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Pastoralism in crisis?

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Drought in the Horn of Africa – again. With the region's worst drought in over a decade, pastoral households around the Ethiopian, Kenyan and Somali borders have been hard hit. Alongside the humanitarian response, a re-emerging debate on the future of pastoral systems is taking shape. Is the proverbial grass greener on one side than the other?


The revival of interest in pastoralism and livestock production takes two forms – one a celebration of the ‘pastoral way of life' and the importance of indigenous systems of production and management and another focusing on the market potentials of a ‘livestock revolution'.


The Future Agricultures Consortium recognises the importance of these debates in shaping the future of pastoral production systems and livelihoods in East Africa. In order to raise the profile of this important discussion, we present one side of the debate –a pessimistic thesis by Stephen Sandford, and challenge this with a more upbeat response from Stephen Devereux and Ian Scoones of Future Agricultures.

Too many people, too few livestock

Below is an unpublished extract written by Stephen Sandford from the book Development at the Margins: Pathways of Change in the Horn of Africa, ed. Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones (2012), Earthscan. It was written in November 2011.

Over the last half-century pastoralists’ wealth and welfare have been in sharp decline in the Horn of Africa and it is becoming increasingly urgent to find other livelihoods for many of them. This chapter is a plea for a rethink about the potential of irrigated agriculture to be a valuable alternative or additional livelihood to pastoralism. The Horn of Africa in this paper refers to the five core countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

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Sabine Homann and Barbara Rischkowsky

This contribution summarizes insights gained from a case study on the applicability of indigenous knowledge (IK) in range management of Borana pastoralists in a changed environment (Homann, 2004). We reflect on implications for future interventions that aim at improving pastoral livelihoods under the existing constraints.
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Andrew Catley

In response to Stephen Sandford’s paper, I find the analysis rather simplistic and in terms of the quantitative analysis and use of the TLU/AAME ratio, probably invalid. It’s simplistic because it fails to assess the overarching political contexts affecting pastoralism and in particular, the importance of conflict and violence.
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Prof. Peter Little

I have carefully read both (1) Sandford's and (2) Devereux and Scoones' brief papers on the current state of East African/Horn of Africa pastoralism and possible policy scenarios and feel that Sandford's contribution fails to capture the social and economic complexity of contemporary pastoralism in the region. The policy implications of his contribution also raise some troubling prospects. The notion of a herd ‘threshold' to sustain pastoralism based strictly on a livestock ‘per capita' indicator is an important means to assess viability in a relatively undiversified pastoral economy where livestock production is the only source of income.

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