Dynamism in the drylands: How pastoral livelihoods are changing in South Sudan

Volatility in South Sudan and the world’s drylands raises questions as to the long-term viability of pastoral livelihoods. A new report from SPARC begins to answer them.

Éditeur SPARC
Par Alex Humphrey
South Sudan

While the Horn of Africa is in the midst of the longest drought in its recorded history following five consecutive failed rains, South Sudan is experiencing its own, very different crisis. Four back-to-back years of flooding have left much of the country submerged for years on end, affecting over a million households. Flooding is driving displacement and worsening an already dire hunger crisis, with the latest IPC figures estimating over 6 million people experiencing acute levels of food insecurity in the country.

At the frontline of the global climate crisis, many of the worst affected in South Sudan are pastoralists. Flooding has led to widespread livestock loss and has forced many pastoralists to trek their animals long distances in search of pasture and functioning markets. Violence, in the form of armed cattle raiding and revenge-related attacks, continues to affect pastoral communities, further limiting the ability of herders to safely graze their livestock.

Volatility in South Sudan and the world’s drylands may invite some observers to question the long-term viability of pastoral livelihoods. With humanitarian needs consistently outpacing available resources, why should the aid community continue to invest in supporting pastoral livelihoods in the face of so much uncertainty? Is pastoralism still a viable livelihood strategy in the long term? If so, what kinds of livelihood support interventions should the aid community prioritise in the drylands?

A new report from SPARC begins to answer these questions. The evidence is based on two years of interviews by SPARC researchers with 60 pastoralist households affected by the flooding crisis in South Sudan. We asked the household respondents how they are adapting to climate- and conflict-related shocks and how increasing uncertainty in the drylands may be driving changes to their perceptions of pastoralism and long-term livelihood aspirations. The following key findings emphasise that support from aid actors should match the adept and inherent flexibility of pastoralists in response to shocks observed in South Sudan.

Key Findings


Our research makes the following recommendations for aid actors to enable individuals and households to access a broader set of livelihood options and to make informed decisions about livelihood investments on their own terms.

SPARC will continue this line of research in the coming year in South Sudan and other drylands contexts. We welcome your feedback and look forward to sharing additional findings with you soon.

For further information, contact Alex Humphrey ([email protected])

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