Participatory development and the capacity of Gabra pastoralist communities to influence resilience

Thumbnail Image
Robinson, Lance W.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Social-ecological systems of traditional pastoralists are adapted to deal with shocks and stresses such as droughts and livestock disease that characterize their environment. However, inappropriate policies have undermined the resilience of pastoralist social-ecological systems at a time when stresses from new challenges, such as growth in the human population and global climate change are increasing. Many pastoralist groups such as the Gabra of north-central Kenya now regularly require emergency relief. There is an urgent need to take deliberate steps to rebuild the resilience of pastoralist social-ecological systems. One lever that external actors such as NGOs and government agencies have that could help them to do so relates to structures and processes of participation and decision-making. The purpose of this research, therefore, was to examine ways in which the approaches to public participation used by agencies involved in water resources management can affect the collective capacity of pastoralist institutions and communities to influence social-ecological resilience. The research revolved around a single case study: the Kenyan NGO Pastoralist Integrated Support Programme (PISP) together with the Gabra communities where PISP works. The research found that the capacity to influence resilience resides in the network of vertical and horizontal institutional linkages as much as it does in any particular organization or institution. This implies the need for a radical paradigm shift in the way that NGOs and other formal sector actors think of participation and of their role. An examination of the Gabra approach to decision-making and PISP's approach to participation point to an alternative way of thinking about participation. This alternative rationale for participation would call on formal sector actors to promote participation and inclusivity of decision-making at multiple levels of social organization through an array of interconnected processes and institutions, to foster deliberation processes that are nested across levels, and to help create and strengthen vertical institutional linkages for their beneficiary communities. These proposed strategies relate to a key contribution of this research, which is to suggest building a resilience-based theory of participation and to provide a glimpse of what such a theory might entail.
pastoralists, resilience, participation, community-based water resources management, social-ecological systems, Gabra, Kenya