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Strengthening Local Customary Institutions: A Case Study in Isiolo County, Northern Kenya

The investments included funds made available through a devolved Climate Adaptation Fund (CAF), as well as from other sources. £66,234 was invested by Ward Adaptation Planning Committees in the wards of Kinna, Garba Tula, Sericho and Merti to build adaptive capacity to shocks and climate variability by strengthening customary institutions known in the local Boran dialect as ‘Dedha’.

These CAF funds enabled the Dedha to review their institutional functions and procedures and to hold strategic meetings, including cross border meetings with resource users from neighbouring counties. Dedha members then invested their own funds to boost resource surveillance and management of the grazing areas over the long dry season May-October, 2014.The assessment was undertaken within the same year as the investments in institutional strengthening.

Amongst the benefits observed locally, economic values were estimated for pastoralists’ income from livestock sales, livestock survival, health and milk production. While the benefits to the local Dedha from their investments in natural resource stewardship were significant, the value of benefits to pastoralists migrating into the County from the neighbouring resource insecure areas of Marsabit, Wajir and Garissa counties were even larger.

Because the dry season grazing areas and drought reserves did not become overgrazed during 2014, this would also contribute to vegetation availability for 2015. Other longer term benefits would include improved ecosystem function and service provision and indirect effects on the local economy and society and wildlife. These included reduced conflict, and increased political recognition for local decision-making.

The economic value of these other benefits could not readily be estimated during the rapid assessment.The assessment confirmed that investing in adaptation to climate change at the community and ecosystem level brought rapid pay-offs, as well as building in resilience to changes anticipated over future decades. The expenditures that the Dedha had made on natural resource stewardship over the long dry season (May-October, 2014) were around five times the amount that they had received from the CAF. The ratio of the immediate returns to the Dedha’s investment was around 24:1. In other words, the Dedha had spent around 4% of the total of annual livestock sales and dry season milk production for marketing or home consumption.

In addition, despite the harsh conditions of the long dry season, livestock mortalities had been avoided.Had a drought occurred, without the continued water and pasture availability in the drought reserves, due to the Dedha’s management system, they estimated that up to 40-60% of their herds would have died. Therefore, the value of mortalities avoided would have increased the collective return on their investment up to as much as 90:1. Furthermore, because some members of the Dedha had more animals than others, in the event of a drought those who had larger than average herds would have secured a benefit ratio of over 100:1 from their investment in natural resource stewardship through the Dedha.

Although in 2014, the rains arrived before a full-blown drought emergency was declared, the case for the better-off members of the Dedha to continue investing more in their own institutions was clear.Although the rapid assessment was limited by the timeframe in which it was implemented and the selection of benefits for which a market value was readily identifiable, the direct observation of immediate benefits as they were experienced by local people provided a useful indication of the sustainability of the adaptation approach.

The exploration of rapid returns on investments, as well as the identification of needs for longer term assessment should help to inform the use of cost-benefit criteria in the ongoing selection of adaptation projects by the WAPCs in Isiolo, as well as in counties elsewhere in Kenya and further afield where local climate adaptation funds are being created. Reviewing and communicating the benefits may have further contributed to local recognition of the benefits and subsequent decisions by the Dedha members to reinvest.

We conclude that the local customary institutions secured rapid benefits to society through their adaptations. Building rapid participatory assessment processes into adaptation funds captures and can be a means to both recognize and maximize their benefits to society. Developing longer-term local ecological studies to capture the full benefits would be even more beneficial.

Ensuring that the full range of benefits from community- and ecosystem level adaptation are fully recognized by national governments will require adequate provisions for assessment to be included in the design of adaptation funds and programs.

By: Daoud Tari, Caroline King-Okumu, and Ibrahim Jarso