Johns Hopkins faculty have been awarded funding for nine projects in the area of practical ethics to get underway in 2016. The first recipients in the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics program will examine a wide range of subject areas, including criminal justice, higher education, behavioral economics, and environmentalism.


Preliminary results from these nine projects will be presented in a symposium on January 24th, 2016. Leading up to this event, our Amelia Hood spoke to each project team to learn more about their work in practical ethics.


Follow this link for more information on the Exploration of Practical Ethics symposium, and for free registration.




Jessica Fanzo, PhD, was awarded funding by the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics program for her project titled “Understanding and addressing moral dilemmas of sedentarisation of pastoralists: Practical ethics of mitigating conflict amongst water and food resource constrained populations in the Northern Kenya Semi-Arid Lands.”


Dr. Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Ethics and Global Food & Agriculture (SAIS), and her research team, will identify the constraints, conflicts, and trade-offs of three types of pastoralist livelihoods among two Kenyan tribes. They will then develop a guiding framework of ethical considerations to help stakeholders navigate the constraints on, drivers of, and conflicts about food and water resources amongst these two ethnic populations. A further project aim is to identify government policies and development agency programmatic actions that have the potential to incorporate ethical standards and rights-based approaches in addressing challenges of food and water insecurity.


Here, she answers our questions about the project.



Tell us a little more about the context in which this study will take place, and about the people involved (the Borana Oromo and the Turkana).


The Borana Oromo and the Turkana are two tribes that live in the Northern semi-arid region of Kenya. They and other tribes in the area have traditionally been pastoralists, seasonally herding livestock in search of food and water. Natural resource constraints and cultural changes have resulted in fewer and fewer full-time, traditional pastoralists, many of whom have settled, competing for the limited number of jobs in peri-urban and urban centers. Climate change is felt acutely in this area, with water insecurity being the most concerning problem. People here are most worried about water for themselves and for their livestock. Additionally, as the population grows, conflicts have increased over land ownership, food security and livelihoods.

These environmental constraints, along with few alternative job opportunities, have resulted in further conflicts and political instability. Young people seeking opportunity are often frustrated, disenfranchised, and are susceptible to recruitment into extremist groups—Al-Shabaab operates nearby in Somalia.


What are the goals of sedentarization in Kenya? Why have policy makers chosen this path to deal with food insecurity and other climate change-related problems?


Sedentarization of pastoralists was promoted mainly to bring these nomadic people closer to services: health services, schools, mosques, livestock markets, etc. By offering these services in small towns, the government aimed to decrease conflicts around access to land, water, and food and to improve quality of life. As the local economy developed, these towns could offer employment opportunities to former pastoralists. In reality, however, bringing members of many different tribes closer together, along with the lack of real economic opportunity, did little to lessen the conflicts of the region.

Now, there is some effort to preserve pastoralism in a more modern way that improves the quality of life for nomads, including increasing their accesses to the services and livestock markets, new technologies and restocking programs. Increasing the mobility of health services and education is one way this could happen. However, the pastoralist lifestyle is fading, especially amongst the younger generations. Climate change has made an already-difficult lifestyle more unpredictable and unstable. But, there isn’t a real support structure for youth seeking entrepreneurial activities and sustainable wage-earning jobs.


So, the question is: what does the community want for themselves? And, how can they get it?


What do you hope are the impacts of this project, especially in the light of climate change and its inevitable effects on human populations in developing nations?


There are two things we’d like to understand: What do members of these communities see as triggers of conflict? What do they perceive as needing resolution? And, how can resolution be achieved?

There is a lot of pressure to the system in this area: climate change, food and water constraints, questions of access and ownership to land, disappearing livelihoods. What does this community want for their own future amidst all of these pressures? And, how can they fulfill that vision?

These questions must be answered from the communities’ perspective. A goal of the project is to share their voice with those with decision-making power, and to give opportunity and space to those who are not often listened to.

Tell us more about participatory action research (PAR) and why you chose to use this type of methodology.


The Turkana, especially, have been subjects of research surveys for far too long. It’s important that they be very active in data collection. In fact, it was necessary to get community buy-in—they welcome this type of research because they have been so over-surveyed.

We are using photovoice as a way for them to collect and discuss their own data. The interviews will be similar: sharing the interviews will lead to a deep-dive into viewpoints from the community, coming from people with different livelihoods. The data will be open to discussion by all community members.


When using this methodology, it’s so important to have local partners. We have partners that are a part of these communities, and can assist with thing like the local language. With their help, along with this methodology, we can really get at the ethical implications of their own perspectives on liberty, infringements upon liberty, and what policies are harmful and what policies are helpful.


What would you say are the ethical obligations of those who provide aid or services to people who need it (NGOs, national and foreign governments, etc.)?


In the realms of nutrition and food security, there are always good intentions when writing policy or programming. What’s lacking is the consideration of maleficence. These communities are very fragile, and their traditional lifestyles are on the cusp of disappearing completely. They have been such a target of development initiatives, and some of these policies have really caused harm and detriment to them.

Any approach to development, whether it be for policy or NGO programming, has to think critically about any potential longer-term harm that could be brought to these communities in the context of “short term” good. The only way to do this is to engage the community and learn their wants, needs, and visions for the future.

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One Response to “The Sedentarisation of Pastoralists: Moral Dilemmas”

  1. […] Understanding and Addressing Moral Dilemmas of Sedentarisation of Pastoralists: Practical Ethics of … Jessica Fanzo, Berman Institute of Bioethics and School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), with co-investigators Alan Goldberg, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Paul Lubeck, SAIS […]

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