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New Agriculturist: Book reviews - Pastoralism and development in Africa: Dynamic change at the margins
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Pastoralism and development in Africa: Dynamic change at the margins

Pastoralism and development in Africa

Edited by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones
Published by Earthscan from Routledge
Website: www.routledge.com
2012, 295pp, ISBN 978 0 41554 072 8 (Pb), £24.95

Pastoralism may be seen as at the margins of agriculture but the authors of Pastoralism and development in Africa show it is far from a marginal activity. The numbers dependent on pastoralism, the extensive land area utilised and the output achieved despite harsh and unpredictable environments are important social, economic and political elements in a number of countries. That pastoralists are fiercely protective of their way of life may make them difficult to incorporate into the wider settled community of increasingly urbanised populations but their contributions of resourcefulness, innovation and entrepreneurial skills should be recognised. This book does much to provide policymakers, advisors and donors with the basis of a better understanding of pastoralist life and priorities without which poverty and insecurity 'at the margins' will continue and potential national product will be lost.

Pastoralism and development in Africa provides a range of case histories, the authors having long and intimate experience of pastoralists and their way of life. Although focused on the Greater Horn of Africa, the circumstances described, and the options discussed offer many lessons for not only of how pastoralism should be seen and understood and the development offered in these so-called 'marginal' areas but also in the more fertile heartlands of agricultural production. As the editors write in the introductory pages, "Even in the places more connected to the mainstream...we can observe many of the same challenges."

Attempts to increase the productivity of pastoral areas have included ranching and diversifying into crop production, the latter almost invariably requiring supplementary water. Most recently, the displacement of pastoralism has been altogether more absolute and brutal: governments selling vast areas of marginal lands, on which pastoralists have long lived but have no legal tenure, to foreign speculators intent on intensive agriculture, so-called 'landgrabbing'. Ranching has long been believed to provide optimum returns from marginal areas but, "When researchers compared productivity, their studies revealed that, contrary to expectations, pastoralism is the more productive of the two systems."

Regarding crop production with irrigation, this has been tried by pastoralists for centuries but is always at risk from changing rain patterns: one author with a lifetime of studying pastoralism believes smallscale irrigation is an option, another is not so confident: "The Awash valley illustrates what lies in store for pastoral areas if African governments pursue a policy of modernizing agriculture by displacing mobile livestock production in favour of irrigated crop agriculture." Salination is the result, a caution for landgrabbers intent on imposing intensive agriculture on an extensive environment. Another author concludes, "Almost always underestimated is the importance of productive use of rangelands by pastoralists/ranchers, where mobile livestock husbandry has long been defined as the most effective strategy for extracting value out of otherwise marginal lands, and in so doing feeding growing millions."

This book grew from a conference on the future of pastoralismconvened by the Future Agricultures Consortium and Tufts University in Addis Ababa in 2011. Professor Peter Little, writing the final chapter, remembers the conference on the same topic 30 years before in Nairobi: "I am struck by how many of the cautionary trends that were described - and even hypothesized - at the earlier meeting are reflected in this book, but in amplified form and across much larger areas." He goes on to describe how a system of sustainable pastoralism could be built, offering improved livelihoods to future generations of pastoralists and meaningful output for their countries. But Little's final statement is salutary: "Political and other challenges stand in the way of achieving this sustainable vision of pastoralism, but by not addressing these challenges the social, ecological, and economic loss for the Horn and its populations will be enormous." Lessons, for those who shape policy for pastoralism and, indeed, agriculture in general.

Date published: July 2012

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