Giving pastoralists a voice

Despite contrasting views on the sustainability of pastoralism in Africa in the 21st century, the truth remains that 125 million of Africa’s poor depend on it for their livelihoods. Irin News reports on a recent conference where 15 African states discussed the formulation of a policy framework on pastoralism and the needs of those it represents.
Issue date 7 September 2007

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Pastoralism is under threat from climate change, shifting global markets and increased competition for land and other natural resources even though it generates substantial income in areas where conventional farming is not possible.
Those who believe that pastoralism – based on raising livestock in arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) – can last into the 21st century, argue that increased urbanisation will mean a greater demand for livestock products and, hence, a greater role for pastoralists.

Those who don’t regard pastoralism as a viable long-term lifestyle argue that globalisation, increasing competition for land resources, desertification and prolonged droughts in ASAL areas mitigate against its survival.
Either way, at least 40% of Africa’s land mass is dedicated to pastoralism, with significant variations among countries. In Kenya, for example, government statistics indicate that pastoral areas occupy at least 80% of the land mass, home to about 10 million people and 90% of that country’s wildlife.

Harsh environment

Pastoralists inhabit some of the most fragile and harsh environments in Africa, their existence often characterised by a high degree of mobility.
In many African countries, efforts to accommodate pastoralists when developing new forms of government have not always succeeded. Investment in infrastructure, education and health services for pastoralists is comparatively low, resulting in a dependence on emergency aid while failing to address the root causes of pastoralists’ distress.
African Union (AU) and UN experts on pastoralism say reducing pastoral poverty is crucial to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

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Pastoralism policy

Representatives of pastoralists from 15 African countries, who met on 9 to 11 July in Isiolo, eastern Kenya, discussed ways forward for pastoralism in Africa during deliberations aimed at laying the groundwork for formulating a continental pastoral policy framework.
The workshop, and a series of others planned, will culminate in the possible adoption of a policy on pastoralism in Africa during an AU heads of state summit next year. The key issues that emerged from the discussions included: governance, land, education, markets and financial services, conflicts, and poverty risk and vulnerability. Another point was feed and animal genetic resources.

Daoud Tari Abkula, an adviser on pastoralism with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-Pastoralist Communication Initiative (OCHA-PCI), said no other land-use system was possible on ASAL lands.
“I don’t see pastoralism perishing; what we need to do is to further develop the skills that pastoralists already have,” he said. “In the next 20 years Africa will witness rapid urbanisation and this will increase the demand for livestock products.”
According to Abkula, some adverse climate-change effects benefited pastoralists, giving the example of extensive floods in late 2006 in northern Kenya and neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa. “The unprecedented long rains, some of which caused flooding, were a blessing in disguise for pastoralists as they replenished our water reservoirs and deposited the much-needed fertile soil on pasture lands,” he said. “Therefore, climate change may not always be negative.”

Misconceptions about pastoralism

Abkula said OCHA-PCI facilitated the exchange of experiences between pastoralists and other stakeholders to demystify pastoralism and promote sustainable livestock development. “Some people don’t hate pastoralism; they just don’t understand it,” Abkula said. “There are positive and negative aspects to every activity. Unfortunately few people understand the positives of pastoralism.”
Ali Wario, an assistant minister in the Kenyan Ministry of Special Programmes in the Office of the President, said, “Pastoralism is not just a question of one animal [human being] following another [livestock]; people need to know that the pastoralist is a hero who has overcome adverse conditions of nature to make a viable livelihood.”
A large percentage of land in pastoral areas is not suitable for crop production, making livestock the lifeline of pastoralists, providing food, income, inputs, means of transport and fulfilling other sociocultural needs.
A concept note prepared by the AU and OCHA-PCI on the continental policy framework quotes UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2005 figures, which indicate that the continent has 235 million cattle, 472 million goats, 21 million pigs and 1,3 billion poultry, all valued at US billion.
Based on 2005 statistics, the briefing stated that of the 314 million poor people who lived on less than a day in Africa, half were highly dependent on livestock for their livelihoods, 80% of whom were in pastoral areas.

“These people do not have adequate access to water and pasture for their livestock and often find it difficult to sell livestock to purchase other household needs,” it stated. “Occasionally, they face famine, incidents of disease, and high levels of poverty.”
Pastoralists across Africa remain largely marginalised because they live in remote areas, far from political and economic centres. They continue to be excluded from decision-making processes affecting their livelihoods; hence they continue to be vulnerable to drought, famine, civil strife and ecological challenges.
Pascal Corbe, communication adviser for the AU’s Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (Ibar), says pastoral development efforts must embrace innovative ideas around sustainable natural resource management, effective governance and integration of livelihoods with expanding market opportunities.

The AU is backing efforts to formulate an Africa-wide pastoral policy framework through its Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, as well as Ibar. The AU’s mandate entails promoting policies and strategies to develop rural economies and improve livelihoods by increasing agricultural productivity, enhancing food security and working to achieve sustainable use and management of Africa’s natural resources.
The AU is working with pastoralist organisations across Africa and with OCHA-PCI on developing a policy framework.

When in place, such a policy will serve as a vision and practical framework to achieve development objectives in pastoral areas. Moreover, such a policy would collate collective efforts to define principles, guidelines and practical approaches, including those of pastoral communities. This would ensure recognising the needs of pastoralists in national policy and planning frameworks.
The policy would also provide a coherent basis for interstate and continent-wide agreements to promote pastoral development and define the practical approaches aimed at improving the ability of pastoralist societies to manage extreme environmental variability.

Ahunna Eziakonwa, the chief of Africa II Section at OCHA, New York, said because pastoralism remained misunderstood, OCHA-PCI’s efforts were aimed at convincing African governments to commit to efforts to promote pastoralism. “We are taking an integrated approach to pastoralism – encompassing both political and financial aspects,” she said. “What we are looking at is the long-term sustainable approach rather than just emergency response.”
She said extensive debate, dialogue and advocacy were necessary for pastoralism to be understood, even by governments.
“Pastoralists don’t live in a vacuum; they interact with other communities,” she said. “Pastoralists are saying they are not immune to change, we just need to make pastoralism more viable.” |fw