“Our livestock have survived bad droughts and harsh climatic conditions because we share resources and negotiate with our neighbors from other districts to allow us to access grass and water.” said Christine Abura, a community leader in Moroto, Karamoja. “Here in Kobebe- Karamoja in Uganda, we share our water and pasture with all communities: the Turkana from Kenya, Jie from Kotido, Matheniko from Moroto and Bokora from Napak – we don’t discriminate,” she added. “And when this place gets dry, we negotiate with our neighbors in other districts to allow us to access water and pasture to keep our livestock alive, because the survival of our livestock is everything; it is the only way we sustain our livelihood to attain food security,” she revealed.
Access to water and pasture is critical for pastoral communities to sustain their livelihoods. Mobility is central to enabling these communities to access water and pasture for their livestock. During dry seasons, communities move across borders in search for water and pasture to keep their livestock alive. Mobility has been the single most important pillar of pastoral livelihood system. Communities in Karamoja, Uganda move to their neighborhoods, including across borders in search for water and pasture, while the Turkanas move all the way from northern Kenya to access water and pasture in Karamoja and other parts of Uganda during dry seasons.
But opposition by politicians and local leaders is creating major barriers to access to resources by pastoral communities: “politicians are increasingly opposing the sharing of resources by these communities. “Our leaders and politicians are now interfering with what used to be a free flowing system where pastoralists moved freely to access water and pasture to sustain their livestock,” noted Peter Logiro, Resident District Commission, Kotido, Karamoja. “Politicians are now preventing other communities from accessing water and pasture in their jurisdictions,” he added. “In 2016, during the very bad drought that affected the Turkana and the Karamojong, politicians and local leaders were opposed to these communities accessing water and pasture in their jurisdictions.” Even stakeholders’ meeting held to address the differences to enable pastoralists share resources during drought were futile. “Stakeholders’ meeting involving central government, local government and councils, as well as politicians did not succeed in convincing them to allow the Karamojong and Turkana to access pasture and water during the 2016 drought,” revealed Logiro. “Politicians even went ahead to mobilize the cultural leaders to say no,” he added.
These communities are finding ways to surmount these challenges to access resources to secure their livelihoods to attain food security. They are using their own relationships and networks to negotiate for access to water and pasture to keep their livestock alive. This has been made possible because of interventions by Warrior Squad Foundation and Karamoja Development Forum, with support from Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa. Since 2014, these organizations have been working with pastoral communities to break barriers to accessing resources to sustain their livelihoods to attain food security. They have been building the capacity of pastoral communities in negotiation, relationship building and networking. They have also facilitated negotiation processes between communities to enable them share resources.
Communities are now using their negotiation skills and leveraging their relationships to convince their neighbors to allow them to access water and pasture during dry seasons to keep their livestock alive. “Cattle keepers, out of their own initiatives, decided to use their own relationships to negotiate with their neighbors to access grass and water,” revealed the RDC. “The Kraal leaders went for one to one negotiations with their neighbors after realizing that feedback from the formal system on accessing water and pasture was taking longer that the drought could allow them to wait,” noted Milton Lopiria, Warrior Squad Foundation. “They moved from family to family to negotiate for access to water and pasture for their livestock,” he added. To ensure that this was successful and received the support of the leadership of the communities, they designed creative ways to reach the leadership; “they moved to the neighborhood, presented themselves to the first person they met and asked for the most prominent person in the community”. In so doing, they were able to access community leaders who listened to them, appreciated their problems and allowed them to access water and pasture, but with minimum conditions; “they agreed on the minimum rules of operation between the host community and those seeking water and pasture”. The authorities and politicians were later informed about the agreements as the communities moved ahead to share water and pasture with their neighbors.
Because pastoral communities are negotiating with their neighbors to access resources– water and pasture– they are saving their livestock from the ravages of drought. In 2016, many Turkanas escaped the ravages of drought to access water and pasture for their livestock in parts of Karamoja and other districts in Uganda. At the same time, the Karamojong from districts affected by drought in 2016 negotiated with their neighbors from other districts like Teso, Acholi, Abim and others to access water and pasture for their livestock. This ability of pastoralists to negotiate for their own survival in the face of resistance/opposition from their local leaders and politicians is what is enabling them to enhance their adaptive capacity to build resilience and create sustainable livelihoods towards food security. To them, the only way to survive the harsh climatic conditions is by sharing the resources they have within their neighborhoods and across borders and ensuring that “no pastoralist loses livelihood because they are unable to access pasture and water”.
Warrior Squad Foundation and Karamoja Development Forum will continue to work with pastoral communities to enable them to break barriers to mobility, strengthen their negotiation skills, build relationships and networks with their neighbors, which they can leverage to access water and pasture during dry seasons. Besides, the organizations will continue to engage the leadership and politicians in Karamoja, Turkana and other districts within Uganda with the objective of brokering harmonious relationships and encouraging them to support the sharing of resources as the only way that communities can survive harsh climatic conditions to sustain their livelihoods. At the same time, the organizations will lobby the Turkana government to invest more in watering points for pastoralists from Turkana to ease the pressure on water resources in Karamoja that is often the host to pastoralists from Turkana during dry seasons.
To Simon Peter Longoli of Karamoja Development Forum, “the pastoralist production system is one which takes care of itself; people in pastoral areas know how to bargain for resources– they know how negotiate for what is not theirs”. “This is how these communities have been able to secure their livelihoods and address food security challenges for generations,” he concluded.