Indigenous ecological knowledge as the basis for adaptive environmental management: Evidence from pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa

Chuan Liao, Morgan L. Ruelle, Karim Aly S. Kassam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


The proliferation of woody plants has been observed on rangelands globally and has significant impacts on subsistence livestock production. However, adaptation strategies to such environmental changes remain largely unexamined. This paper investigates pastoralists’ adaptations to such environmental changes in the Borana zone of southern Ethiopia by integrating pastoralists’ ecological knowledge, surveys of plant species composition, and census data on livestock holdings. The results indicated that a proliferation of woody plants and corresponding decline in herbaceous species would have negative impact on forage values for cattle and sheep, whereas goats would remain relatively unaffected, and camels would benefit. While census data showed declines in household herd size from 2000 to 2014, pastoralists have been adapting to the proliferation of woody plants by doubling their goat holdings, and wealthier households are investing in camels. These changes in livestock holdings based on indigenous ecological knowledge will mitigate the negative impacts of vegetation shifts on livestock production, and facilitate adaptive environmental management in the pastoral systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-79
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes



  • Adaptive environmental management
  • Ethiopia
  • Indigenous ecological knowledge
  • Livestock holding
  • Pastoral system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

Cite this