4 March, 2013

Congratulations to Russell Toth, who has just been awarded funding as Principal Investigator in the 2012 AusAID Development Research Awards Scheme, for his project "The Human and Environmental Impacts of Migratory Pastoralism and Index-Based Livestock Insurance in Arid and Semi-Arid East Africa".

The project was one of 178 submissions received by AusAID under the priority theme of Africa and builds on the work of an interdisciplinary research team to generate a number of policy-relevant results on the feedbacks between migrant pastoralism and the environment, including addressing the impacts of new index insurance products. Project activities will include developing spatial models for the modeling of new spatial data that the team is collecting, including high frequency data from GPS collars placed on livestock, and policy simulations.

“Migrant pastoralists on the arid and semi-arid rangelands of East Africa are among the poorest and most vulnerable populations on earth. The resilience of the pastoralist livelihood has crucial implications for the food security and welfare of this substantial population, which includes 3 million people in Kenya and 8 million in Ethiopia.

The abruptness and unpredictability of rainfall in the rangeland demands regular seasonal migration during the dry seasons. Under normal dry-season conditions, pastoralists’ herds access remote water and vegetation resources. However, the impacts of frequent environmental shocks, which seem to be increasing, can be severe. In Kenya, there have been 28 major droughts in the past 100 years. During such extreme events, pastoralists regularly experience massive herd losses, their main asset base and food source. Herd movement choices, particularly during these fragile periods, can have crucial long-run consequences for the system, as it is commonly accepted that overgrazing causes long-run damage to vegetation resources. In addition, pastoralists face ongoing challenges due to competition for land, inter-tribal conflicts, and changes in input and output markets.

A crucial, understudied aspect of mobile pastoralism is the set of the factors behind pastoralist movement patterns, which are at the bedrock of understanding the system as a whole. On the one hand, pastoralist movement patterns directly impact on environmental conditions due to the potential for damage of ground vegetation by grazing behavior. On the other hand, the state of ground vegetation is a critical factor in the resilience of the whole system. Constructing useful models of this system interaction and taking them to the data raise a number of challenges. The project aims to generate a better understanding of the pastoralist system, including through simulating changing rangeland conditions and policy choices. Such analysis can feed into a number of policies, including rangeland management and land use, waterpoint maintenance and development, and herd re-stocking.”

The project involves researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Cornell University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Boise, Idaho and the School of Economics, University of Sydney. The interdisciplinary research team includes economists, computer scientists and rangeland scientists.

The funding will support a number of research activities and events, including  research data compilation and support for local researchers based in East Africa, computational work, further field surveying and data collection, “ground truthing” of environmental data, research travel, and a policy conference in East Africa late in the project period.

In assessing the 178 applications, the ADRAS Research selection committee noted “...Africa is clearly a region of interest and capability in Australian and international research institutions”. Russell’s project was one of 45 successful research grants across all the priority themes and was one of the two awarded to the University of Sydney out of fourteen awards in the Africa priority theme. The project has been awarded AUD $694, 226, over the period of July, 2013 to June, 2015.


Contact:Vanessa Holcombe

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