Anticipating vulnerability to climate change in dryland pastoral systems: using dynamic systems models for the Kalahari

Produced as part of the Adaptation to climate change and human development CCCEP research programme theme

Abstract of Working Paper 32

It is vitally important to identify agro-ecosystems that may cease functioning due to changing climate or land degradation.
However, identifying such systems is confounded on both conceptual and methodological grounds, especially in systems that are moving towards thresholds, a common trait of dryland environments.
We explore these challenges by analysing how a range of external pressures affect the vulnerability of dryland pastoral systems in the Kalahari. This is achieved by employing dynamic systems modelling approaches to understand the pathways by which communities became vulnerable to drought.
Specifically, we evaluate how external pressures have changed:
different agro-ecosystems abilities to tolerate drought (ecosystem resilience);
rural communities’ abilities to adapt to drought (mediated via their access to assets);
and the ability of institutions and policy interventions to play a role in mediating drought-related crises (socio-political governance).
This is done by re-analysing ecological and participatory research findings along with farm-scale livestock offtake data from across the Kalahari in Botswana.
An iterative process was followed to establish narratives exploring how external drivers led to changes in agro-ecosystem resilience, access to assets and the institutional capacity to buffer the system.
We use “causal loop diagrams” and statistical dynamic system models to express key quantitative relationships and establish future scenarios, to help define where uncertainties lie by showing where the system is most sensitive to change.
We highlight that greater sharing of land management knowledge and practices between private and communal land managers can provide ‘win-win-win’ benefits of reducing system vulnerability, increasing economic income and building social capital.
We use future scenario analyses to identify key areas for future studies of climate change adaptation across the Kalahari.