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The difference a species makes: converting to camels in northern Kenya

The difference a species makes: converting to camels in northern Kenya

The aim of the research is relatively simple: to examine what happens when the pastoralists of northern Kenya replace one animal (a cow), with another, more drought resistant one (a camel). A 'shift' to camels has become increasingly common over the past ten-twenty years, and has been understood by observers as 'a means to build climate resilience'. The present research investigates the complex processes involved in the shift, and the extent to which it meets observers' expectations.

eri-urban highland camels

Figure 1: Peri-urban highland camels near Marsabit

The research focused on the regions immediately surrounding Marsabit mountain in arid northern Kenya. Through qualitative interviews with Boran, Gabra, Rendille and Samburu people living on the mountain, the research examined when, why and how people living on the slopes of this mountain started to give up cattle herding and take up camels, and the consequences of this shift. The research also investigated the risks that accompany the shift, and the roles and responses of development organizations in the region to these developments. The processes involved speak to literatures on climate change adaptation and resilience; pastoralism and development; and indigenous understandings of, and responses to, climate change.

The research was made possible by a Thesiger Oman International Fellowship from the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers. It has been carried out with Hassan Hussein Kochore (National Museums of Kenya and University of Oxford) and Bulle Hallo Dabasso (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute).

A press report from this research is available.

Map of northern Kenya

Figure 2: Map of northern Kenya showing location of research

Research team

Figure 3: Research team, learning to plough with camel

The research has been presented at a Symposium on Historical and Political Ecology of Land and Water in Eastern Africa, at University of Uppsala, November 2013.

Papers from this research will be presented at the AAG in April 2014, and at a symposium organized by Watson, David Anderson, Justin Willis and Paul Lane, at the British Institute in Eastern Africa, entitled Reconfiguring Landscapes and Bio-cultural Frontiers in Eastern Africa, in March 2014. For further details of this symposium, please contact Liz Watson.