Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Turkana Livelihood Strategies and Adaptation to  Drought in Kenya

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posted on 2021-11-09, 20:09 authored by Juma, Richard Otieno

Drought and famine in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the leading contributory causes of vulnerability in pastoral communities. Therefore, understanding pastoral vulnerability to drought and famine, and their indigenous adaptive strategies, is critical for mitigation planning. This study draws on the experience of Turkana pastoralists living in the Turkana District in the arid zone of north-western Kenya, an area with a long history of food insecurity. The study looks at the problem of drought and famine from a historical perspective in order to bring into context contemporary adaptive strategies. Special attention is focused on understanding the inherent potential of the Turkana people to change their own livelihoods within their respective social and economic milieu in response to drought and famine, with a view to understanding the implications of these indigenous responses to adapt to drought in this region in the future. Specifically, the study analyses the types of social networks which were activated during the 2005-2006 drought and famine which hence, over time have shaped the adaptation of the Turkana people's livelihood strategies. The sustainable livelihood approach was deemed appropriate to the focus of this research in that it provided the framework for an indepth exploration of how Turkana people survive during crises. The fieldwork was carried out for six months between February and July 2007. A sample of 80 household heads and eight key informants were randomly selected. Documentary review, observation and informal interviews, key informant interviews, a household survey, and case histories and mapping were used to obtain data. Data were analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively. The major findings were: firstly, that Turkana people apply a perceptual filter to their crises before finding a relevant livelihood strategy; secondly, that the Turkana possess a repertoire of adaptive strategies which stand out in relief and draw on social networks as an insurance system. The dominant modes of networks identified during the 2005-2006 drought and famine consisted of trading, reciprocity, migration, splitting families and the search for allies. For example, families were split with some members sent away to relatives, friends, and school in order to ease the consumption pressure on available household food resources. The process thus helped to slough off population from the pastoral sector. The allies sought out included traders, kinsmen, affine, bond friends, neighbours and school; and thirdly, that adaptability in the Turkana district is a function of the physical, social, and economic environment. For instance, the Ngibelai, who inhabited a more hostile and isolated rural environment suffered more severely, while the Ngisonyoka of the richer urban environment escaped almost unscathed since their adaptive strategies aimed at augmenting existing domestic food supplies by looking for non-pastoral food sources. Finally, the study concludes that, since the drought and famine problem in the Turkana District is an indication of what might become a wider problem throughout Kenya; the challenge for the Turkana people and the Kenyan government is to plan for a sustainable adaptive strategy based on indigenous initiatives.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Overton, John; McKinnon, John