Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 849–865 | Cite as

From cattle to camels: trajectories of livelihood adaptation and social-ecological resilience in a Kenyan pastoralist community

  • Gabriele Volpato
  • Elizabeth G. KingEmail author
Original Article


In drylands across the globe, natural resource-dependent societies are experiencing rapid rates of environmental change as well as transforming social, economic, and political contexts. When novel adaptation strategies are adopted in response to changing climatic and environmental conditions, outcomes are often contingent on individual households’ adaptive capacities as well as broader environmental, social, economic, and political contexts. Understanding the heterogeneous and context-dependent outcomes of adaptation strategies is critical information for dryland sustainability policy, and is a burgeoning focus in climate adaptation science. We evaluated the 30-year process of novel adoption of camel husbandry by a group of Kenyan pastoralists, using a five-stage analytical approach that disaggregated dynamics in three ways: at the level of each individual who adopted camel husbandry; at the processual level by distinguishing assets that influenced decision-making, enactment, and streams of livelihood benefits; and at the temporal level by assessing changes in broader social-ecological contexts that occurred over the 30-year period. Our study revealed that adaptation unfolded as a heterogeneous, multi-phase process, contingent on individuals’ different sources of adaptive capacity utilized at different junctures in their adaptation experience, as well as on temporal shifts in the broader social-ecological context. Synthesizing the findings using a multi-dimensional vulnerability framework, we concluded that because of inequality in access to assets among households and a concomitant weakening of social norms of reciprocity and social cohesion, the livelihood adaptation is generating contradictory effects on household-level and community-level resilience.


Camel adoption Diversification Dromedary Kenya Laikipia Livelihood trajectories 



We are very grateful to many Maasai and villagers of Koija for the kindness and hospitality. We especially thank George Naiputari and Makredi for their great help in relating with informants and the community, interviews’ logistics and translation, and for their support and interest.

Funding information

This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1313659) and conducted under Government of Kenya Research Clearance Permit No: NACOSTI/P/15/3076/6235.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Integrative Conservation ResearchUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.University of Gastronomic SciencesPollenzo/Bra (Cuneo)Italy
  3. 3.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  4. 4.Warnell School of Forestry & Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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