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Pastoralism - seeking a better future

Nomadic livestock-keeping is going through a time of crisis (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Nomadic livestock-keeping is going through a time of crisis
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Nomadic livestock-keeping, like so many sectors, is going through a time of crisis. In East Africa, competition for land and resources is growing, long-term drought has devastated herds, and policymakers consistently favour the settlement of pastoralist people, in order to bring their 'backward' way of life into the 21st Century.

Yet, throughout history, pastoralists have shown themselves to be the ultimate survivors. Could pastoralism in Africa have an exciting future as an innovative, productive and market-oriented sector? And if so, what will be needed to bring that about?

These questions were at the heart of the Future Agricultures Consortium's Future of Pastoralism conference, held in Addis Ababa in March 2011. Participants shared some thoughts and answers with New Agriculturist.

How pastoralists are adapting

Pastoralists are saying, "We are no longer only investing in livestock. We are putting our money into banks. We are now building hotels. We are owning vehicles." So livelihood diversification is one of the ways in which pastoralists are building their resilience.
Charles Hopkins, Pastoralist Programme Coordinator for Care Ethiopia

Pastoralists are diversifying their livelihoods to improve their resilience to shocks (© Jane Beesley/Oxfam)
Pastoralists are diversifying their livelihoods to improve their resilience to shocks
© Jane Beesley/Oxfam

The breakdown of the state and export routes in Somalia, as a result of conflict there, has resulted in a whole new livestock trade down through Garissa and into Kenya. So it shows that pastoralists are very alert to market opportunities and they shift their trade, and even their products, in response to the environment they find themselves in.
Sally Healy, Associate Fellow, Chatham House foreign policy think-tank, UK

In Ethiopia, Sudan, right up to Egypt and the Middle East, the camel trade is being run and organised entirely by pastoralists and it is highly successful. Much of that trade is IT driven. They are making deals via phones; they are using SMS systems.
Sarah Osir, African Union - Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR)

The pastoralists of Karamoja have communal land ownership and the neighbouring districts of Teso have individual ownership. The innovation they have is to negotiate sometimes as groups with the neighbouring districts, so that they can go in and take their cattle for grazing during the dry season and then later on go back.
Everse Ruhindi, Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA)

A place at the political table

Policymakers must deal directly with pastoralists (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Policymakers must deal directly with pastoralists
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

I think community-based organisations and NGOs should be formed by pastoralists themselves. Many people have been presenting the voices of pastoralists, but sometimes even the educated pastoralists forget that they have to help the poor ones. Going to the communities, hearing what the pastoralists are saying, is one way to get their voices into policy.
Opportuna Kweka, Dar es Salaam University, Tanzania

The way to bring in pastoralists is just the same as for any other people. It's about good governance, it's about democratisation, it's about true representation, and that has been a growing trend to some extent. Certainly in Kenya we have heard a quite different voice from the pastoral communities over the last ten to fifteen years.
Sally Healy, Chatham House

Policymakers have only limited knowledge about pastoralists' livelihoods. If the pastoralists are not invited to the policymaking forum, the marginalisation will continue. If the policies are more participatory, then the local communities will take part in these policies and the marginalisation will change.
Halake Bante, pastoralism adviser, World Food Programme, Ethiopia

Widespread thinking in policy and governmental circles concerning the backwardness of pastoralists in economic, as well as cultural terms, needs to be changed. We need a shift towards politicisation of the discussion, because these problems that pastoralists are facing are highly political.
Simone Rettberg, University of Bayreuth, Germany

Reaching a better understanding

Let us open our eyes and ears and try to know pastoralism. Pastoralist production contributes a lot to the national economy. And pastoralists occupy land which has got immense potential to transform our economies. Policymakers must deal directly with pastoralists so that we can tap into those massive resources that can be used for national development.
Abdi Hussein, Pwani University College, Kenya

Widespread thinking concerning the backwardness of pastoralists needs to be changed (© WRENmedia)
Widespread thinking concerning the backwardness of pastoralists needs to be changed
© WRENmedia

We have to differentiate between pastoralism as a cultural identity and pastoralism as a livelihood. Most of the time we focus on pastoralism as a livelihood. But if we understand pastoralism as a cultural identity, that will also help us understand the sense-making of pastoralists - why they take certain decisions - and their strategies.
Chinwe Speranza, University of Bern, Switzerland

The only way we can influence government is by being able to understand, and the best way to do that is through the contribution of research. Once we know all these findings from research, we can build the evidence to influence changes in policy.
Charles Hopkins, Care Ethiopia

At this conference, there are people coming from all over the world discussing pastoralism but we have a very limited number of people coming from the indigenous community. We should also include the pastoralist community representatives, and then the pastoralist communities will also be aware of what is going on in the rest of the world.
Halake Bante, World Food Programme

Pastoralist-friendly policy

There is diversity in pastoralism and different opportunities. We need to be careful how we apply policy, how we apply practice. We need to stop using blanket approaches for dealing with pastoralists. The variation, the diversity is really big, and what works somewhere may not work elsewhere.
Sarah Osir, African Union

Pastoralism contributes substantially to Africa's economies (© WRENmedia)
Pastoralism contributes substantially to Africa's economies
© WRENmedia

In our Ministry, we are encouraging other ministries to be aware of the nature of pastoralism. Secondly, we want to have a drought management authority; and number three, we want to have a drought contingency fund - a kitty that is outside the government financial system which we can also ask donors to contribute to.
Hussein Tarry Sasura, Assistant Minister for development of northern Kenya and arid lands

The most important thing is for pastoralism to be part of the real discourse of policymaking in Africa. But the policy issues are not only at the national level but also at the local level and even in constitution-making. And I think the review of these constitutions is providing opportunities for the pastoralists to be included in constitution-making.
Luka Deng, Minister for cabinet affairs, Government of Southern Sudan

The African Union policy framework for pastoral development, which has been endorsed by presidents and ministers of livestock around the continent, recognises the rights of pastoralists. But it also recognises that pastoralism contributes substantially to our economies and it makes provisions for how we can improve that contribution.
Sarah Osir

What future for pastoralism?

I think pastoralism has a future and we are probably going to see people depending more on pastoralism in the future than in the past. This is mainly because of the pastoral products; we get meat, milk and a lot of other by-products from livestock keeping.
Opportuna Kweka, Dar es Salaam University

What is the future for young pastoralists? (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
What is the future for young pastoralists?
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Pastoralism is evolving very rapidly. I think it would be quite wrong to think of it as something belonging to the past, because it is clearly a very good and effective way of using semi-arid environments, which are difficult to use in any other way than for livestock production.
Sally Healy

I would encourage pastoralists to have diversified sources of income and for men and women to work together. Not for the women to be higher than the men, or to be oppressed, but for the two of them to come to the table and make decisions together, for the well-being of their homes and the community.
Everse Ruhindi, PENHA

I think the future of pastoralism is in livestock-keeping, plus of course giving them education and other services that they need. Because the world is changing, and their places are also changing. So they cannot live their traditional lives the way they used to. But still, there were some very useful things in their tradition which we can actually incorporate in the so-called modern kind of livelihood that they are going to adapt to.
Opportuna Kweka

Date published: May 2011


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