Scientist’s new tool to help monitor status of animal pastures

Adaptation tracking expert Lucy Njuguna at her office during an interview at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi on April 26.


What you need to know:

  • You can see how different counties are doing, how each of them is faring, and where improvement is needed 

A Kenyan scientist from the International Livestock Research Institute (Ilri) has developed a Web-based tool to help the government track and self-report on climate adaptation progress in livestock systems.

The tool, called Tails – Tracking Adaptation in Livestock Systems – was developed under a programme for climate smart livestock by Lucy Njuguna, an adaptation and tracking expert, following gaps and previously non-existent methodologies that could help the country track and report on its adaptation progress.

“The tool uses about 96 indicators covering information on climate hazards, adaptation practices and technologies of livestock keepers, governments, and others,” she said.

“We developed the tool because Kenya, even though committed to adaptation, has experienced a lot of climate disasters such as droughts and floods, where counties hit hard by droughts are also hit hard by floods. Farmers were and still take up technology that can allow them to withstand the effects of climate change, but there were no methodologies to track the progress,” explains Ms Njuguna.

“We also needed to compare adaptation progress across populations, sectors and countries to find out how other sectors and even countries are doing as regards adaptation and how livestock systems are responding to varied impacts of climate change,” she adds.

To develop the tool, Ms Njuguna conducted extensive research in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia while in close collaboration with livestock keepers, government officials and rescuers to understand different adaptation experiences in different livestock systems and different commitments within governments.

“The process of understanding the varied adaptation experiences was important because for you to develop the tool, you also need to identify the metrics or indicators that you are using. Another part of the research was understanding government systems, how they produce data that is relevant for tracking adaptation. We focused on the role of government because the main mandate was to build the capacity of governments to monitor and report on adaptation,” she explains.

The tool has interfaces that allow an official to upload data. The data is then validated, cleaned up, and then processed and visualised to show progress over years and spatial variations across different areas.

The tool can also show adaptation progress at an aggregate level at the national level, but also has interfaces that show the variation across counties. This allows county governments to not only see how they are faring, but to also push for more support towards adaptation depending on the gaps they observe.

So, how does Kenya benefit at a national level?

“Most importantly is being able to track and report on adaptation progress of the country, and in doing that, meet our international reporting obligations. The tool can also show how adaptation is progressing, and thereby perform its secondary function of informing adaptation planning and decision making. This is because you can see how different counties are doing, how each of them is faring, and where improvement is needed,” says Ms Njuguna.

“By tracking and reporting on adaptation, we can attract even more support towards adaptation because we can show what we have done or failed to do with whatever resources we have at hand. It therefore supports the ambition to continue to support adaptation efforts,” she adds.

Being a Web-based tool, it is only accessible to governments, so users need credentials. Because the tool does not deal with sensitive or personal data, there is no risk that data will fall into the wrong hands.

To build the capacity of government officials from the agriculture ministry, Ms Njuguna involved them from the start, holding consultative meetings and workshops. The officials would also review the tool to see whether it meets the preferences of the government and is user friendly, so that the feedback is integrated into the design of the tool.

“Because they have been interacting with the tool from the beginning, we only plan to use the remaining part of the year training government officials on how to identify datasets required to be used in the tool and how to use the tool to prepare reports on adaptation progress within the livestock sector,” states Ms Njuguna.

“The main challenge we encountered was insufficient data. As much as we are aligning the tool to existing systems, and we have already identified indicators,” she says. “In theory, governments are producing data specific to these indicators. However, the data is not always there, or it’s not in its best quality.”

“In Kenya, for example, we know that on paper, county governments should be able to disseminate data to, say, the ministry of agriculture. But because of challenges related to availability of resources, clarity of mandate, availability of human resources to make sure that data is collected in time and regularly, there ends up to be data gaps. We hope that can be addressed as we continue honing our skills of tracking adaptation and tracking,” explains Ms Njuguna.

Climate adaptation continues to be prioritised in climate conversations, with calls to deal with devastating impacts of climate change that have impacted vulnerable communities in the world. These communities include East Africa, where millions of livestock have died from drought, and left hundreds of thousands of people suffering from malnutrition.

According to United Nations Climate Change (UNFCCC), successful adaptation will heavily depend on “governments, local communities, national, regional, multilateral and international organisations, public and private sectors, civil society and other relevant actors, as well as an effective management of knowledge”.

“Adaptation is a critical component of the long-term global response to climate change to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems. Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, considering vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems,” says UNFCCC.

“Adaptation should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions.”