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Recognising livestock keepers' rights

Maasai lawyer Eliamani Laltaika from Tanzania, who has helped formulate legal recognition for livestock keepers (Rev. Helmut Klaubert)
Maasai lawyer Eliamani Laltaika from Tanzania, who has helped formulate legal recognition for livestock keepers
Rev. Helmut Klaubert

From a Maasai community in northern Tanzania, Eliamani Laltaika grew up with his people's freedom and activities restricted; thus a passion was born to stand-up for the rights of livestock keepers. Sponsored by the Pastoralist Council of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Laltaika studied law. In 2007, he was one of five lawyers providing advice for drawing up an international Declaration on Livestock Keepers' Rights. "I had to do this," he says, "because, without cattle, I wouldn't be a Maasai. Without our animals, life is just empty."

Relatively young for a lawyer - only 31 - Laltaika also felt humbled and honoured to be involved in the process. "I do it because it's not only a job opportunity, but an opportunity to address my own rights, as I have seen how government policies have affected us."

Custodians of animal genetic resources

The concept of Livestock Keepers' Rights was developed first by civil societies during a forum on food sovereignty in 2002, in an effort to achieve formal recognition for livestock keepers around the world as creators and custodians of animal genetic resources. But, Laltaika's colleague, Jacob Wanyama, African co-ordinator for the LIFE Initiative (Local Livestock for Empowerment of Rural People) says, "We need to aim for more than recognition. We need legal instruments that bind governments to not just recognise, but to provide assistance for livestock keepers to maintain their breeds and their lifestyle."

Declaration of Livestock Keepers' Rights
1. Livestock Keepers are creators of breeds and custodians of animal genetic resources for food and agriculture.
2. Livestock Keepers and the sustainable use of traditional breeds are dependent on the conservation of their respective ecosystems.
3. Traditional breeds represent collective property, products of indigenous knowledge and cultural expression of Livestock Keepers.
Livestock Keepers have the right to:
1. make breeding decisions and breed the breeds they maintain.
2. participate in policy formulation and implementation processes on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture.
3. appropriate training and capacity building and equal access to relevant services enabling and supporting them to raise livestock and to better process and market their products.
4. participate in the identification of research needs and research design with respect to their genetic resources, as is mandated by the principle of Prior Informed Consent.
5. effectively access information on issues related to their local breeds and livestock diversity.

The Declaration on Livestock Keepers' Rights, drafted in Kalk Bay, South Africa in late 2008, sets out three principles and five rights for livestock keepers (see box). They have come out of a series of consultations conducted since 2002 with livestock keepers and other stakeholders in community-based livestock production from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Wanyama states that, "We already have a treaty on plant genetic resources, but we still don't have a treaty for animal genetic resources. However, with this declaration, it shows that there is a big change in understanding, recognising that pastoralists and livestock keepers have a role."

Markets are key

In Kenya, his home country, and across East Africa, Wanyama believes that there is relatively good awareness of the value of animal genetic resources. "Some pastoralists are now politicians, even ministers," he continues, "but this still doesn't translate to relieve pastoralists' problems. There are still droughts, problems with disease, lack of services, and roads are still not there, markets are not there."

Red Maasai sheep are highly-valued for their resistance to internal parasites (ILRI)
Red Maasai sheep are highly-valued for their resistance to internal parasites

According to Wanyama, access to markets is crucial. "If livestock keepers could get better prices for their animals, then there would be no worry about conserving animal genetic resources because their value would be recognised and would bring real benefits to the communities that rear them." Laltaika agrees. Studying now for his PhD in Germany, he remains passionate about his heritage. "My cattle are very important because first that is how we get our names, our recognition."

Wanyama's interest has been with red Maasai sheep, a breed valued for its unique resistance to internal parasites. But, he says, the breed is being crossed and diluted to fetch a better market price. So how can the animal be conserved, when livestock keepers are unaware of the potential of their breed and doubt their right to "make breeding decisions and to breed the breeds they maintain."

The way forward

The answer, Wanyama responds, is provided in another right stated in the declaration, the right to effectively access information on issues related to breeds. If livestock keepers want a breed that retains its resistance, but they don't want a pure red Maasai, then, he says, "We development workers and scientists need to provide the right information. We need to recognise the constraints under which the livestock keepers are operating, respect what they are saying and understand and find solutions for the problems as expressed by them."

Laltaika (right) at a recent FAO conference on conserving animal genetic diversity (Dr. Balaram Sahu)
Laltaika (right) at a recent FAO conference on conserving animal genetic diversity
Dr. Balaram Sahu

The LIFE Initiative, to which Wanyama and Laltaika belong, has been instrumental in getting stakeholder support and in getting the Declaration formulated. The next step is to circulate it to other civil society organisations for their support in order to encourage policymakers that animal genetic resources need to be integrated into existing legal frameworks, including the Convention for Biodiversity (CBD), the UN Conventions to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and Climate Change (UNFCC).

But, warns Laltaika, LIFE members are firm in their belief that whilst advocacy is good, the priorities of the network have to be right. He stresses that conservation for conservation's sake is not an option and an initiative that does not translate into food security is unlikely to win their support: "To me, biodiversity is nothing if the people are not fed and their needs are not met."

Date published: March 2009


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