Risk in the production environment Historian Neil Sobania describes the use of livestock in the study area as a “[m]edium for the transformation of energy stored in the grasses, herbage, and shrubs of the local area into a form easily available to the local population, i.e., as milk, blood and meat products” (1979: 12). As the production of these grasses, herbage, and shrubs is critically dependent on rainfall, prolonged periods without rainfall (drought) is one of the key risks that pastoralists and their production systems confront. In these environments, drought is a “natural” phenomenon and pastoralist systems have developed means to cope with it. We begin in this chapter by considering evidence on rainfall patterns in our study sites during the period of intensive research in 2000-02, and then turn to evidence on forage production to help understand the nature of production risks faced by pastoralists in the study area. Rainfall patterns in the region vary widely, both across time and space. Because rain gauge data are not available for all our sites and for all time periods in question, we use US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) estimates that are publicly available.1 We have assembled data for each site on the deviation of each year’s rainfall from the site’s long-term average. Figures 4.1 (for Ethiopia) and 4.2 (for Kenya) include a scatter-plot showing the site specific deviation for each site during 1999-2006. The average of these site specific

In Ethiopia, the years of 2000-01 were below normal rainfall years for all sites, and the years 2002-04 saw a return to better conditions. Conditions severely worsened again in 2005. The severity of the rainfall deficit varies across site, although every site is facing a rainfall deficit.