Pastoralism in crisis?


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.

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Too many people, too few livestock
January 11, 2012 / Pastoralism in crisis?

Below is an unpublished extract written by Stephen Sandford from the book Development at the Margins: Pathways of Change in the Horn of Africa, ed.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.

For many years the average levels (and the equity of inter-household distribution) of wealth and welfare, among pastoralists in the rangelands of the Horn have been getting worse (Waller, 1999; McPeak, 2006, p45; Desta and Coppock, 2002, p445, Devereux, 2006, pp88-90); and they will continue to worsen. This is a consequence of a growing imbalance between the extent, productivity and sustainability of the rangelands, the number of humans dependent on them for their livelihood, and the number of livestock needed to support these humans. That number is, in turn, determined by the productivity of the land and animals, the proportion of different types of output which are bought and sold, and their relative prices (Dietz et al, 2001; Sandford, 2006; ODI, 2010). Although there has been some switch from natural vegetation to feed based on cropping, livestock herded by pastoralists in the Horn of Africa still depend on the rangelands for most of their diet, typically 70-80 per cent in individual countries (LOG Associates, 2010, pxix). But the extent of the rangelands accessible by pastoralists is declining (Homewood, 2008, p251) and, in spite of the unreliability of demographic data (ODI, 2010), the human population is increasing (Randall, 2008), although becoming less nomadic.

The livestock population, which is already too large for the natural environment to support sustainably (ODI, 2010) is at the same time too small to provide an adequate living for the human population if that remains largely dependent on pastoralism. The burden of the resulting gap between the requirements for livestock (and their products) and their supply falls principally on the already poor. They have herds that are too small to sustain them. Consequently they have to supplement their income in other ways which leads them to neglect their herds. Their herds therefore shrink yet further (Lybbert et al, 2004). The non-viability of the existing pastoral systems, as highlighted by the acute food crisis of 2011, continues to worsen.

If both the growth of the human population and primary dependence on a pastoral livelihood are to continue, then the net value of total pastoral output (i.e. sales and auto-consumption of animals and their products) needs to increase, but without putting further grazing pressure on the rangelands by increasing animal numbers. The best available forecasts (OECD/FAO, 2011) of real world prices (adjusted for inflation) over the next decade do not suggest that this increase in net value will come about by rises in the prices of the animal products produced by pastoralists. Any increase in net value of pastoral output will have to come through changes in quantity.

Although there is some scope for improving secondary productivity (yield of animal products per unit of feed consumed by the herd), for example through improved animal health, this will have little real effect unless the total quantity of feed consumed is also increased (Otchere, 1986). Such an increase in feed consumed will either require the extra feed to be imported from non-pastoral areas or the primary productivity of the rangelands (feed per hectare) to be increased. Although high protein feed supplements can be economically imported and fed, the feed conversion ratios of cattle and small ruminants are such that, as simple back-of-the-envelope modelling of transport costs show, it is normally much more economic to export the pastoral livestock to where the bulky energy-providing feed is grown in the non-pastoral areas rather than the other way round. But in such systems, the value added then accrues to the non-pastoralist feed-growers.

While a modest increase in the quantity of pastoral output might be achieved by an increase in the efficiency with which existing ‘traditional’ technology is used the scope for this is limited. In spite of some claims to the contrary (Breman 1995; Toutain et al, 2009, p186), the ‘improved’ research-based technology available does not seem able substantially to increase the primary productivity of rainfed rangelands.

One issue is that most research focused on rangelands is not intended to maximise income but focuses on sustainability. That emphasis may be appropriate but the focus of this paper is income and how to stop the increasing impoverishment of pastoralists and to strengthen their ability to survive. A proper scientific approach to testing the hypothesis that research-based technology is no better than what pastoralists already do would require statistical testing of considerable sophistication. The data for this does not exist and will not for decades, if ever. In the meantime, one has to rely on unsophisticated comparisons and indirect approaches.

Four such approaches are:

  1. The crude quantitative comparisons that are available show that commercial ranches, which normally claim that their range management techniques are derived from research, have lower values of output per ha than traditional pastoralists in comparable circumstances (Hesse, 2009).
  2. Appropriate range-management techniques and strategies are very ‘site- specific’, depending on local ecological, social and economic factors (Perrier, 1990; Briske et al, 2008). Africa is very heterogeneous and the quantity of research carried out (other than in South Africa) is too small to have produced reliable results even for a few sites.
  3. Although extension services have been advising African pastoralists for the last sixty years to adopt ‘improved range management’ in practice take-up of these recommendations has been minimal (Ndlovu and Mugabe, 2002, p259). This suggests that pastoralists do not find that the recommendations are profitable.
  4. Although range scientists 40-50 years ago were very confident in the power of improved range management, claiming that it could double yields (Sandford, 1980), their recent claims have been much more modest. For example, a senior range scientist in South Africa, where there has been considerable range research done, says ‘In the field of rangeland science we can offer to marginally increase production by improving the use of rangeland’ (Palmer 1999)  [emphasis added]

The need to diversify and its scale

The evidence presented here on the improbability of net pastoral output increasing as a result of either higher prices or of the adoption of new technology indicates that the recent and continuing decline in the welfare of pastoralists will not be halted or reversed by focusing only, or even principally, on livestock-based livelihoods. Diversification of livelihoods is essential.

Successful and sustainable land use in dry areas of the Horn requires a mobile system of land use and often household herds of mixed species, able to exploit different types of vegetation in widely separated locations at different seasons. An efficient mobile land-use system requires an adequate labour force for herding and one able to respond to rainfall and other events rapidly. Households with too small a herd get a living from and who consequently have to divide their attention across several different livelihoods, or with too small a labour force who are unable to devote sufficient attention to the needs of different categories and species of stock, are not economically viable as pastoralists (Barrett and McPeak 2006) and are unable to operate a mobile system of land use. At the same time their herds compete for scarce livestock feed with the herds of those who are potentially viable, and their immobile system of land use puts greater pressure on the environment.

Diversification of livelihoods by the pastoral population as a whole but specialisation by individual households is the key to successful and sustainable land use. The aim should be to reduce the number of people dependent on pastoralism by facilitating the emigration out of a pastoral livelihood of those households who have to diversify if they are to survive at all.

The scale of the effort needed to achieve a satisfactory rate of emigration depends on the present degree of overpopulation, as reflected in various indicators of stress, and in the future rate of growth of the population significantly dependent on pastoralism. Obviously these will differ quite widely between different locations. But we can take as an example the pastoral areas of north Kenya and southern Ethiopia. Two indicators of stress are:

  • In the pastoral areas of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, 49 per cent of households wholly or partially dependent on pastoralism were, for four consecutive dry seasons of study (McPeak, 2004), below an income poverty line which was set at a value equivalent to half the level of the UN’s extreme poverty line (US$1 of 1993 purchasing power parity) per person per day.
  • About 80 per cent of family herds in these pastoral areas are now less than the threshold size (about 10-12 head of cattle per household or their equivalent in terms of other categories of livestock) above which household herds are, after a ‘shock’ such as extreme drought, probably able to recover their pre-shock size but below which they gradually dwindle in numbers and are no longer viable pastoralists (Lybbert et al, 2004).

These two indicators show that the proportion of the pastoral population already in acute poverty, no longer able to practise viable pastoralism, and urgently needing an alternative livelihood is large. For this reason I have advocated elsewhere the need to reconsider the option of irrigation-based livelihoods (Sandford 2011).

Stephen Sandford
November 2011


Barrett, C. and McPeak, J. (2006) ‘Poverty traps and safety nets’, Economic Studies in Inequality, Social Exclusion and Well-Being, vol 1, pp131-154

Briske, D.D., Derner, J.D., Brown, J.R., Fuhlendorf, S.D., Teague, W.R., Havstad, K,M., Gillen, R.L., Ash, A.J. and Willms, W.D. (2008) ‘Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence’, Rangeland Ecology and Management vol 61, pp3-17

Desta, S. and Coppock, D. L. (2002) ‘Cattle population dynamics in the southern Ethiopian rangelands, 1980–97’, Journal of Range Management, vol 55, no 5, pp439-451

Devereux, S. (2006) Vulnerable Livelihoods in Somali Region, Ethiopia, IDS Research Report 57, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton

Dietz, T., Nunow, A. A., Roba A. W. and Zaal, F. (2001) ‘Pastoral Commercialization: On Caloric Terms of Trade and Related Issues’, in M. Salih, T. Dietz and A.G. Mohamed, African Pastoralism, Conflict, Institutions and Government, Pluto Press, London, pp194-234

Hesse, C. (2009) ‘Generating wealth from environmental variability: The economics of pastoralism in East Africa’s drylands’, Indigenous Affairs 3-4

Homewood, K. (ed) (2008) Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies, James Currey Ltd, Oxford

Lybbert, T. J., Barrett, C. B., Desta, S. and Coppock, D. L. (2004) ‘Stochastic wealth dynamics and risk management among a poor population’, The Economic Journal, no 114. pp750–777

LOG Associates (2010) Regional Study on the Sustainable Livestock Development in the Greater Horn of Africa, African Development Bank Group, Abidjan

McPeak, J. (2004) Vulnerability among pastoralists: Evidence from Kenya and Ethiopia. Presentation made at the World Bank,, accessed 4 December 2011

McPeak, J. G. (2006) ‘Livestock marketing in Marsabit District, Kenya, over the past fifty years’, in J. G. McPeak and P. D. Little, Pastoral Livestock Marketing In East Africa: Research And Policy Challenges, Intermediate Technology Publications, Rugby

Ndlovu, L.R., and Mugabe, P.H. (2002) Nutrient-Cycling in Integrated Plant-Animal Systems in Barret, Place and Aboud. C.B. Barrett, F. Place, A.A. Aboud (eds) Natural Resources Management in African Agriculture: Understanding and Improving Current Practices, CABI Publishing, Oxon

ODI (2010) ‘Pastoralism demographics, settlement and service provision in the Horn and East Africa: Transformation and opportunities’, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, London

OECD-FAO (2011) Agricultural Outlook 2011-2020, FAO

Otchere, E.O. (1986) ‘Small ruminant production in tropical Africa’ in V.M. Timon and J.P. Hanrahan (eds) Small Ruminant Production in the Developing Countries, Proceedings of an Expert Consultation held in Sofia, Bulgaria, 8–12 July 1985, FAO, Rome

Palmer, A.R. (1999) ‘Towards a national rangelands policy’, African Journal of Range and Forage Science, vol 16, no 1, pp44–46

Perrier, G.P. (1990) The Contextual Nature Of Range Management, Overseas Development Institute Pastoral Network Paper, 30c, ODI, London

Randall, S. (2008) ‘African pastoralist demography’, in K. Homewood (ed) Ecology of African Pastoralist Societies, James Currey Ltd, Oxford, pp199-226

Sandford, S. (1980) Keeping an eye on TGLP, National Institute for Development and Cultural Reseach Working Paper 31, Gaborone

Sandford, S. (2006) Too Many People, Too Few Livestock: The Crisis Affecting Pastoralists in the Greater Horn of Africa, accessed on 1 December 2011

Sandford, S. (2011) Pastoralists and Irrigation in the Horn of Africa: Time for a Rethink? Paper presented at the International Conference on the Future of Pastoralism 21-23 March 2011, IDS, Brighton

Toutain, B., Ickoiwicz, A., Dutilly-Diane, C., Reid, R.S., Amadou Tamsir Diop, Vijay Kumar Taneja, Gibon, A., Dither Genin, Muhammad Ibrahim, Behnke, R. and Ash, A. (2009) ‘Impacts of Extensive Livestock Systems on Terrestrial Ecosystems’, in H. Steinfeld, H.A. Mooney, F. Schneider and L.E. Neville (eds) Livestock in a Changing Landscape: Volume One: Drivers, Consequences and Responses, Island Press, Washington DC

Waller, R. D. (1999) ‘Pastoral poverty in historical perspective’, in D. M. Anderson and V. Broch-Due (eds) The Poor are not Us: Poverty and Pastoralism in Eastern Africa, James Currey, Oxford

Johan Helland
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

A central proposition in studies of pastoralism is that pastoral systems have been successful through time because they have been able to adjust both the animal and human populations that they contain against the resources available. The mechanisms involved in this adjustment have varied: in eastern Africa military expansion has historically been important, but outright population crashes have also been documented. In western Africa and in the Middle East pastoralism is more closely integrated with sedentary agriculture and an urban-based trading economy. Barth’s classic study of the Basseri, for instance, shows how Basseri pastoralism sheds off both winners and losers to the encompassing society. One way of characterising contemporary pastoral systems is that they have lost this property, which has been central to the survival of pastoralism at the systemic level.

This view to a large extent depends on treating pastoralism as a clearly bounded system, where it was clear who belonged inside and outside the system. Up to the great Sahelian drought of 1973/74 the pastoral communities in eastern Africa were more or less left to their own devices. Since then the pastoral communities have been increasingly drawn into the orbit of the nation-states in the region, for better or for worse. Relations with the surrounding nation-states have not always been benign, but there have been benefits (often short-term, such a famine relief) as well as long-term costs. As the pastoral systems are opened up it has become increasingly difficult to determine who the pastoralists are. The classic definitions that pastoralists are those who derive 50% or 80% or all their income from animal production no longer seem to be very useful. All kinds of combinations, depending on the opportunities that have presented themselves in the rapidly changing contexts of pastoralism can now be found in the areas that used to contain autonomous pastoral production systems.

Perhaps the ‘pure pastoralist’ has never existed; – people living in the dry lowlands of eastern Africa have always have had to make use of whatever opportunities they can find. Detailed reading of the ethnography often reveals a far greater range and diversity of economic activity than what we initially assume. This is still these case, but perhaps now even more so. Raising livestock is becoming increasingly difficult and actually depending on livestock production for a living is a less and less realistic livelihood strategy. Livestock production is now but one of the many things that go on in the drylands and pastoralism as a way of life is quickly disappearing. If people can make a better, more secure, more stable, more predictable living from doing these other things, perhaps we should not even regret this change.

The problem is of course that people very often are not better off! It is possible to argue for the intrinsic value of pastoralism in terms of it being the only sensible way of exploiting the resources across vast tracts of land, in terms of it being a way of life that is fulfilling to many people. Pastoralism in these terms depends on a number of preconditions that have disappeared, or are in the process of disappearing, and it is now highly unlikely that they ever will be restored. The situation can very well be summed up, as Stephen Sandford does, as ‘too many people, too few cows’.

The pastoral way of life will probably never be fully restored, but the drylands can perhaps still offer a source of livelihood for a comparatively large number of people. It has always been difficult to determine exactly how many people can be accommodated, particularly if it is true that the pastoral systems can no longer shed off the excess. Arguments about the intrinsic value of pastoralism has led to policies attempting to reinsert ‘failed’ pastoralists back into the system (through restocking schemes etc), but these solutions have been short-term, at best. If pastoralism is to survive as an economically sensible and culturally valuable way of life, it can only do so by limiting the number of people who make a living from pastoral livestock production. That means that alternatives must be found for the population that in these terms becomes an excess population. The notion that we can best help pastoralism survive by concentrating on policy alternatives outside pastoralism, policies that will siphon people away from pastoralism is counterintuitive and difficult. But it seems to be the only way. The policy options of expanding opportunities and maximising social and economic mobility (with long-term investments in education in particular), as outlined by Devereaux and Scoones, should be fully supported. This is not a policy prescription for pastoral development as such, but for development in the drylands and the people who live in the drylands. Perhaps this shift in perspective is required.

Johan Helland
Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute

Andrew Catley
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

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.

While Stephen may argue that questionnaire surveys indicate that pastoralists don’t prioritize conflict as a problem (see comments to the ongoing FAO conference), questionnaire surveys not tend to be used in war zones or areas of high insecurity. I don’t see many researchers with clipboards in southern Somalia, the Ogaden, Darfur or Karamoja at the moment. The keys issues are peace, protection and the political representation of pastoralists. Regarding the use of TLU/AAME ratio, few countries have accurate data on human and livestock populations in pastoral areas. Wearing my epidemiologist’s hat, I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from Stephen’s calculations – the phrase ‘rubbish in – rubbish out’ springs to mind.

Prof. Peter Little
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

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.

However, most recent studies of eastern African pastoralism (including several from the 1980s) show multiple household income sources that supplement pastoral production, and in some cases actually subsidize it. Sandford rightfully shows that local income diversification in many pastoral areas is limited because of low levels of demand, urbanization, and job potential, but fails to acknowledge the most important (and rapidly growing) source of non-pastoral income in places like the Horn of Africa—and that is wage and trade-based remittances. In recent studies from northern Kenya, McPeak and Little (2005) and Little et al. (2004) show that placing a household member in waged employment outside pastoralism (and outside the range areas) increasingly is an important livelihood strategy that can enhance local food security and provide capital for reinvesting in the livestock sector. This is a growing trend—along with increased market sales, reliance on non-pastoral diets, and in some cases use of purchased feed supplements—that question the use of relatively high livestock thresholds (around 6.0 TLUs per capita) for estimating pastoral viability (also see Little et al. 2006). In fact, recent work shows that rather than treating pastoral and non-pastoral livelihood sources as competitive and/or contradictory, the latter can be an important reason why some members of families can pursue pastoral livelihoods in dry environments that are unsuitable for alternative uses without very high capital investments (in water and irrigation development, for example), while others work outside the pastoral sector (McPeak and Little 2004).

Another point to keep in mind when discussing ‘notions’ of pastoral viability and thresholds and policy is that of mobility. Mobility remains the key to managing risk in Africa ‘s rangelands but at least in the Horn/East African context it is critical to distinguish human (people) and animal mobility. With few exceptions, most of these systems no longer are nomadic (i.e., where both people and animals are mobile) but, instead, operate on a base camp/settlement and satellite herding camp model (the latter units called fora for Boran and other northern Kenyan/southern Ethiopian groups). In short, the animals remain mobile but only part of the family (often young herders) moves with the animals. Those who remain at base camps pursue a range of different livelihood strategies (milk sales, casual labor, petty trade, farming, schooling/education, etc.) that supplement pastoral incomes and make problematic the notion of ‘pure’ or specialized pastoralism, especially the nomadic version. Contrary to orthodox assumptions based on aggregate data, pastoral dependence on food aid in the region is considerably less widespread than one is led to believe. Other sources of food and income, both among base and satellite camp residents, is significantly more important than food aid (see Lentz and Barrett 2004; Little 2005; and Lind 2005). Thus, food aid dependence is not a good indicator of a ‘pastoral crisis.’

Finally, as Devereux and Scoones point out, it is important to be cognizant of how politicians and policy makers will interpret an assessment that sees mobile pastoralism as a costly, ‘dead end’ livelihood. For many state policy makers it will be used as supporting evidence for pursuing sedentarization, resettlement, and other development interventions that have an extraordinarily poor track record and have been shown to increase livelihood and food security risks for its victims. That many countries in the Horn and elsewhere in Africa have large expanses of dry lands that are unsuitable for agrarian livelihoods other than pastoralism, and investments in livestock still remain the most lucrative way of holding/storing value in these areas (both among pastoralists and non-pastoralists), means that pastoralism will be around for the foreseeable future. And pastoralism in Africa will continue to develop and evolve in response to new constraints, technologies, and opportunities, just as it has in the Middle East and North Africa where feed supplements, ‘modern’ breeding, and motorized transport (for example, trucked water) are common elements of mobile herding. African pastoralism has changed considerably in the past three decades and will continue to do so in the future. It is important, therefore, that governments and donors make the necessary infrastructural (e.g., transport and public security), economic (market infrastructure and policies), and social investments (education and health)—which they have not done to date!—to support and improve mobile pastoralism, while providing social and economic options to those who have been ‘pushed’ or opted out of pastoralism and are unlikely to reenter it.


Prof. Peter Little
Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky

Nikola Rass
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

As the moderator of the Alive/LEAD e-conference on Maintaining mobility and managing drought, Policy options for pastoral livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa I would like to use this opportunity to send you the summary of the discussion module 1.2. of the conference (See Annex A attached here to) as this module has lead a similar discussion on the bases of the ten legs thesis of Stephen Sandford. Furthermore I would like to use this opportunity to step out of the role of a moderator and express my personal opinion on the topic.

In my understanding, the criticisms of Scoones and Devreux concerning the TLU/person ratio put forward in the ten legs thesis of Sandford are in fact not contradictory to Sandford’s own opinion. In a recent FAO policy note on pastoral policies in Sub Saharan Africa his opinion concerning TLU/person ratios is presented as follows:
“Sandford (2006 personal communication) points out that the number of livestock needed per pastoral household also depends on the extent to which:
• Pastoralists can make use of trade to buy cheaper food in exchange for livestock and their products;
• Pastoralists have diversified their economic activities and consequently receive remittances, wages or profits.”
I am very much in favour of the ten legs thesis of Stephen Sandford, as it has helped to raise interest in the discussion of policy directions for pastoral development. As Scoones and Devreux say, it comes to show that it is time to realize a more sophisticated approach to pastoral development thinking that recognizes major resource constraints and significant challenges to pastoral livelihoods.

Most of the points Sandford puts forward convince me. However, there are some points and some policy suggestion that I do not fully agree with. I agree that emigration of a substantial proportion of pastoralists from both substantial dependence on livestock and from pastoral areas is an important strategy addressing the fundamental imbalance needs. However, I believe that diversification strategies within the pastoral system are equally important and I understand that those two strategies are not given the same priority in the 10 legs thesis.

As stated in the ten legs thesis, I consider the development of diversified income-earning opportunities not dependent on demand from within pastoral areas (e.g. in the production and gathering of “pharmaceutical” products) as a strategy, which needs to be supported. However, as already questioned in the ALive/LEAD e-conference, I believe that concerning the diversification strategies the leading question is how it can be prevented that complementary income generating activities lead to an increasing exploitation and degradation of non pastoral natural resources. What are the options to condemn the degradation around urban centers, resulting from decreased mobility of settled pastoral households? How can damaging practices like increased firewood collection, hunting and poaching etc. be confined? In this context, I believe pricing of natural resources and ensuring payment for environmental services are policy options leading in the right direction.

Concerning the exit strategies I believe it needs to be discussed whether there are (enough) alternative income generating options for pastoral people and what kind of activities they could engage in. What are the comparative advantages of pastoral people in the labour market? In my view the policy strategies to facilitate the engagement of pastoral people in alternative income generating activities should start from two angles. On the one hand investment opportunities for pastoral people need to be identified followed by the creation of access to credit and training in order to enable pastoral people to pursue the investment opportunity. On the other hand investment of the public sector in labour intensive infrastructure could create additional labour for pastoral people. For the private sector laws might be set up that set incentives to train and hire ethnic minorities including pastoral people.

I believe that the ILO INDISCO project is one of the few organisations taking into account this aspect so far. In co-operation with the Jobs for Africa Programme, the ILO-INDISCO Programme, has developed an initiative in Tanzania Simanjiro District on how to incorporate specific pastoral livelihood and employment promotion issues into the national employment policy and poverty eradication framework. The Programme addresses the current changes in the income generating activities of indigenous people, such as the Maasai, many of which move to urban areas to search for jobs. ILO-INDISCO has recognized the plight and problems of pastoral communities and has the objective to effect that the pastoral community is given more attention in the public employment sector as contemplated in ILO Convention No. 169 (ILO 1989).2

I am hesitant to accept the statement of the ten legs thesis that significant redistribution is not, in practice, feasible and I would like to see further research in this area. I believe that a pivotal point for the investigation of rehabilitation strategies seems to be to get a better understanding of the ongoing transformations of traditional schemes of redistribution and to find answers to the question why contract herding for absentee herd-owners is becoming a new trend. Although the positive records of successful restocking programmes seem small to me, I like the idea to induce the purchase of livestock from destitute pastoralists (with very small herd) to less destitute pastoralists (pastoralists with herd size at the edge of viability), while at the same time establishing programs of alternative income generation for the destitute pastoralists. This would, on the one hand, provide destitute pastoralists with start-up capital and, on the other, ensure that marginalized pastoralists have access to female breeding stock and are not forced to work for absentee herd owners.

The only policy suggestion in the ten legs thesis that I strongly disagree with is the suggestion to develop, more productive and more sustainable rain-fed or irrigated crop-agriculture within or near pastoral areas into which previous pastoralists can switch their livelihoods. As Scoones (1994) and Niamir-Fuller and Turner (Niamir-Fuller and Turner 1999) put forward the areas which offer possibilities for farming are especially important for livestock production. In dry seasons or in dry years, these relatively small patches within a wider dryland landscape are the key resources that sustain animals in times of fodder shortage. The exclusion of pastoralists from these key pastoral resources can lead to significant disruption of the annual transhumance cycle. In line with Scoones (1994) I believe that enhancing or even creating key-resource-areas by investing in these key sites could be a practicable way to improve the primary productivity of rangelands (e.g. investment in fodder management, planting of fodder shrubs and trees, reseeding) by leading to productivity enhancement in good years and offering survival feeding in poor years.

Reading the first responses to the note of Scoones and Devreux and the note of Stephen Sandford, it seems that the latter is always referred to as a pessimistic and the prior as the optimistic perspective. This makes me feel that synthesis of both views would lead us to a somewhat realistic perspective and I hope that the debates lead here and elsewhere will lead us there.

A final reflection from Stephen Sandford…
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

I am allowed only two pages to respond to all the comments made in this debate on the Too Many People Too Few Livestock (TMPTFL) thesis that I have put forward. My response is, therefore, necessarily brief, eclectic and curt.

The minimum livestock/person ratio
Some contributors to this debate (Devereux/Scoones, Catley, Swift) have criticised my use of figures (numbers) on the grounds that their apparent precision is not justified in the light of the heterogeneity of situations or the quality of the data. But the general TMPTFL thesis is not dependent on, for example, a particular universal value of the minimum livestock/person ratio. Leg 2 of the thesis would be equally effective in supporting the general thrust of the thesis if it were worded. “Many pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, do not currently have enough livestock, given the general pattern of their livelihoods in pastoralism, cropping and other economic activities, to continue, in the long term, in a way of life substantially dependent on range-based livestock production.” Leg 3 would then have to be rephrased in terms of “the maximum feed-limited total size of herd being less than the number of livestock needed to provide enough to enable these pastoralists in the long term to continue in a way of life substantially dependent on range-based livestock production”.

If a person who is averse to any precise value of the ratio would agree to this reformulation of Legs 2 and 3 they could still adhere to the TMPTFL thesis. A precise value of the ratio is, however, useful as an indicator of particular area-based or ethnic groups of pastoralists, or of wealth or gender-based sections within these groups, where the imbalance between people and livestock has reached such a level that a major focus of action should be to reduce the number of people dependent on range-based livestock production.

I have already drawn a distinction between two classes of pastoralists, “pure” (i.e. ones not significantly dependent on cropping) and “agro”-pastoralists and suggested a different value of the minimum ratio for each. One could, as information and analysis improves, draw further distinctions between sub-classes of each of these classes, e.g. by gender of household head or by type of diversification, with a different minimum livestock/person ratio attached to each sub-class, enabling more accurate indication of population pressure.

What the TMPTFL general thesis maintains is that, whatever the sophistication of sub-classification that one uses, a substantial proportion of the pastoralists and pastoral areas of the Horn of Africa will be found to be already in the category where the major focus should be on the reduction of the range-based population. Diversification

The most frequent (Little, Swift, Cullis, Abdi Abdullahi as well as Devereux/Scoones) and fundamental disagreement between me and other contributors to this debate has been about the potential for diversification of economic activity to offset (and more than offset) the loss of income and welfare arising from the declining ability of range-based livestock production to meet the needs of the population wanting to lead a astral life. This disagreement really covers three distinct but related issues. For each I specify the issue and set out my views on it.

(i) Is diversification a practical solution everywhere? While diversification into trading or employment is possible in many pastoral communities, in others it is not. In North East Turkana, for example, “There are no alternative livelihoods. Education and skill levels are very low for employment” (Levine and Crosskey, 2006, p. 19). People live off their livestock, barter-exchange, wild food, and, in the case of the poor (45-65% % of the total), about 50% of their income is made up of aid (mainly cash for work) and social support.
(ii) Is diversification into activities outside pastoral areas feasible for all? While both sides agree that diversification into economic activities outside the pastoral area is a good thing, and may supply “remittances” to parts of households still residing in pastoral areas, access to taking part in these activities, which often offer regular salaries/wages, is much easier for the wealthy than for the poor (Homewood et al. 2006, p.22).
(iii) How much do the poor gain from diversification? The advantaged position of the wealthy in income diversification applies not only to out-of-pastoral-area diversification but to within-area also. The poorest sections of the population find it difficult to be involved in activities except those depending on local natural resources, and primarily on local demand (firewood, basket- and mat-making, charcoal-making). As Devereux (2006, p. 78) notes of Somali Region in Ethiopia: “Selling charcoal and firewood are, in fact, the most common livelihood activities recorded in rural communities, after livestock rearing and crop farming (Table 7.3). However, these ways of generating income should not be seen as chosen or preferred, but instead as “last resort” options adopted by people who are poor and desperate for any income at all. The work is arduous and time-consuming and the returns are tiny”.  Devereux reports that these activities yield household incomes on average less than 25% of the average for all activities carried out by pastoralists, and that, indeed, they yield lower incomes than “begging”.

Similarly Radeny (2006, p. 9) reports, of a pastoral/agro-pastoral area right next door to Nairobi: “With respect to income diversification, poorer households (i.e. in the lowest income quintile) actually have more income sources than the wealthier ones, although off-land earnings are much lower and from less reliable sources (e.g. petty trade). Figure 2 [not reproduced here] shows that households in the higher income quintiles have a larger proportion of their incomes coming from wages and business, for example, while those in the lower ones depend more on petty trading and other informal sector activities to help them diversify their incomes”.

The PARIMA group of researchers has shown how difficult it is for a household whose herd size has fallen below a critical size (e.g. see Lybbert et al. 2004, p. 769) ever to rebuild it again. Instead herd size continues to decrease and sedentarisation, to enable the households better to diversify their livelihoods, is almost inevitable. John McPeak and Peter Little (2004, p. 102) have concluded; “The findings in this chapter corroborate earlier work on pastoralism that suggests sedentarisation attracts both poor and relatively wealthy herders (Barth, 1964; Little, 1985). The latter group appears ‘blessed’ in the kinds of opportunities they can pursue and the degree of support that they can provide the pastoral sector and their mobile relatives and family members. In contrast, the poor appear ‘cursed’ in the kinds of un-remunerative activities they engage in and the extent to which they are caught in a vicious cycle of low incomes, low mobility, and high food insecurity”. Possibly the most detailed location-specific fieldwork yet undertaken on diversification activities among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists is that by the Anthropology Department of University College, London. Some results are reported in Homewood et al. 2006. They basically confirm that the wealthy do much better out of diversification than the poor, who in the process become increasingly vulnerable and undergo a downward spiral of progressive loss of access to land, livestock and labour central to pastoral and agropastoral livelihoods.

I think that the evidence presented on these specific issues should make us very cautious about assuming that spontaneous diversification will, by itself, solve the problem set by increasing population pressure and technological stagnation in pastoralism. It is the poorer pastoralists who are being forced out of pastoralism, but it is they who are, at present, least able to diversify or find new economic activities in which to specialize. Consequently, without prospect of better alternatives, they cling to the forlorn hope that they can once again become independent pastoralists. Their individually diminutive herds nevertheless together constitute a significant proportion of the total herd who compete for scarce livestock feed with the herds of more viable pastoralists but it is a proportion whose driving force is accumulation rather than production and whose fate is often forced sale in poor condition or death by starvation rather providing a real economic return. We need to find ways of enabling those squeezed out of pastoralism to pursue less risky and more rewarding livelihoods. Education and language skills are key issues in this (Tomoya Matsumota et al. 2006; Homewood et al. 2006 (p.23). However in the case of some pastoral groups there are additional constraints to their securing satisfactory livelihood opportunities outside the pastoral areas. Cultural factors, a lack of personal contacts in urban areas to facilitate the transition, and lack of capital may also be serious issues. We need to be better informed about these constraints and about ways to tackle them. We will probably need also substantial specific investments to create employment and livelihoods, e.g. in irrigation, in cases where it seems unlikely that ex-pastoralists will be able to secure adequate opportunities in the general expansion of the national economies.

  1. While some contributors to the debate query whether there is a crisis in Horn of Africa pastoralism at all, most accept that there is and I do not, therefore, present further evidence for its existence.
  2. The original paper by me which started this debate, as published on the Future Agricultures website, referred to eleven “legs”, but then apparently listed only 10. This was due to an error in which I mistakenly merged two Legs (3 and 4) with a consequent renumbering of the remainder. In this “reply” the numbering of the Legs follows that of the paper as it appeared on the website.
  3. It is pertinent to note here that in the last year or so an export market for charcoal from this region has been developed and charcoal burning and selling is no longer the preserve of the poor.

Jeremy Swift
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

Stephen does us a wonderful service by putting arguments such as this cogently and forcefully. The TMP thesis is not wrong, and the conclusions it suggests are good pointers for new policies. But Stephen seems to be arguing that a fundamental tipping point has been reached. The evidence he arrays does not convince me.

Variability. Pastoralism is a livelihood system designed to cope with a high degree of variability. By compressing a long historical process characterised by variability, and appearing to make it linear, Stephan seems to be arguing that pastoralists face a historically defining moment (‘The End of Pastoralism’); “without a substantial change in attitudes and approach…there will be no recovery” p. 2). I see little evidence for that. At worst, the present crises, like previous ones, will leave a deeply divided pastoral system running well below its potential. Stephen is right to look for the way out of this, but it’s a manageable problem, not the crisis to end all crises.

Numbers: The argument is buttressed by lots of numbers which give it a fictitious precision. It is hard to have much confidence in most of them. Also, there are some complex, multi-factorial processes involved, from which it is difficult to be clear about outcomes. Examples (all pages numbered from emailed version):

p. 2, leg 1 of the argument: “pastoral human population is growing at 2.5% per year, net of emigration.” I know of no work which establishes such a conclusion with any confidence. Above all, the amount of immigration/emigration is highly variable depending on ecological and economic conditions. Population net of in/out migration diminishes substantially in a series of dry years, and expands again in wet years, although perhaps not to the same level as before. I think this is an important research topic, and some good policy conclusions might flow from it: eg help those who have been forced out of pastoralism by a particular crisis (and not just everybody) to adopt diverse livelihoods, or restock only those with a demonstrated commitment to pastoralism.

p. 3 leg 2 of argument. “pure pastoralists need 5-6 cattle units/person…” same reservation.

p. 3, leg 3 of argument. “limited by the amount of livestock feed available” Correct, but ‘livestock feed’ become ‘rangelands’ in the following sentence, and pasture in subsequent paras, which is not correct. Increased fodder production substitutes for pasture, a process ending in zero grazing systems.

p. 3, leg 6 “no known technologies for significantly increasing primary range” Yes, but there are known ways of increasing feed supplements, and altering the seasonal distribution of available natural feed (hay making, seasonal standing hay reserves). Given that the constraint is largely a seasonal, not an annual one, these could make a significant difference.

p.3, leg 8. ‘patches of rainfed cultivation have greater potential in agriculture than in pastoralism.’ Climate change may make such areas unfit for agriculture but still usable by pastoralists. So global warming may work in favour of pastoralists in this respect. (The implications of global warming for pastoralists is an important study, since they might be net gainers in Africa and central Asia. Is anyone doing it?)

p. 3, leg 9. market prospects: livestock exports from GHA to the Gulf are impaired at the moment by a single poorly justified quarantine restriction. If this can be lifted, export prospects are good. Further, rapid urbanisation coupled with the strong positive income elasticity of demand for livestock products suggests a likely rapid rise in demand for livestock products within Africa (the IFPRI argument).

p. 4, para 5. Here as elsewhere pastoralism is treated as the only activity. Households with 5-6 cattle per person would almost certainly get a significant part of their income from diversified economic activities. Ie the criterion of 80% of cash income from sale of livestock is probably an exaggeration.

p.4 last para. I am not sure how good the evidence is that improving pastoral terms o trade by converting livestock to cereals “has run its course”.

p. 5, Implications …
These are sensible conclusions. A sentence on p. 6 para 2, encapsulates the essential advice for donors, with which few would disagree. “what is afflicting pastoral GHA is not just a series of weather-induced independent crises requiring occasional emergency relief but a continuing structural (fundamental imbalance) problem.”
These conclusions have been argued by several observers (eg the UNDP 2003 ‘Pastoralism and Mobility in the Drylands’ paper, the conclusions of which were similar to Stephen’s and were widely accepted within the pastoral development community.) But the sensible conclusions of Stephen’s note are undermined by the exaggeratedly precise and pessimistic tone of the main section of the note, which risks being taken by those hostile to pastoralism to mean that pastoralism has no future. Either way we should be grateful to Stephen for putting this argument so provocatively.

Jeremy Swift
Independent Consultant, Wales

Adrian Cullis
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

In responding to the debate, I draw on the framework of ‘drivers’, ‘consequences’ and ‘responses’ (used at the recent Livestock in a Changing Landscape consultation in Bangkok led by FAO et al).

Too many people, too few livestock: I think Sandford is correct to make the point that there are significant changes taking place in people/livestock ratios and as a result population is correctly identified as one of the primary ‘drivers’ of change in pastoral areas. I think however that Sandford’s paper would be more compelling if he identified other major ‘drivers’ of change that impact negatively on the growing imbalance in human/livestock ratios. I am of the view that land alienation to agriculture and historically wildlife conservation is a significant ‘driver’ of change. Whilst this is cited by Sandford, inadequate consideration is given to the fact that policy makers in the Horn of Africa could have legislated in favor of protecting rangeland, but not only was this not done but ‘encouragement’ has been given to agriculture (both irrigated and rainfed) and wildlife conservation at the expense of pastoralism with the result that total herd sizes are inevitably restricted (this trend is however worse amongst some pastoral communities than others). I think donor response/ emergency response is another ‘driver’ of change with the overriding emphasis on food aid (for example in the 2006 Horn of Africa drought an estimated 70% of the total drought relief budget was spent on food aid) as opposed to alternative livelihood support which would have better protected livestock assets (emergency animal health, supplementary feeding for livestock etc. – I attach a note on some of Save the Children/US’s recent drought interventions). The final additional ‘driver’ of change is the increasing demand for livestock products in Africa and the Middle East and therefore more secure as opposed to less insecure livestock markets. I agree with much of what Sandford writes regarding ‘consequences’: for example, the worsening human/livestock ratios. Thus I appreciate that smaller herd size has led to some former pastoralists being forced to diversify their livelihoods, including a substantial increase in the number of agro-pastoralists and also some dropping out of the livestock production altogether. Many of these ex-pastoralists survive in conditions of abject poverty on the edge of towns and trading centers eking out a living by collecting firewood, making charcoal, pottering, brewing beer etc. As a result of the downward spiral of herd size and hence viability, child nutrition is becoming an increasing cause of concern. I think increasing conflict could also be cited as a consequence of the changes, with pastoralists more fiercely competing for available resources specifically access to and control over rangeland and associated water resources. There are however more positive consequences including the opening up of increasing marketing opportunities in Africa and the Middle East as demonstrated by the recent offtake of droughted livestock in Ethiopia which were marketed to the Middle East (see attached draft Participatory Impact Assessment – PIA). There are a number of responses to these consequences. For example, contemporary pastoral livelihoods are, as cited by Devereux and Scoones, more diversified and integrated with the cash economy than formerly. Others have already left the rangelands far behind them and moved not only into IDP camps but also into other countries, some living successfully in Europe. As a result Sandford’s notions of ‘viability’ and ‘carrying capacity’ are rightly questioned. Involved in pastoral development with Save the Children in Ethiopia I am particularly interested in responses and offer the following thoughts: 1. Leg 4: The total livestock herd is not equitably distributed between households. However significant redistribution is not, in practice feasible … perhaps not but inadequate attention has in my view been given to support for customary livestock re-distribution systems. Whilst pastoralists (as with the majority global community) may be resistant to taxation, it may be that more could have been done to help pastoral communities better regulate the ‘break away’ of very wealthy herders. With this thought in mind Save the Children/US in Ethiopia has included a ‘local contribution’ in its restocking project (in one Somali community a local contribution of 25% of the livestock involved in the restocking was provided by wealthy clan members).
2. Leg 5: .. as a result of the expansion of cultivation and of wildlife conservation areas … whilst this may have been true in the past, I see increasing hope in the better integration of extensive livestock production and wildlife conservation and would cite the work of African Parks in South Omo, Ethiopia as an emerging positive case study, where AP staff are working with local authorities and NGOs in a community mapping initiative which it is planned will result in the more equitable sharing of natural resources and benefits from wildlife conservation. More pressure from enlightened conservationists would help speed the pace of progress
3. Leg 6: there are no known technologies for significantly increasing primary range production … this may be the case but in Ethiopia the ‘banning’ of fire has resulted in significant losses in rangeland productivity and an initiative is currently underway involving the US Forest Service to re-introduce fire as a modern rangeland management tool. This, if successful, will result in substantial increases in rangeland productivity. There are other initiatives underway in Ethiopia which suggest that greater recognition and support for customary natural management institutions can result in better land management and the safeguarding of drought reserves. However I agree with Sandford that more needs to be done (a donor reading this may like to contact Save the Children/US Ethiopia with a view to funding some very innovative work with customary pastoral natural resource management institutions!)
4. Leg 9: the market prospects are not very favorable for increasing the unit value of pastoralists’ livestock ….. as per the PIA attached I think there are real market prospects in particular if cross-border trade can be better facilitated and other disincentives removed. Note too should be taken of the fact that as a result of increasing export opportunities prices per kg of sheep and goat meat in Moyale have increased by as much as 25% within the last 12 months. Inevitably these will fluctuate but in my view Sandford is too negative about the livestock marketing opportunities.
5. Sandford’s implications of the thesis include policy reforms …. I think there is a huge amount more that could and should be done and donor support is absolutely critical in this regard, as suggested by Sandford in the area of land tenure reform. For example, Jeremy Swift has suggested for some time that pastoralists should be granted 49 year leases over rangelands that they have effectively managed for generations – amongst other things this may help reduce land alienation to both farmers and more aggressive pastoral communities. Others suggestions circulating at present include drought insurance; contingency planning (in this regard if the Government of Ethiopia had been able to implemented its 1993 disaster management policy in full, considerable additional resources would already be being channeled into livelihoods support for livestock keepers); and improved access to appropriate basic service delivery. The challenge here it seems to me, is as much policy reform as policy implementation. I appreciate that as Sandford suggests responses alone may no longer be enough, but I feel that those concerned about the future of people living in pastoral areas would do better to focus on positive action as encouraged by Devereux and Scoones than dwell on the crisis and despair. Adrian Cullis
Team Leader – Food and Livelihood Security Unit,
Save the Children/US, Ethiopia

Abdi Abdullahi
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

I have two general comments in response to the Sandford paper: 1. We need to ask whether food aid in pastoral areas is due to need or politics? Are some of the problems raised by the paper real or not? I think much food aid exists for political reasons rather than genuine need. Food given to pastoralists only covers an insignificant proportion of food needs of a pastoral family. Most food is generated through the pastoral economy.

We must ask why the response to droughts or floods is food aid, rather than interventions more focused on supporting pastoralists’ livelihoods. While in some cases food is needed, it is often provided in the form of wheat. What is the logic in transporting such resources from the US or Canada, while locally produced food could have been purchased at a much lower price? Such interventions distort and divert efforts to real pastoral development, adding to a misplaced pessimism. 2. Drought is part and parcel of pastoralists’ life. Risk is one thing they know well and have developed sound coping mechanisms to respond. If it was not for these coping mechanisms pastoralists and their animals would have long perished. The paper ignores the resilience of pastoral systems, and the way increasingly diversified livelihoods contribute.

Abdi Abdullahi
Pastoral Forum of Ethiopia

Layne Coppock
January 22, 2010 / Pastoralism in crisis?

I have worked now for 25 years in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. I have been fortunate to be able to follow situations on the ground during much of this time. My role has included applied research, participatory research, outreach facilitation, and local capacity building.

The pastoral dynamics described by Stephen Sandford are already pretty well known by people who have carefully observed these systems over many years. In addition to recent efforts by the PARIMA project, previous work by ILCA in Kajiado Maasailand (ILCA Systems Study No. 4 of 1991) and on the Borana Plateau (ILCA Systems Study No. 5 of 1994) point to similar pastoral system trends.

Upon reviewing the arguments by Sandford and Devereaux/Scoones, I side with the more optimistic views of Devereaux/Scoones. As I look back over the large literature on livestock development, one comment stands out from a book by Hans Jahnke (1982). Jahnke essentially said that while the technical options for livestock development on Africa’s rangelands were slim at best, the scope for development of human potential among rangeland inhabitants was vast. The last few years working in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia have convinced me that this perspective is correct. Livestock development, after all, should be to the benefit of human beings—freeing them from hunger and marginalization. Many of us have made profound errors in our careers by focusing more on the technical aspects of livestock development while discounting the real goals of human development. So, one interesting question is, “Are there multiple pathways to improve the human condition in rangelands, besides just having a sole focus on the livestock component?” The livestock economy is crucial, for sure, but are there other “sustainable, small victories” to be achieved? One of the more interesting aspects I have observed of late is how many rangeland inhabitants can have their lives transformed by observing success of innovative peers, exposing them to new ways of thinking, and providing access to some basic education. In essence, helping people more effectively engage a changing world and have more choices about how they live day-to-day.

The example I have is the creation of 60 dynamic collective-action groups in southern Ethiopia (with over 2,000 members in total, 76% women) over the past five years. This process has been accelerated to a large extent by exposing the Ethiopians to peers from northern Kenya who have made remarkable achievements in a variety of self-help initiatives starting in the 1980s. Thousands have attended cross-border rallies in the past couple of years, and thousands have been trained in a variety of capacity-building efforts focused on micro-finance and entrepreneurial endeavors. People have learned to reconfigure their lives a bit and be a little more informed in terms of how they can better manage themselves and their families in a difficult and changing environment. People who were illiterate and incapable of making simple calculations with a pencil a few years ago now successfully manage small businesses, negotiate with exporters, market livestock, and handle large sums of money. Livelihood diversification happens and interesting local niches are discovered. Human capital, social capital, and financial capital are all being created. Details of this process are forthcoming.

It is therefore tempting to look at the big picture as Sandford has and see little other than calamity and chaos, but in terms of impacting individual lives a considerable scope exists for change, if for no other reason than the baseline condition can be so grim. I also believe there is a bias among some scholars who discount the value of education and capacity building among the rural poor. Pastoralists in particular are often viewed as “all knowing” and inherently capable of coping with considerable change if we just left them alone. My recent experiences tell me this is not true. Many pastoral women have told us that they never dreamed of anything different from the difficult lives they previously lead until they were inspired and awakened by innovative peers to do a few things differently.

Yes, Sandford and others are correct that the challenges are daunting. Several factors must properly line up if major progress is to be achieved and sustained, including improvements in markets and governance that lie far beyond the control of pastoralists and their advocates. But things will be worse if we stand by and do nothing. The larger environment for southern Ethiopia has a few favorable trends underway at the moment. For example, never have the export market opportunities been greater for Borana livestock than they are today. Never have there been greater incentives for pastoralists to improve livestock production practices to take advantage of new market opportunities. Never has the region held the positive attentions from policy makers than what occurs today. I have been impressed by the depth of knowledge that many policy makers posses about pastoralism and the need for multi-faceted, pastoral development approaches. The technical know-how and capacities of NGOs and GOs in southern Ethiopia have never been stronger than they are today. As one case in point, the Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (GO) is ready to embark on a major prescribed fire plan across the region to assist in reclaiming large areas of the Borana Plateau from bush encroachment. This is being done in partnership with local people, a departure from the old, “top-down” ways of doing business. These points illustrate why I have confidence in the value of building human capacity, at multiple levels, to promote pastoral development.

What are the greatest threats to such seemingly small elements of “progress?” Threats, of course, include things like population growth, resource restriction, and drought over the longer term and poor governance and local/regional conflicts in the shorter term. The major problems reported to us concerning the sustainability of collective-action groups are political and managerial, not environmental.

Layne Coppock
Department of Rangeland Resources, Utah State University

Sabine Homann and Barbara Rischkowsky
April 14, 2008 / Pastoralism in crisis?

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.

Borana pastoralists were once famous for most effective range management. Based on a deep technical and organizational IK, they have preserved highest grazing potential among East African rangelands. However, within only 30 years, well intended but poorly designed development interventions (poorly-integrated water and rangeland development, imposed formal administration, promotion of crop cultivation and ranching, unfavorable policy directives), aggravated by human population growth, contributed to the destruction of pastoralists’ basic preconditions in range management.

In the current land use scenario, uncontrolled land use is expanding, since indigenous rangeland categories have lost their functionality. The seasonal grazing system is breaking up, including long distance movements associated with a high variability in stocking densities across the landscape. Instead, encampments, permanent grazing and new forms of cultivation and private grazing enter formerly seasonal grazing areas, and herd movements become short-term oriented to follow scattered forage resources where they emerge. Reduced and poorly coordinated mobility impedes the ecologically desirable variability in stocking densities, implying negative effects on rangeland condition. A crucial question is what elements of pastoral range management remain, that can sustain controlled rangeland utilization, and revert rangeland degradation in this process.

The following changes reflect the deterioration of the pastoral system and need to be addressed by interventions that aim at improving the livelihoods for pastoralists:
– Rangeland degradation: Borana pastoralists’ perception of land use changes matched with the results from ecological range condition assessment (Dalle, 2004). According to pastoralists’ observations, an increased grazing pressure in areas that were formerly temporarily used by mobile herds causes shortage of grazing resources particularly at home-based pastures for lactating herds, aggravated by the alienation of rangeland for crop-cultivation and private grazing. Pastoralists’ observed a direct impact of degraded rangelands on reduced milk production and conception rates. They showed awareness that rangeland degradation directly affects livestock production and presents a high risk for food security in the region. Research and Development efforts to prevent rangeland degradation however had a very low impact (Coppock, 1994).
– Human population growth and socio-economic inequality: Human population growth, despite higher stocking densities, contributed to impoverishment of Borana families evident in lower cattle to human ratio. Within the studied areas, 88% of the households did not achieve the human support capacity defined as 3 TLU per AAME, and thus cannot sustain their livelihoods from livestock (Sandford and Habtu, 2000). In addition to that, socio-economic inequality within and between pastoral communities increased. In Dida Hara, site with water development in a former rainy season grazing area, 6% of the households were classified as better-off and owned over 37 times more cattle than the poor. While in Web, traditional dry season grazing area, all households were poor. The insufficient economic capacities restrict herd mobility for the majority of Borana pastoralists. To alleviate their economically disastrous situation, Borana pastoralists have tried to adopt crop cultivation. Poverty induced crop cultivation however undermines the ecologically more appropriate mobility-based land use system. On the other side, wealthy herd-owners started acting against the interests of the community, by over-stocking the communal rangelands, and stabilizing their property through rapid re-investment in herds after a drought. Considering the fact that alternative income options for Borana pastoralists are few, the dependency on livestock is very high and this destroys pastoralists ability to manage their resources sustainably.
– Erosion of indigenous institutions and negotiation procedures: Imposed administration structures have jeopardized the flexible system of natural resource management and therewith the ability to adapt organization and management structures to changing environment, making use of IK. On the other hand, pastoral communities have transferred proven elements in the indigenous management system to regain control over rangeland utilization; e.g. the allocation of water management responsibilities to newly constructed ponds; the re-strengthening of settlement directives to restrict crop cultivation, private grazing and livestock numbers in permanent grazing areas; the initiative to involve the formal administration in the enforcement of decisions at community level, despite strong deficiencies and distrust. These examples demonstrate pastoralists’ institutions that operate effectively, if community-based mechanisms for co-ordination and control are maintained.

The results basically support Sandfords’ pessimistic prognoses, that reinstating pastoral range management is becoming increasingly difficult. The exploitation rate of the Borana rangelands has been heavily increased. A higher number of poor households depend on Borana rangelands, but not in a position to apply pastoral range management, resulting in higher grazing pressure on rangelands that are effectively shrinking. The negative prospects are aggravated by poorly integrated agriculture, not addressing the possibilities in increasing feed and fodder production, and limited livelihood options out of pastoralism. Without substantial support in migration out of pastoralism and to those who can apply herd mobility, Borana rangelands are going to further deteriorate.

Yet, the possibilities of building on herd mobility for more effective utilization of Borana rangelands are not sufficiently exploited. On the positive side, pastoralists have transferred elements of indigenous organization to the changing environmental conditions, and some indigenous networks persisted. Multi-stakeholder discussions at a final stage of the study advocated land use scenarios for restructuring mobile range management, backed up by integrated IK-based and formal institutions. The need for land-use intensification was acknowledged, preserving basic precondition for mobility and also improving access to marginal rangeland resources. The way forward therefore is to invest in herd mobility and related practices, and control over rangeland resource use by those who remain in pastoralism.