Human Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 335–350 | Cite as

Applying Resilience Thinking to Questions of Policy for Pastoralist Systems: Lessons from the Gabra of Northern Kenya



The aim of this paper is to explore the relevance of a systematic application of resilience thinking to questions of pastoralist policy, a task that requires taking the conceptof resilience beyond the level of a metaphor and operationalizing it. One approach to accomplishing this is the components-relationships-innovation-continuity framework (Cumming et al. 2005), which, in this paper, we apply to analysis of the social-ecological system of the Gabra people in north-central Kenya. While some types of indicators, such as those monitored by humanitarian information systems, can help to identify when the resilience of a system has been eroded, indicators of the components, relationships, and sources of innovation and continuity help o make clear the dynamics of how resilience is being lost. In the case of the Gabra, our analysis suggests that there is a need to envision a third alternative—a stability domain that is distinct both from traditional pastoralism whose viability has been undermined and from the perversely resilient poverty trap that is coming to dominate. While this kind of conclusion may not be new, a resilience-based analysis helps to uncover specific details regarding what such a third alternative might entail and what kinds of policy levers might help to make it possible.


Gabra Pastoralists Policy Resilience Thresholds 



The research on which this paper was based was financially supported through doctoral fellowships to Robinson from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), supplemented by an IDRC project grant to Berkes and the Canada Research Chairs program ( The research also benefitted from in-kind support from the Pastoralist Integrated Support Programme and the International Livestock Research Institute. We would also like to thank the participants and respondents in this research: Kenyan pastoralists and a great many people who are working on their behalf.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vancouver Island UniversityNanaimoCanada
  2. 2.University of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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