social capital to protect themselves against climate risks. I find evidence, albeit weak, that households accumulate livestock wealth in response to living in an environment that is drier. I find no evidence that the households invest in either structural or cognitive social capital as insurance against climate risks. However, my results show that the coping strategies used by households varied across social groups in that, while rainfall does not robustly affect cognitive social capital among the wealthy households, there is a greater mutual trust among the ‘poor’ and ‘financially integrated’ households. These findings suggest that policies aiming to support strategies for improving household adaptive capacity in the semi-arid areas should incorporate information on the socio-economic condition, differential access to infrastructure, and dynamic and differentiated responses that households use.

In Chapter 3, I explore whether migration of household members enhances adoption of agricultural innovations that aim to provide protection against weather shocks. Specifically, I seek to find out whether migration and adaptation are complementary mechanisms that households or substitutes. I find evidence, which suggests that remittance from migrant households that can help to relax capital constraints. I also find that remittances are important mechanisms linking migration to adoption, by enabling households to adopt new technologies, particularly, those that involve high costs such as purchasing of drought tolerant livestock. These results indicate that households with at least one member who has migrated are able to overcome barriers of adopting costly adaptation practices by using remittances received. In this way, households enhance their self-protection against climate-related shocks.

In Chapter 4, using data from a sample of 400 households from Borena in Oromia region of Ethiopia, I investigate what drives adoption of adaptation agricultural practices that can decrease the vulnerability of agro-pastoralists to climate change. I find that households with strong adaptive capacity adopt a larger number of practices. I also find that households’ adaptive capacity is strong when the quality of local institutions is high. However, the explanatory power of adaptive capacity in explaining the adoption of adaptation practices is lower than household socio-economic characteristics. This finding suggests that aggregating information into one indicator of adaptive capacity for site-specific studies might not be able to explain adoption behaviour of households. The study also shows that strong local institutions lead to changes in key household characteristics, which positively affect adoption of both crops and livestock related adaptation practices. This analysis suggests that policies aiming to improve household adaptive capacity in the semi-arid areas should focus on strengthening local institutions.

In Chapter 5, I use a dynamic modelling approach to enhance my understanding of how the adoption of selected adaptation practices affect the food security and income for diverse agro-pastoralist households. I also explored the impact of climate change through increased probability of the drought on food security and farm income. I find that in sites where both cropping and livestock keeping is practiced, improved farm management (i.e., the use of fertiliser, certified seeds, preparing land early, and planting using the recommended rate) has the potential of preventing households from falling into food insecurity situation. In sites where only livestock keeping is practiced, I find that livestock intensification (i.e., changing livestock type and improving livestock management and livestock feeding) is key in preventing households from falling into food insecurity situation. I also find that improvement of market prices for farm products in all sites improves household food security and income. I also find that implementing improved farming and livestock intensification has the potential for minimizing the negative impact of drought – even when the probability of drought increases – on households’ food security and income. This exploration suggests that to improve food security and farm income in the semi-arid areas, policies should aim to support the use of fertiliser, certified seeds, provision of appropriate advice to households through agricultural extension officers and investment on infrastructures such as road and communication.

Chapter 6 provides a synthesis and discusses the broader implication from the research finding from this thesis. Adoption of innovative self-protection coping and adaptation strategies – which sometimes varies spatially among social groups – and local institutions play a key role as vehicles of change for improved households adaptation in the arid and semi-arid areas. Yet, these vehicles of change may also act as an obstacle to adaptation if they are not properly understood, because in such cases it may be difficult to modify, improve or support them. Therefore, an in-depth understanding of the role of self-protective coping and adaptation strategies and local institutions among households is of utmost importance.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Bulte, Erwin, Promotor
  • Giller, Ken, Promotor
  • Rufino, M.C., Co-promotor, External person
Award date9 Jan 2018
Place of PublicationWageningen
Electronic ISBNs9789463438278
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2018


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