Political ecology and differential vulnerabilities to droughts among livestock farmers in South Africa: a case study of Mpakeni Community

Subsistence livestock production in Mpakeni community, South Africa, is crucial to enabling rural households to diversify their livelihood and spread risks. However, the frequent reoccurrences of drought have resulted in shortages of nutritious pastures in Mpakeni’s communal areas, posing significant threats to livestock production. While exposures to drought conditions in Mpakeni are homogeneous, socio-economic and political factors determine the choices and manner in which various social groups engaged in livestock production can undertake to secure pastures to reduce their vulnerability. This paper adopts a political ecology framework to qualitatively analyse Mpakeni community livestock farmers’ vulnerability to drought, including the dynamics that shape the reproduction of such vulnerabilities among the various socially differentiated groups. Key findings reveal that distinct household characteristics among different social groups amplify their inability to secure pastures from their customary locations during drought conditions. Also, the appropriation of large areas of land by traditional leaders reduces the options available to poor households to secure pastures in the face of drought. This paper argues that differentiated vulnerabilities of social groups are rooted in institutionalised forms of governance at the local level, which emanate from the corridors of power.