Project: The politics of changing pastoral livelihoods in the Horn of Africa

kenya_market_webThis project explores how changes in social, economic and political systems in the Horn of Africa are changing the nature of pastoralism, and the new types of pastoralism that are emerging.

Our research explores the following areas:

The characteristics of the changing economy in pastoral areas of the Horn of Africa associated with new dynamics of marketing, trade, investment and integration,

the emergence of new forms of pastoralism, and pastoral engagement with other production systems, in and as a result of these new systemic contexts, and

the changing engagement of pastoralists and pastoral systems in political environments in the region.


The pressures on pastoral production systems have never been greater. The functionality of these systems as we have known them – livestock-keeping centred on mobility and key resource access – is under threat. And the pressures are intensifying. The worsening food crisis in Southern Somalia and parts of Northeast Kenya and eastern Ethiopia has raised concern over pastoralism’s ability to survive.

Yet for all the doom and gloom, the drylands of northern Kenya and southern and eastern Ethiopia are at the edge of a major transformation.

Government programmes, and domestic and foreign investors, are creating new opportunities for marketing and trade. Transport and communications links are improving too.

Pastoralists are taking full advantage of closer incorporation into national and regional economies to move livestock and goods across longstanding geo-political, ecological and land use boundaries. Yet the way land is allocated or captured means that herders who are already better off, benefit the most.

New forms of pastoralism are arising in the Horn of Africa out of broader political, economic and social changes. Many people have left pastoralism during times of crisis – but these these crises have also led to innovation, opening new pathways to acquire wealth and define new areas of specialisation and diversification.

Case studies

Research in this project focuses on four case studies across the Horn of Africa.

Elite pastoralism and the changing political economy of pastoral production in northern Kenya

In northeast Kenya, the economy of pastoralism is changing, with land and resource grabs, an influx of foreign capital, and stronger links with domestic and export markets. As a result, inequality is growing; elite forms of pastoralism are emerging to manage restricted resources.

This study seeks to better understand the new elite forms of pastoralism. Specifically, the research examines the livelihoods and background of elite pastoralists and the nature of their production (i.e. sustaining breeding herds, fattening stock for markets, and/or diversifying into other activities).

In addition to developing a longer-term perspective of the livelihood trajectories of elite pastoralists, it will assess their responses to the drought crisis of 2009-2011 as a way of understanding how elite herders are negotiating changing resource tenure, accessing markets, and whether and how they are changing their investments.

Jostling for the trade: the politics of livestock marketing on the Ethiopia-Somaliland border

This case study explores the political dynamics that are shaping livestock marketing and trade across the border between Somali regional state in Ethiopia and Somaliland.

Existing studies on livestock marketing in Ethiopia have examined livestock value chains, the direction of the trade and the increasing importance of exports, and the constraints – infrastructural, regulatory, institutional – on cross border livestock trade and marketing.

However, there has been less consideration of the politics underlying many of the constraints on cross-border livestock marketing and trade. Yet, politics within Somali society, between Somali pastoralists and the state, and amongst states in the region are crucial to understand the characteristics of the trade, pastoral responses to regulatory, institutional and infrastructural impediments on marketing, and how the trade can be improved.

The Future of Pastoralism in Ethiopia: The Changing Political Context and its Implications on the Nuer

This research will be based on case studies of the Nuer pastoralists in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, which borders on South Sudan.

It investigates how changes in the political context and economic situation in the region affect Nuer pastoralists, and how they respond to these changes. It explores the likely impacts of political and economic integration between the two countries, the effects of and response to land grabbing/leasing, climate change adaptation strategies and the villagization programme, which encourages pastoralists to settle in permanent villages.

Policies and politics in cross border livestock trading in Kenya and Ethiopia

Pastoral livestock marketing in Kenya is a vibrant sector that supports a large number of actors including pastoralists, traders, brokers and transporters. Camel exports to Arab countries through Ethiopia This study looks at the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, and the impacts of policies affecting the marketing of pastoral livestock. It examines the extent to which Ethiopia is gaining from the lucrative camel trade while Kenya is losing in this trade.