HIGHLANDS & SAVANNAHS OF EAST AFRICA
Pragya is working to address the needs of communities in remote areas of the East African highlands and the indigenous peoples of the arid savannah lands in the region. We seek to address in particular the communities in the highlands of western Kenya, and along the Rift valley, and in northern Tanzania, as well as the savannah grasslands in the Rift valley region across Kenya and Tanzania. Through our work, we aim to improve the livelihoods of the communities in this region as well as their access to basic welfare services, while also ensuring proper management of natural resources and conservation of the natural and cultural heritage.
Sub-Saharan Africa, comprising the countries on the south of the Sahara desert in the African continent, is a region characterized by the world’s most severe social, economic and political problems. Yet, this was the cradle of civilization, the origin of humans, with evidence of the earliest Homo sapiens having been found in modern-day Ethiopia. The region encompasses many geographic conditions and climate areas and their associated land and vegetation forms. This has given the region an abundant natural wealth and enormous diversity of flora, fauna and crops. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of grains in the world and its faunal wealth is an immense tourist attraction. Along with this biogeographic diversity, the continent has seen large migrations of people, which have also given it maximum ethnic and cultural diversity in the world. Innumerable tribes and clans with their distinctive ways of life, adapted to the local climate and vegetation, reside in the area, more than 1000 languages are spoken in the region, and there is an immense wealth of traditional arts and crafts and other cultural forms.
The region’s history of colonization and large-scale migration, along with inter-ethnic conflicts has meant a disturbed development path. More than 218 million people live in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa today, with the world’s highest concentration of the poor in rural areas of Eastern and Southern Africa, which is steadily increasing, faster than the region’s growth in population. Economic mismanagement and poor governance is compounded by periodic inter-ethnic conflicts that destabilize any potential growth patterns, and many of the countries in the region have recently emerged from civil wars. Migration of people to avoid poverty, drought and conflict continues and renders the region highly vulnerable to ethnic discord. Conditions of perpetual conflict and lack of access to rights have also created an environment of psychological stress and deep insecurity.
The status of health of the population in the region is critical and the worst in the region, with 11% of the world’s population but 24% of its disease burden. It is the region most affected by HIV/AIDS infections, and in spite of containment programs this continues to rise. Tuberculosis and Malaria are highly prevalent in the region. It also has the highest infant mortality rate with almost half the world’s deaths of children under five, and very high levels of malnourishment as well. Education too lags behind with primary completion rates lower than other regions. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa are highly vulnerable to AIDS and maternal mortality, and majority of them have no access to education and basic healthcare. The institutions for delivery of welfare services are way behind requirements, and the reach of infrastructure is limited to the more developed regions, leaving more than 40% of rural people even without access to all-weather roads.
The rural poor in Sub-Saharan Africa are wholly dependent on the natural resources. While the large numbers that reside in highlands or forested areas are into agriculture, agricultural output has been reducing with resulting drop in agricultural incomes and food productivity. Water resources are drying up and droughts are frequent, while land productivity is declining. The arid plains, dominated by the sky and rolling grasslands with an occasional acacia, are inhabited by the pastoral nomadic groups and their many clans and tribes and their herds. With increasing population and climate change, there is severe water stress, and desertification and droughts are increasing, leading to escalating conflicts between pastoral groups around water and grazing lands. Overexploitation of its natural wealth has put much of the fertile areas and forest wealth, including the wildlife, at risk. The rate of deforestation in the region is higher than the global annual average, primarily due to human activity, including extraction of fuelwood (90% of the population depend on this), and conversion of forests for subsistence and commercial farming.
The Development Gap and Ecological Crisis in the Highlands and Savannahs of East Africa
It comprises two of the 34 Global Biodiversity Hotspots- the Eastern Afromontane and the Horn of Africa. African countries are most vulnerable to impacts of climate change with increased droughts in equatorial and subtropical Eastern Africa.
The mountains and highland regions scattered along the eastern edge of Africa harbours maximum number of endemic species of mammals, birds and amphibians in all of Africa, as well as a great diversity of fish in its large lakes. Expansion of agriculture and various other threats, including commercial plantations, estates and logging have left it a Biodiversity Hotspot (recognized by Conservation International) with only 11% of its original habitat intact. Population pressure is on the rise, having increased in some parts by 10 times in the last 60 years, as has livestock. Hunting and poaching for food are common, putting the rare wildlife species at risk.
The arid grasslands of the Horn of Africa stretching down through the Rift Valley is even more degraded, with barely 5% of its original habitat remaining. This region is a renowned source of biological resources and supports the nomadic pastoral groups of Africa and their livestock. Nearly all the 1.5 million km2 is used for grazing by camels, sheep, and goats, and overgrazing along with inefficient and excessive charcoal production has led to the high level of degradation threatening the region. Climate change is also having devastating effects on the East African ecosystems, with declining moisture for pastoral and agricultural activities and to support the ecosystem. As a result of reducing precipitation and widespread deforestation, the rivers and lakes are shrinking rapidly, watercourses are threatened with siltation, and there is a downward trend in the carrying capacity, although population pressure in on the rise. East Africans, primarily dependent on rain-fed agriculture and grazing lands, are facing a squeeze on the food and water availability. Wild species too are struggling to adapt. Transboundary movement of people, and conflicts, a fall-out of stress of land and water resources, threaten the region.
The population comprises multiple tribes, several of them among the most deprived in the world. They suffer from high levels of poverty, illiteracy, malnourishment and incidence of diseases, apart from frequent conflicts and droughts.
The indigenous peoples residing in the remote parts of the East African highlands and grasslands are deprived of most of their basic rights, and are extremely vulnerable to all sorts of environmental, economic and political threats. Customary access to productive lands and water has been squeezed as a result of colonialism and the current expansion of commercial agriculture by more dominant groups and multinational companies. Frequent conflicts and migration of other groups driven by drought and desperate for food and water, has further shrunk available resources. Weak governments have not been able to bridge the access gap in resources and services, and most of these populations remain largely unserved, uneducated, dependant on traditional healthcare, without potable water and sanitation. People live in primitive conditions and considerable hardship, particularly in the arid lands. Disease is rife and mortality extremely high. Large numbers of humans and livestock succumb to periodic outbreaks of disease and droughts. Income from livelihoods is reducing and access to alternate occupations and employment is non-existent.
Highlands and plateaus of East Africa
The highlands and plateaus in East Africa comprise those along the Great Rift Valley that runs north to south through Kenya and Tanzania, and the plateaus of Ethiopia and western Kenya. Pragya is working to address highland communities in Kakamega district in western Kenya.
As the areas with the most fertile soils and maximum water resources, most suitable for agriculture, the highlands and plateaus of East Africa are the most populated parts of the region. Altitudes range from 300m to 3600m, with much of the area at 1000 to 1500m, and they are blessed with a temperate climate, mountain streams and rivers and several large lakes. They constitute 23% of the total landmass in the region, but house more than 60% of its population, with a density of 100-200 per km2, and even 750 per km2 in parts. Indigenous populations depend on rain-fed subsistence agriculture and limited cash cropping. The natural resource base has been seriously threatened however, with large tracts of forests converted to agricultural lands, and decline in agricultural productivity.
Ecosystem degradation and decline in agricultural productivity
The mountain forests are vulnerable to logging and vast tracts of the forests have been cleared for plantations of tea, coffee, fruit crops and hardwoods. Years of intensive agriculture using inefficient methods have however tired the land and crop productivity is declining to levels that can no longer sustain the population. The soil is eroded and its nutrients depleted, and pests and diseases are increasingly affecting cash and food crops. Population growth and land inheritance practices have led to fragmentation of landholdings, and poor farmers rely wholly on the resource base and do not have the capacity to compensate for land degradation. Poor forest policies and governance coupled with poverty and lack of livelihoods is leading to increasing encroachment and destruction on forests and wetlands. Scarcity and inefficient use of water is exacerbated by climate change and led to a drastic decline in water quality and quantity. Rapid land degradation threatens the farmlands and livelihoods of millions of poor highland farmers. Several hectares of croplands are abandoned annually because cropping can no longer be supported on these lands. Unmitigated deforestation is leading to downward trends in the associated biodiversity, making the East African highlands one of the most fragile ecologies in the world.
Poverty and hunger
Disease and illiteracy
The African Savannah
The savannah lands of East Africa comprise the arid plains on the east of the Ethiopian highlands, and the Rift valley through Kenya and Tanzania, as well as much of Somalia and Eritrea. Pragya is working to address pastoral communities and the savannah ecosystem in northern Kenya (Laikipia and Samburu districts).
The savannah lands in East Africa is an immense area of 5 million square kilometers that supports a population of about 15 million pastoral peoples. Traditional livestock-herders and a rich wildlife rule the rolling grasslands equally. With a highly arid terrain, droughty substrates and low nutrient soils, this region supports only a sparse vegetation, and humans, animals and plants that inhabit it, are adapted to the climate and resources available. It is sparsely populated with dispersed settlements of numerous semi-nomadic groups. Alternating wet and dry seasons bake the soil to an impermeable layer, hence promoting a survival strategy of transhumant pastoralism and hunting-gathering, with agriculture as a marginal activity. However, the region is under severe pressure from human activity, and that has seriously compromised its ecological integrity. Along with the impacts of climate change, this is threatening the survival and livelihoods of the inhabitant populations
Ecological degradation and water stress
Poverty and deprivation
Marginalisation and conflicts