The impact of Climate Change on pastoralist communities in Uganda


Climate change is a cross-cutting phenomenon affecting all sectors of societies, as it stifles the global attainment of development objectives. The arid climate together with the poverty faced by its inhabitants means that the higher temperatures, intensifying rains, and increasingly frequent extreme weather events that climate science projects for the region can only exacerbate the problems of development (World Bank, 2014).

A pastoralist may be defined as a herd owner of whom livestock contributes 50% of income or more. Nomadic pastoralists use fixed routes to move livestock based on rainfall patterns, feed availability, and animal health. Agropastoralists rely more heavily on crop production and permanent settlements, reducing travel with the herd to nearly zero (ACTED, 2016).

Karamoja sub-region in north-eastern Uganda occupies 27,000 square miles and is currently inhabited by approximately 1.4 million diverse people – most speak the Nga’karimojong language. It is environmentally, socially, politically, and economically different from the rest of Uganda. The landscape is characterized by harsh arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) receiving 300 mm or less rainfall per annum. Being largely dryland, its economy is traditionally based on livestock complemented by opportunistic crop cultivation (Akabwai etal 2005).

Karamoja climate change situation

Karamoja has of late come under both internal and external pressures including policy-related challenges. These pressures have either stimulated or worsened conflicts. Access to and control of natural resources like water and pasture periodically ignite conflicts including cross borders. The impacts of climate change by hitting directly the supply of livestock feeds significantly affect the food systems in the livestock value chain.

The occupation of the greenbelts in Karamoja like Lolelia, Sangar, Sidok, Lobanya, Kautakou, Irir and Namalu by sedentary crop farming communities intrigues the control, access, and ownership rights of pastoralists off their dry season grazing areas. These occupations have forced pastoralists to lose livestock to diseases and those that survive to suffer weight loss due to insufficient feed and water supplies. This means that the livestock marketability is compromised worsening the terms of trade as pastoralists buy grains and other goods and services that they don’t produce. The blocking of the long-established mobility as a coping mechanism thus has had an effect of driving pastoralists deeper into poverty and food insecurity forcing them occasionally to rely on food relief.

The limited space has ultimately forced pastoral communities to negatively diversify their livelihoods. Measures have included hazardous activities like hazardous gold mining, and stone quarrying, charcoal burning and firewood collection for commercial business. These activities have degraded the environment even further hence self-defeating in the long run.

The perception of the pastoralist in Karamoja is that climate change is a punishment from God for irresponsible resource utilization. For the Karamoja pastoralist in shrines are always located in the vicinity of forests and mountains. It is to these sacred places that elders go to determine the future of the society and the environment they live in. Climate change inspired environmental variability in drylands and their consequent droughts and desertification deepen the already unpredictability hence making resilience decisions hard to make.

Climate change and pastoralism

Pastoralists in Karamoja continue to adapt to changing climate conditions through long held strategies like herd mobility, resource scouting, herd splitting, marriage prizes, selling livestock, and herd diversity. Communal related conflicts such as cattle raids and rustling experienced by pastoralists during mobility have since increased and so are the related losses of lives and property. The increasingly prolonged droughts have spontaneously led to drying off of pastures, catalyzed wildfires that destroy and degrade the rangeland pastures making them unavailable at the right time. Inevitably this forces communities to areas that can adequately provide enough feeds. Often this brings them into conflict with the host communities especially the arable farmers.

“It is important to note that climate change actions matter to pastoralists looking at the needs to protect and safeguard livelihoods and society from food and nutrition insecurities including violent conflict and are inevitable in human relations as they act as a motor of change.” Said Lomongin Emmanuel, District Natural Resource Officer Kaabong District.

Climate change has led to an increase in livestock diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease, East Coast Fever, and Brucellosis. This is threatening the livelihoods of pastoralists who rely on livestock for income and food. In Karamoja, the situation is worsened by the transboundary movement of people and livestock which compounds the pressure on dwindling resources.

“In the month of February 2020 my kraal had very healthy animals and the quarantine had not yet been declared in my sub county. Little did I know that water and people could facilitate the movement of the disease. Now my kraal is now infected by FMD,” Keyo Koryang a  Kraal leader Lodiko sub county in Kaabong District.

Impacts on the food systems

Karamoja sub region has four ecological livelihood zones that include: arable, pastoral, agro-pastoral, and Apicural and these zones are equally impacted by climate change. The food systems of all zones are shaped by the application of indigenous/ traditional mechanisms.

“The land that my parents used for dry season grazing and wild fruit collection is now protected for wildlife and some is now for mining of gold and marble stones. Some of the lands have been fenced off and now we are moving towards the borders of the game reserve of Matheniko – Bokora Corridor.” Lokoru Paul, Kraal leader Lopei, Napak District.

Women and climate change

The effects of climate and their responses impact differently on the different genders. Young herders and the men always have to move with livestock for fodder scouting to longer distances and hence their absence is prolonged. It is said of recent mobility cycle lasts three to five month a year. This means that some of the tasks usually performed by boys and men at the homestead have shifted to girls and women.

“Nowadays I have to care for the goats and calves which have traditionally been the role of elderly men and young boys. Every morning I have to assist young girls to take the goats around the village grazing reserve and also either fetch water or drive the shoats to the well (borehole) to drink by afternoon. It has also affected the major roles I play as a woman in the household.” Nachap Mary, a pastoral woman in Rengen Sub county, Kotido District.

Women are custodians of food security in a household, so they ensure full-time access and availability of food to both the members of the family in the manyatta (homestead) and in the Kraals. They undertake the harvest of food during the dry season and have to ensure that the oxen are prepared ahead of the cultivation period. The article “impacts of climate change on food security and Livelihoods in Karamoja” published by CCAFS, 2020 indicated that female-headed households were less likely than their male counterparts to notice weather variability. Fetching water is largely a woman’s job, and if they’re forced to walk further for that water it increases possible exposure to sexual assault more so in areas of armed conflicts. Due to pastoral mobility women in pastoral communities are left with new and tougher responsibilities to execute that include tending for young children, lactating animals, and elderly persons in the absence of male assistants (men and boys).


The devastating impacts of climate changes are linked to drought leading to the drying of fodder and rivers. Women have seen an increase in their roles and dangers of sexual abuse. There are noted cases of increased incidences of Female Genital Mutilations (FGM) among the Pokot pastoralists in Kenya and Uganda. High cases of malnutrition have risen due to reduced access to natural resources required for the sustenance of livestock.

Meanwhile, countries in Africa are taking stiff efforts to manage the effects induced by climate change. Most of these issues are linked to the inadequacy of stronger policy relationships with the public domain. For example, environmental governance suffers from both a lack of political will and a lack of institutional resources. There is thus an urgent need to mainstream climate change in all policy interventions.


ACTED, 2016 – Pastoralism in Karamoja: Assessment of factors affecting pastoralist lifestyles in Moroto, Amudat, and Kaabong.

CCAFS, CGIAR, WFP, GoU, 2020; Impacts of Climate Change on food security and Livelihoods in Karamoja

Grahn, Richard, and Darlington Akabwai (2005). Lessons learned from conflict management work in the Karimojong Cluster. International institute for environment and development (IIED). Drylands programme.

World Bank 2014; Climate Change is a challenge for sustainable development.


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