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Co-creating a vision for change in 2050 in a pastoralist setting in Isiolo, Kenya

As the world looks to its future food systems, visioning and co-learning help to mobilize and influence tangible change. Glocolearning supported a visioning workshop in Isiolo County, Kenya in May 2023 with 15 Borana enumerators as the core participants.

Researchers from Wageningen University and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) were involved in this community as part of a dietary assessment study of 400 Borana pastoralist women of reproductive age. Pastoralists are nomadic populations in the Arid-and-Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) in East Africa who are often hard-to-reach, exposed to extreme drought and food insecurity, have distinct dietary practices and socio-cultural characteristics and are disproportionately affected by malnutrition. The visioning workshop was centered on participants identifying and working with the challenges and opportunities related to an ideal food environment in a pastoralist setting, the cultural beliefs around - and limited access to - nutritious foods, and the hope for a shift in mindsets towards agropastoralism to combat the challenges exacerbated by climate change. 

Key takeaways were:

  • Malnutrition and limited access to nutritious food in Isiolo’s (agro) pastoralists settings is primarily due to poor roads and infrastructure, extreme drought, and food taboos. 
  • A vision for 2030 is considered too short to change mindsets and see real change in the pastoralist context and achieving the 2025 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is unlikely within that time frame. To aspire to significant changes, envisioning for 2050 is a more realistic timeline.
  • Some innovations proposed that could help mitigate the long-term effects of climate change and malnutrition include home gardens with drought-resistant plants and social behavior change platforms, such as food sensitization of nutritious foods. 

Close your eyes and imagine that it is 2050 - you are living in one of Isiolo’s pastoralist villages, how do you imagine your food environment? What are key elements of change?

Participants began the workshop by imagining an environment with “green leaves, home gardens and ranches” and discussed the importance of adopting an agro-pastoralist livelihood, where traditional pastoralists diversify their occupations to include crop farming, in order to ensure a consistent food supply at the local level.

Pastoralists have historically relied almost entirely on their livestock production system for their daily food consumption. However, given the past four years of extreme drought with most households losing up to 300 of their livestock – cattle, camel, sheep, donkeys, chicken – the group agreed to a need to transition from nomadic pastoralism to agropastoralism, where livestock owners also cultivate their own crops, to ensure an optimal food environment.  Participants articulated that a "food environment," barely exists, where most villages have 1-3 vendors and a vehicle travels once a week from the urban town (located ~5 hours away) to deliver vegetables (but not fruits, as these foods are considered luxury items). To date, produce and food wasting was largely attributed to poor infrastructure and road conditions, which hinders access to a healthy food environment. Participants stressed the importance of exploring local food varieties, and establishing a network of trade with neighboring communities. 

A key element of change discussed during the workshop was to increase women's empowerment programs. Social customs around livestock ownership and gender roles were highlighted as barriers to a healthy food environment. The discussion delved into the discrepancy between high input – women’s tasks invested in livestock keeping and milk production – and low output – limited consumption of animal-sourced foods. The ideal vision was concluded to be shifting mindsets and enabling women to play a more significant role in decision-making within society could lead to healthier food environments. 

How is the food environment more resilient to climate change and connected to environmental sustainability? What are some innovations being used to achieve this vision?

Promising solutions suggested to improve the dietary diversity of pastoralist populations and enhance resilience to climate change included food sensitization platforms, such as social behavior change workshops around fish farming and home gardens with drought-resistant crops (i.e. white tubers, roots, plantains). These community workshops could also help to promote the consumption of foods that are readily available but avoided due to cultural preferences and food taboos. For instance, the visioning workshop revealed that some pastoralist clans prohibit the intake of chicken and eggs during a women’s reproductive age, fish is rarely consumed due to its strong odor, and green leafy vegetables which are associated with being poisonous plants and only useful for  livestock feed.

The importance of the local community’s involvement in interventions and solutions for their dietary challenges was emphasized. There needs to be better mechanisms of co-creation and incorporating local ideas and knowledge into research studies. For example, not one household in the study owned a refrigerator, however an innovative food preservation technique was a hand-bag refrigerated purse for storing milk to extend the shelf life of milk products. Many men wear this bag while walking long distances with their herds. 

The workshop closed with the concern that pastoralists are “entrepreneurs, innovators and business (wo)men without a voice and capital” and encouraged the research team to establish better mechanisms of collective action to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion. 

This visioning workshop was made possible thanks to Abdifatah, Shinaz, Osama, Nadi, Asma, Salad, Kamal, Boru, Rhama Adan, Rhama Safo, Sarah, Muslima, Abdi, Abdia, Adan (local team), Mr Adan Abdi (ILRI), Esther Omosa (Wageningen University, ILRI), Anne Feenstra (Wageningen University, Social Gastronomy Movement), Françoise Cattaneo (Wageningen University, glocolearning), and Roseline Remans (Glocolearning).