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.

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.