Protracted crises are persistent in Africa’s drylands. Weak governance, insecure land rights and access, environmental fragility and armed conflict impact the lives of millions of pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and farmers in drylands across Africa; climate change is starting to layer on additional stress. SPARC research with pastoral and agro-pastoral communities across the Sahel and Horn of Africa reveals how they are responding to multiple pressures, and adapting their livelihoods. Innovations emerging from these regions are also providing solutions to some of their most critical challenges. In this plenary, we discuss the opportunities and challenges that arise when taking a more integrated approach to addressing ecosystem restoration in drylands facing recurrent and protracted crises.