Helping to unlock the vast potential of drylands

“I wanted to be part of the radical rethinking that is under way about how we look at drylands and how to unlock their unique, enormous potential.”

Guyo Roba, IUCN Programme Officer for Drylands

It was this sentiment that motivated IUCN’s Guyo Roba to focus his work on conserving the world’s drylands.

No one knows better than Guyo the challenges faced by drylands and the people who live in them. Guyo was born in the arid lands of Northern Kenya and brought up in a pastoralist community which depends on livestock and fragile ecosystems for their livelihood.

“The constant environmental and climatic changes experienced by pastoralist communities greatly influenced my interest to pursue a professional career in Natural Resource Management and more so to get involved in working with pastoralist communities on a practical level using various tools and approaches to solve long standing problems.”

The conventional wisdom that drylands are wastelands needs to be challenged in light of the many goods and services that these areas provide and that are fundamental to the livelihoods of millions of people, says Guyo who is Programme Officer for Drylands, based in IUCN’s Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa in Nairobi.

“It is fascinating to be involved in a new breed of policies and programmes that are developed together with communities and that combine traditional and contemporary knowledge. They hold great promise for improving the well-being of dryland communities.”

Guyo is central to IUCN’s efforts to ensure that dryland resources are valued, recognized and taken into account by decision makers. Many people depend directly on goods and services provided by dryland ecosystems, such as rangelands for livestock, medicinal plants, fruits, and fuel and building materials.

“With IUCN, am privileged to be involved in several projects that have a real impact on pastoralists and dryland biodiversity. These range from securing land rights in communal rangelands, to carrying out biodiversity related research to help guide national and regional policy making. Good progress has been made. In northern Kenya, for example, through widespread consultations and advisory meetings, communities have become more positive about conservation and more motivated to take ownership of conservation initiatives.”

“But like many drylands initiatives, the projects face many challenges. As a programme officer with direct community contact, I face these pretty often. Community expectations are high when the project starts. The process of securing land rights is long, painstaking and political and the communities expect instant results. There are also challenges associated with the scarcity of resources available to support ambitious community plans and future investments.”

 Measuring the diverse values of drylands is challenging and requires a range of methods, Guyo explains.

“How can decision makers make informed choices if we talk of values only in a ‘moral’ sense rather than an economic sense?” asks Guyo. “Valuing biodiversity requires an understanding of the full range of ecosystem goods and services, species diversity and so on.”

“We’re trying to build a case for why drylands need to be valued,” says Guyo. “We need to measure their contribution to people’s livelihoods and the health of ecosystems, to be able to intervene more effectively and draw the attention of governments to the issue. We want to find out how we can attract private and public investors and how we can change general attitudes towards drylands.”

Guyo says it is also important to look at ways to reward activities that are compatible with dryland environments and can bring about significant environmental benefits to these areas. These benefits are not recognized and in some cases they are denied or penalized.

Guyo has a background in environmental science. Prior to joining IUCN, he was a researcher with the Policy Studies Institute in Kenya.

Guyo can be contacted at

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