Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (11) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Livelihood diversification options for pastoralists in mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya

D Golicha, M Ngutu and H Charfi

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Marsabit Research Centre, P O Box 147-60500, Marsabit, Kenya


The mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya attract relatively large human population than the other more arid areas. These unique zones are more agriculturally productive than other surrounding areas of northern Kenya. The communities living in these zones have been traditionally mainly livestock keepers. However, in recent times, changes of lifestyle and variable climate have led to a need to diversify their livelihood sources. Little is known of the livelihood options of the communities living in these areas. Hence, the communities in these regions are regarded as pure pastoralists. This notion has contributed to mainly livestock-related development interventions from the government and non-governmental bodies. The objective of the study was to assess the livelihood options within mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya. The study was done using a sociological survey methodology where random sampling was done together with key informant interviews, structured and unstructured questionnaires.

The findings of the study showed that the communities have shifted from mobile pastoral systems and engaged in the following livelihood options; settled livestock keepers (32%), crop farming (24%), apiculture (8%), casual work (10%), formal employment (2%), weaving (13%), crafting (2%) and sand harvesting (2%). The main sources of livelihood practised by majority of interviewed households were crop farming and livestock keeping and these two also had relatively high household income. In fact, over 80% of the respondents integrate livestock keeping and crop farming.  It is concluded that communities living in the mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya have diversified their source of livelihoods to those that are non-livestock based. It is therefore recommended that other alternative sources should be explored, as efforts to develop the livestock sector continues in these regions.

Key words: arid, communities, crops, livestock


The arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) of Kenya which constitutes about 80% of country’s landmass supports 20 – 25% of the human population (Schwartz et al 1991). In northern Kenya, increasing reliance on famine relief, pastoral drop-outs, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity have continued unabated over the last forty years. A mixed dryland crop and livestock production system is possible in areas which can receive rainfall above 550-600 mm per year, and areas with potential for irrigated agriculture. For example, in the mountain and oasis areas which cover around 15-20% of Kenya’s ASALs. Mountain and oasis areas are unique micro-climatic ecosystems within the ASALS which support arable farming at subsistence or small-scale commercial levels (Dolan et al 2004). Mountains are all the raised grounds with altitudes greater than 2,000 metres above sea level (asl) while Oasis areas have altitudes of less than 1,000 metres asl. They are by far the most important ASAL areas in terms of production and productivity, and both for crop and livestock production. These areas are the home of more than 70% of the total population of Kenya ASALs (Muya et al 2011).  Climatic variability and change of life-style has over time influenced sources of human livelihoods and income, however the livelihoods options of the communities living in the mountain and oasis of northern Kenya is not well understood. A better understanding of the livelihood options employed would help in the better engagement of local communities so that optimal benefits can be accrued from these fragile environments. The objective of the study was to assess the livelihood options in mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya.

Materials and Methods

The study was conducted in the north rift represented mainly by Turkana county, North eastern sites including Garrisa, Wajir and Mandera Counties and Upper eastern represented by Marsabit and Isiolo Counties. A total of 33 sites within the counties were visited for study (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Counties of Northern Kenya

The study was conducted using a sociological sample survey method where structured and semi-structured questionnaires were the primary data collection instruments. The information studied involved source of livelihoods and income from different livelihood sources. Two hundred households were selected at each site using a random sampling procedure. The collected data were coded, stored and managed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) computer software. The data collected was mainly quantitative, and it was analysed using analysis of variance. Additionally, the categorical data was analysed using the chi-square (c2) test (Mugenda and Mugenda 2003).

Results and Discussion

Main sources of livelihoods

There are significant (P=0.035) number of  human population who involve in livestock keeping and crop farming in pockets of mountain and oasis areas (Fig. 2). Relatively favourable climate in these areas of northern kenya favour crop farming as an important livelihood option, in the regions where most of the communities  are traditionally livestock keepers. However, the communities have scanty knowledge on crop farming practices.

Figure 2: Main sources of livelihoods in mountain and oases areas of northern Kenya
c2=18.052, df=9, P=0.035)

About 80% of the respondents in the areas of study integrates crop and livestock agriculture (Table 1). There is an opportunity to use crop residues as animal feed and livestock manure for soil fertilization. This can result to sustainable crop-livestock production in this system through efficient use of nutrients. The potential for nutrient cycling and sustainable agriculcure in mixed production system has been noted in other studies  (Pender J 2004, Rufino 2008). Further, the integration can increase food production and reduce over-reliance on relief food distribution.   

The communities living in mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya have departed from traditional mobile grazing systems and settled (Fratkin et al 2004). Sendetarization process contributed to engagement of human population in crop farming.    

Table 1: Percentage of respondents integrating crop-livestock Farming

Mountain and Oasis Regions

% of respondents integrating Crop-Livestock Agriculture

Upper Eastern


North Eastern


North Rift










Income from varios sources of livelihoods

There is relatively a high proportion of human population in mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya depending on livestock (32%) and crop farming (24%) for their main source of income. There are also other livelihood sources providing income and these include weaving, apiculture, crafting and sand harvesting, though practiced by a smaller percentage of the respondents (Table 2). Diversification of livelihoods among the pastoralists of southern Kenya has been reported (Radeny et al 2007) and also among waso Boran pastoralists of northern kenya (Jillo et al 2006). A household which involve in more than one livelihood source has better chance to earn more income and meet its food requirement than those depending on single source of livelihood. Diversification of livelihood is crucial for food security in unpredicatable enviroment like northern Kenya, where drought, livestock loss and crop failure are common phenomena. 

Table 2: Income from various sources of livelihood in mountain and oasis areas of northern Kenya

Type of enterprise

Respondents practicing (%)

Annual Average income per household (KES)




Sand harvesting



Formal employment












Casual work






Crop farming








The authors wish to acknowledge the Director KARI for providing a conductive environment to work in. We thank Dr. David Miano, the Kenya Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (KASAL) Research Programme, National Programme Coordinator, Dr. George Keya, Assistant Director Range Research in KARI and Dr. Simon Kuria the Centre Director KARI-Marsabit for their facilitative  role and technical guidance. The European Union through the KASAL programme provided funding for which we are grateful. We are most thankful to all members of staff from KARI Marsabit for their supportive role.


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Received 18 August 2012; Accepted 14 October 2012; Published 6 November 2012

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