Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 461–476 | Cite as

Coping Strategies in Livestock-dependent Households in East and Southern Africa: A Synthesis of Four Case Studies

  • Philip K. Thornton
  • Randall B. Boone
  • Kathleen A. Galvin
  • Shauna B. BurnSilver
  • Michael M. Waithaka
  • Joan Kuyiah
  • Stanley Karanja
  • Ernesto González-Estrada
  • Mario Herrero


Integrated assessment seeks to combine models of the ecological as well as the social system to allow different scenarios to be tested in terms of their likely impacts on ecological functioning and household well-being. We outline such work undertaken in four case studies in East and southern Africa: pastoralist communities in northern Tanzania, agro-pastoralists in southern Kenya, communal and commercial ranchers in South Africa, and mixed crop-livestock farmers in western Kenya. Results from these case studies are synthesised to test the hypothesis that households’ capacity to adapt in the face of increasing external stresses is governed by flexibility in livelihood options. The results support this hypothesis. There is considerable variation in how households in these places cope with external stresses. Options include intensification, diversification, and increasing off-farm economic activities, and these depend on household objectives and attitudes as well as on access to natural resources, inputs and output markets. The results also indicate that generally it is the poorer households that can gain the most from implementing such options for coping and managing risk. Quantifying likely household and ecosystem impacts of different options is a crucial step in targeting appropriate technology, policy and adaptation interventions in the face of considerable system changes. We conclude with some research needs to improve integrated assessment tools that may allow us to represent more realistically the highly complex decision-making milieu of householders in sub-Saharan Africa who are dependent on ecosystem goods and services for a large part of their livelihoods.

Key words

Pastoralism mixed systems integrated assessment livelihoods Africa 



This is a greatly expanded version of a presentation made at the 6th Open Meeting of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, 9–13 October 2005, University of Bonn, Germany. We gratefully acknowledge funding provided as follows:

• To M. Coughenour and others by the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program, supported by the Office of Agriculture and Food Security, Global Bureau, United States Agency for International Development under Grant no. PCE-G-98-00036-00 (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania; Kajiado, Kenya).

• By the US National Science Foundation Biocomplexity program to N.T. Hobbs and others under grant 0119618 (Kajiado, Kenya).

• By NOAA’s Human Dimensions of Global Change Research (HDGCR) Program, grant number NA86GP0347, to K.A. Galvin and others (Northwest Province, RSA).

• By the Ecoregional Fund to Support Methodological Initiatives of the Government of The Netherlands, to P.K. Thornton and others (Vihiga, Kenya).

• By the US National Science Foundation, Decision Making Under Uncertainly, grant NSF SES-0345529, to K.A. Galvin and D. Ojima.

We thank three anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier draft. The errors and omissions that remain are our responsibility.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip K. Thornton
    • 1
    • 2
  • Randall B. Boone
    • 3
  • Kathleen A. Galvin
    • 3
    • 4
  • Shauna B. BurnSilver
    • 3
  • Michael M. Waithaka
    • 5
  • Joan Kuyiah
    • 1
  • Stanley Karanja
    • 1
  • Ernesto González-Estrada
    • 1
  • Mario Herrero
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)NairobiKenya
  2. 2.School of GeosciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland
  3. 3.Natural Resource Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  5. 5.Eastern and Central Africa Programme for Agricultural Policy AnalysisEntebbeUganda

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