Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Monday, 18 August 2008 15:50 UK

Maasai 'can fight climate change'

Maasai men, file pic July 2008
The Maasai tribe are renowned for their skills as herders and warriors

Africa should make more use of the skills of its nomadic peoples to help combat the challenges of climate change, the aid agency Oxfam says.

Pastoral communities such as the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania could pass on survival skills, says a new report.

The Maasai have learnt over generations how to farm in deserts and scrublands.

Instead of being respected, though, the pastoralists have been marginalised politically, their way of life deemed out-dated and irrelevant, Oxfam says.

There are between 500,000 and one million Maasai in Africa, who mostly live in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.

Droughts and floods

Famed as herders and warriors, the tribe once dominated the plains of East Africa, moving from one place to another and sharing access to water and pasture.

Their adaptability cannot be realised without government support and investment
Mohammed Elmi
Kenyan minister

But they are now confined to a fraction of their former range.

A new Oxfam report, Survival of the Fittest, describes how East African governments have excluded pastoralist communities, adversely affecting their ability to maintain a sustainable livelihood.

"All too often the direct economic value generated by pastoralists is not retained in their communities, and the indirect value is unrewarded and even unacknowledged by decision-makers," said Paul Smith-Lomas, regional director for Oxfam International.

Mohammed Elmi, who in April was appointed as Kenya's first north-eastern minister, said pastoralists had been adapting to changes in climate for millennia, and these skills could help them cope with the continent's increasingly hot weather.

"However, their adaptability cannot be realised without government support and investment," he said.

The UN climate panel says Africa could be hit hard by climate change in the coming century, with tens of millions facing food and water shortages as rising temperatures are exacerbated by more droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

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