Fast Facts

  • Around 90 researchers from around the world will gather at an international conference on the “Future of Pastoralism” to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during 21-21rd March, 2011. This crucial event will allow space for critical reflection on the future of pastoralism in Africa, and to share new learning from the dynamics of change and innovation occurring in pastoralist areas.
  • The conference will be held at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 21st – 23rd  March 2011.

  • Some of the questions to be debated include:
  • Is there a future for a productive, vibrant, market-oriented livelihood system? Or will pastoralist areas remain a backwater of underdevelopment, marginalisation and severe poverty?
  • How will pastoralist ‘drop-outs’, who nonetheless continue to interact with the livestock sector in a multiplicity of ways, best be supported?
  • A panel discussion to open up discussions during the first morning of the conference on ‘What are the key issues influencing the future of pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa?’ will include State Ministers and pastoralist experts from across East Africa. Panel members are expected to be:

    • Dr. Abebe Haile Gabriel, Director, African Union Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture
    • Dr. Luka Deng, Minister for Cabinet Affairs, Government of Southern Sudan
    • Mohammed Elmi, Minister for Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands
    • Ahmed Shide, State Minister at Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia


    • The “Future of Pastoralism” is being co-sponsored by the Future Agricultures Consortium and the Feinstein International Center of Tufts University.
    • Further information can be found at the conference website:
      Click this LINK for the conference programme
    • General enquiries:
    • Media enquiries:


    • Pastoralist livelihoods are poorly understood, synonymous with irreversible decline, ‘crises’ and aid rescues. The words ‘pastoralism’ and ‘crisis’ are sub-consciously fused in the minds of many people.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in reportage of the regular severe droughts that affect the Horn of Africa.
    • The recent poor rains that affected many dryland areas in the Horn of Africa has renewed a familiar refrain that pastoralist livelihoods are in crisis. Disappointing short rains affecting many dryland areas in the Horn of Africa have renewed familiar warnings that pastoralist livelihoods are in crisis. The developing situation comes on the heels of a severe drought in 2009 and a year of unusually good rains across the region in 2010.
    • Yet insecure livelihoods and vulnerability in pastoralist areas are real concerns, depictions of pastoralists as destitute victims of forces beyond their control and dependent on relief handouts doesn’t tell the whole story.

    New research

    • A recent body of works has challenged the innate assumption that pastoralism is in crisis. Ethiopia is the richest country in the livestock inventories in Africa and the export market in livestock from Ethiopia is booming, with plans to plans to more than double earnings from livestock exports (to $85 million in 2009). This is having a ripple effect in other parts of the region, with cross-border trade in camels from Kenya to Ethiopia also increasing.
    • Related work indicates that pastoralism is the most productive use of highly variable rangelands, contributing 16% to national GDP. Livestock reared and cared for by pastoralists in otherwise inhospitable, highly uncertain rangelands are filling state coffers, casting doubt on the planning and policy dinosaur that irrigated farming is the key to solving pastoralist poverty and that pastoralists would be better-off if they became full-time farmers.
    • Evidence and analysis is shedding new light on longstanding assumptions that pastoralism is in irreversible decline, these works avail different insights into the dynamics of change happening in pastoralist areas and in turn what are the policy, legal and aid requirements to improve the situation of the most vulnerable pastoralists.

    The future of pastoralism

    • Pastoralists have been let down by generations of failed state development plans and aid approaches that never get to the bottom of the real problems that pastoralists face. This matters because crisis narratives have become dominant to the point of obscuring a more accurate understanding of the processes of change happening within pastoralist areas, which are significant and complex.
    • These are crucial to understand in order to better inform thinking around how to secure the future of pastoralism in sub-Saharan Africa.


    Pastoralist Innovation

    Pastoralist areas of the Horn of Africa are experiencing rapid change. Markets are opening up, helping to improve livelihoods and generate substantial new wealth for local and national economies. Political and constitutional changes are creating opportunities for pastoralists to influence decision-making around the allocation of public resources as well as laws and practices affecting their rights. New technologies such as mobile phones as well as improvements in roads are opening up pastoral areas to greater movements of people, goods, and ideas. And new ways of delivering services to mobile and remote pastoralist populations have improved their access to healthcare, veterinary services and education. 

    Despite these opportunities, pastoralist livelihoods remain highly insecure. Many struggle to cope with routine drought – let alone extreme events – and widening restrictions on access to key resources. In spite of positive developments in some parts of the region, the benefits of new prosperity and access to markets and services are shared unevenly. The need for fresh thinking and policies that strengthen the livelihoods of the majority of the region’s pastoralists remains urgent.

    Innovations by pastoralists themselves provide new ideas and practical experience to learn from. Alongside formal scientific and technological advancements, pastoralists are developing and testing new knowledge and practices to manage longstanding challenges and more recent pressures as well as take advantage of emerging opportunities to participate in national and regional politics and markets.

    Five studies on pastoralist innovation are currently underway; see these updates for more information:

    Supplemental Reading and Resources

    1. Retrospective Assessment of Pastoral Policies in Ethiopia, 1991-2008
    2. Future Scenarios for Pastoral Development in Ethiopia, 2010-2025
    3. Policy Options for Pastoral Development in Ethiopia and Reaction from the Regions
    4. Policy Options for Pastoral Development in Ethiopia and Reaction from the Regions