BLOG | How can we achieve the SDGs in marginal semi-arid regions?

How can we achieve the SDGs in marginal semi-arid regions? PRISE might have some answers – through supporting climate-resilient and equitable economic development

by Dr Eva Ludi, Principal Investigator for PRISE and the Head of Water Policy Programme at the Overseas Development Institute.


The challenge to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is especially daunting in marginal geographies such as semi-arid lands (SALs). Despite being home to almost 1 billion people, they have suffered from political and economic neglect and marginalisation for decades. Infrastructure and provision of services that we all take for granted – such as health posts offering basic health care, schools for children  to learn and thrive and for adults to improve their knowledge and skills, water supply systems that provide year-round, sufficient good quality water, roads that are passable during the rainy season that link remote villages to larger towns and markets and are lifelines, electricity to homes and business premises, telecommunication that allows people to stay in contact with each other and access information – are especially limited in the regions where Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies (PRISE) works. Where interventions have taken place, the particular social and environmental characteristics of SALs have not been taken into account, leading to unintended, and often maladaptive, outcomes.

While all these services are covered by individual SDGs, in PRISE we believe that instead of investing in a piece-meal fashion in one or other of the SDGs, an integrated approach to economic development that is both climate resilient and equitable in these areas is a better way forward to achieve both climate-resilient, inclusive economic growth and the socio-economic transformation that is needed to achieve the SDGs. Moreover, the particular characteristics of SALs – including variability in resources, remoteness, mobility and informality - need to be integrated into these new holistic approaches to service delivery and development. What do we mean by this?


Public transportation in Louga, Senegal (Image by Lancelot Ehode - IED Afrique/PRISE)


Challenging the myths around semi-arid regions

Despite a widespread misconception that SALs do not contribute significantly to national economies, the facts speak for themselves. The livestock sector and pastoralists are vital not only to the semi-arid regions of Kenya, but also to the national economy. The country’s livestock sector contributes around 12% to national GDP and employs around 50% of the agricultural workforce in Kenya. The textile sector in Pakistan which relies heavily on cotton produced in the country’s semi-arid areas and is the largest sector in the country, accounts for 40% of the industrial labour force and provides income for 10 million farming families.

In PRISE our approach starts with these sectors and livelihood activities that are already common in SALs and which provide a livelihood for many of the poorest and most vulnerable people, including livestock, dairy, or cotton. But what do we propose in practice? If the sectors and activities in marginalised SALs become more of a focus for policy and decision makers, this paves the way for the economic and social opportunities (instead of only problems) that these regions present to be identified. And if investments towards strengthening the economies in these areas are prioritised, several SDGs could be achieved simultaneously. This would also allow us to make progress towards the “Leave No One Behind” goal – a commitment central to the SDGs. Taking the cases of Kenya, Pakistan, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Tajikistan, and Uganda’s efforts to transform the beef, dairy, and cotton value chains in these countries include working together with actors involved along all steps of the value chains of these sectors to identify climate risks and develop adaptation options and opportunities. Using an innovative methodology called Value Chain Analysis for Resilience in Drylands (VC-ARID) developed by PRISE researchers over the past 3 years, PRISE shows where climate risks in these sectors are most strongly felt and what investments can be made to adapt while also promoting transformation of these value chains.

VC-ARID not only supports producers in the livestock and cotton value chains to identify options to improve their production qualitatively or to access markets where they get better paid, it can also support traders or processers along the chain in accessing climate information or accessing credit to improve their operations and to support producers to do the same. Our approach highlights areas where private sector actors can invest and also where governments need to enable private adaptation through public policy.


PRISE working in partnership with decision makers

We firmly belief that a focus on important sectors in semi-arid areas and targeted climate-resilient investments in integrating and developing their economies can play a vital role in achieving SDGs – whether that relates to increasing income and reducing poverty (SDG 1), promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (SDG 8), financial inclusion, especially of women (SDG 5), improving education and skills development (SDG 4), better water management aimed at reducing flood risks and improving productivity (SDG 6), or managed migration (SDG 11). The income that remains in marginal areas if their economies grow, if they are better connected to national and international markets and are better able to withstand the climatic shocks and stresses, could be spent on food, nutrition, health and education or be invested in businesses – all with direct contributions to achieve the SDGs, including Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8) and Climate Action (SDG 13).


In light of this, the PRISE team in Senegal is currently working in partnership with decision makers in the national Ministry of Economy and Finance (Department of Economic Policies) – which is leading the national Sustainable Development Voluntary National Review process - to integrate PRISE evidence into the country’s Voluntary National Review submission, which will be presented at the Sustainable Development High Level Political Forum in New York in July 2018, and is also providing expertise to policymakers on ways to simultaneously work towards achieving both climate-resilient economic development in SALs and the 2030 Agenda.



ii Koohafkan, P. and Stewart, B.A., (2008). Drylands, people and land use. In: Water and Cereals in Drylands. Roma: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Earthscan. Available at:

Behnke R. and Muthami D. (2011). The Contribution of Livestock to the Kenyan Economy. IGAD LPI Working Paper No. 03-11.

Ministry of Livestock Development (2010). Strategic Plan: 2008-2012. Government of Kenya (GoK).

Batool, S. and Saeed, F. (2017). Mapping the cotton value chain in Pakistan: A preliminary assessment for identification of climate vulnerabilities and pathways to adaptation. PRISE Working paper. Islamabad: Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

The VC-ARID methodology was developed by Dr Elizabeth Carabine and Dr Catherine Simonet