Climate change and pastoralists: perceptions and adaptation in montane Kenya

Tropical montane forests are amongst the most threatened ecosystems by climate change. However, little is known about climatic changes already observed in these montane areas in Africa, or the adaptation strategies used by pastoralist communities. This article, focused on three mountains in northern Kenya, aims to fill these knowledge gaps. Focus-group discussions with village elders were organized in 10 villages on each mountain (n?=?30). Villages covered different pastoralist ethnic groups. Historical data on rainfall, temperature and fog were gathered from Marsabit Meteorological station. All participants reported changes in the amount and distribution of rainfall, fog, temperature and wind for the past 20–30 years; regardless of the mountain or ethnicity. They particularly highlighted the reduction in fog. Meteorological evidence on rainfall, temperature and fog agreed with local perceptions; particularly important was a 60% reduction in hours of fog per year since 1981. Starting farming and shifting to camel herding were the adaptive strategies most commonly mentioned. Some adaptive strategies were only mentioned in one mountain or by one ethnic group (e.g. starting the cultivation of khat). We highlight the potential use of local communities’ perceptions to complement climatic records in data-deficient areas, such as many tropical mountains, and emphasize the need for more research focused on the adaptation strategies used by pastoralists.