The future of pastoralism in Africa debated in Addis: Irreversible decline or vibrant future?

Maasai man takes his goats out for a day's grazing

A Maasai man takes his goats out in the early morning for a day’s grazing in northern Tanzania (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

An international conference deliberating the future of pastoralists in Africa is taking place this week (21–23 March  2011) at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Big changes are occurring in, and to, Africa’s vast pastoral regions. Livestock herders’ access to resources, options for mobility and opportunities for marketing are all evolving fast. Is there, the organizers of this conference ask, opportunity for a productive, vibrant, market-oriented livelihood system or will pastoralist areas remain a backwater of underdevelopment, marginalization and severe poverty?

The Future Agricultures Consortium, an alliance of agricultural development researchers and practitioners that facilitates policy dialogues and debates on the role of agriculture in broad-based African growth, and the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, which also has a mixed staff of development researchers and practitioners, have jointly organized this conference to share new learning about ongoing change and innovation in Africa’s pastoral areas.

One of the aims of the conference organizers is to shift the crisis narrative that so often dominates news and discussions of pastoralists in Africa. As noted on the Future Agricultures Consortium website: ‘Frequently depicted as in crisis, pastoralists are changing the way they live and work in response to new opportunities and threats revealing the resilience that pastoralists have demonstrated for millennia. Accessing new markets and innovating solutions to safeguard incomes, this often misunderstood and marginalised community is re-positioning itself to make the most of the East African economy. . . .

‘The pastoralist way of life—synonymous with irreversible decline, ‘crises’ and aid rescues—is poorly understood. And whilst the words ‘pastoralism’ and ‘crisis’ have become fused in the minds of many, there are positive signs of vibrant pastoralist livelihoods that debunk the usual reportage of pastoralists depicted as insecure, vulnerable and destitute. . . .

‘Failed by generations of unsuccessful state development plans and aid strategies, pastoralists have been let down because the real problems and issues they face have not been taken into account. A more accurate understanding of the processes of change happening within pastoralist areas, which are significant and complex, has been obscured by the perpetuated myths of pastoralism in crisis.

‘Understanding the complexity and potential for pastoralism is crucial to informing policies for securing the future of this age-old and resilient sector in sub-Saharan Africa.’

Hot topics
The new research and practical experiences being shared at this conference are on the following hot topics in academic and development research.
Regional pastoralist policies (and the politics of pastoralist policy)
Mobility and the sustainability of pastoralist production systems
Impacts of climate change on pastoralism
Commercializing pastoralism through better markets and trade
Delivering basic health, education and veterinary services to pastoralists
New approaches for strengthening pastoralist livelihoods and social protection systems
Alternative livelihoods and exit strategies for pastoralists
Pastoralist views of land grabbing and land tenure
Pastoralist innovations
How conflicts are affecting pastoralist development in the Horn of Africa
The place, and potential, of youth and women in pastoralist societies

Researchers, policymakers, field practitioners and donor representatives at this conference are assessing the present and future challenges to African pastoralism so as to begin to define new research and policy agendas.

For more information, visit the Future Agricultures Consortium website conference page or blog and revisit this ILRI News blog.

Why livestock–and livestock losses–matter in developing countries: ILRI Film

What happens when farming families in poor countries lose their most important possessions?

Through the words of one African family, we learn in this short (4 minutes, 50 seconds) film, 'Why livestock?' from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) how livestock losses change lives.

By providing nourishing food, regular income, traction for ploughing, and manure to fertilize their croplands, farm animals are the foundation of some one billion lives and livelihoods.

‘Life is hard for us now without livestock,’ says this family.

Les experts avertissent que la disparition rapide du bétail indigène de l’Afrique menace l’approvisionnement alimentaire du continent

N'DamaHerd_WestAfrica

D’ « anciennes » espèces bovines d’Afrique de l’Ouest, résistantes aux maladies, figurent parmi les races qui risquent de disparaître parce que le bétail importé est en train de supplanter un précieux cheptel indigène.

Une action urgente est indispensable pour arrêter la perte rapide et alarmante de la diversité génétique du bétail africain qui apporte nourriture et revenus à 70 % des Africains ruraux et constitue un véritable trésor d’animaux résistants à la sécheresse et aux maladies. C’est ce que dit une analyse présentée aujourd’hui à une importante réunion de scientifiques africains et d’experts du développement.

Les experts de l’Institut international de recherche sur l’élevage (ILRI) ont expliqué aux chercheurs réunis pour la cinquième Semaine africaine des sciences agricoles (www.faraweek.org), accueillie par le Forum pour la recherche agricole en Afrique (FARA), que des investissements sont indispensables aujourd’hui même pour intensifier, en particulier en Afrique de l’Ouest, les efforts d’identification et de préservation des caractères uniques de la riche variété de bétail bovin, ovin, caprin, et porcin, qui s’est développée au long de plusieurs millénaires sur le continent et qui est aujourd’hui menacée. Ces experts expliquent que la perte de la diversité du bétail en Afrique fait partie de « l’effondrement » mondiale du cheptel. Selon l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture, près de 20 % des 7 616 races de bétail existant dans le monde sont aujourd’hui considérées comme à risque.

« L’élevage africain est un des plus robustes au monde, et pourtant nous assistons aujourd’hui à une dilution, si pas une perte totale, de la diversité génétique de nombreuses races, » dit Abdou Fall, chef du projet diversité animale de l’ILRI pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest. « Mais aujourd’hui, nous avons les outils nécessaires pour identifier les caractéres de grande valeur du bétail africain indigène, une information qui peut être cruciale pour maintenir, voire augmenter la productivité de l’exploitation agricole africaine. »

M. Fall décrit les différentes menaces qui pèsent sur la viabilité à long terme de la production de bétail en Afrique. Ces menaces comprennent une dégradation du paysage et le croissement avec des races « exotiques » importées d’Europe, d’Asie et d’Amérique.

Par exemple, on assiste à un croisement sur une très large échelle de races des zones sahéliennes d’Afrique de l’Ouest et susceptibles aux maladies avec des races adaptées aux régions subhumides, comme le sud du Mali, et qui ont une résistance naturelle à la trypanosomiase.

La trypanosomiase tue entre trois et sept millions de tètes de bétail chaque année et son coût pour les exploitants agricoles se chiffre en milliards de dollars, lorsqu’on prend en compte, par exemple, les pertes de production de lait et de viande, et les coûts de médicaments et prophylactiques nécessaires au traitement ou à la prévention des maladies. Bien que le croisement puisse offrir des avantages à court terme, comme une amélioration de la production de viande et de lait ou une plus grande puissance de trait, il peut également faire disparaître des caractères très précieux qui sont le résultat de milliers d’années de sélection naturelle.

Les experts de l’ILRI déploient à l’heure actuelle des efforts importants en faveur d’une campagne visant à maîtriser le développement d’une résistance aux médicaments chez les parasites qui provoquent la trypanosomiase. Mais ils reconnaissent aussi que des races dotées d’une résistance naturelle à cette maladie offre une meilleure solution à long terme.

Ces races comprennent les bovins sans bosse et à courtes cornes de l’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre, qui ont vécu dans cette région avec ces parasites pendant des millions d’années et ont ainsi acquis une résistance naturelle à de nombreuses maladies, y compris la trypanosomiase, propagée par la mouche tsétsé, et les maladies transmises par les tiques. De plus, ces animaux robustes sont capables de résister à des climats rudes. Mais les races à courtes cornes et à longues cornes ont un désavantage : elles ne sont pas aussi productives que les races européennes. Malgré ce désavantage, la disparition de ces races aurait des conséquences graves pour la productivité future du bétail africain.

« Nous avons observé que les races indigènes sans bosse et à courtes cornes d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre font l’objet d’un abatage aveugle et d’un manque d’attention aux bonne pratique d’élevage, et risquent ainsi de disparaître,» explique Fall. « Il faut qu’au minimum nous préservions ces races soit dans le contexte de l’exploitation, soit dans des banques de gènes : leurs caractéristiques génétiques pourraient en effet s’avérer décisives dans la lutte contre le trypanosomiase, et leur robustesse pourrait être un atout essentiel pour des exploitants agricoles qui auront à s’adapter au changement climatique. »

Le Kuri aux grandes cornes bulbeuses du Sud Tchad et du Nord-est du Nigéria fait partie des bovins africains à risques. Non seulement il ne se laisse pas déranger par les piqûres d’insecte mais il est également un excellent nageur, vu qu’il s’est développé dans la région du lac Tchad, et est idéalement adapté aux conditions humides dans des climats très chauds.

Les actions de l’ILRI en faveur de la préservation du bétail africain indigène s’inscrivent dans un effort plus large visant à améliorer la productivité de l’exploitation agricole africaine au travers de ce qu’on appelle la « génomique du paysage ». Cette dernière implique entre autre chose, le séquençage des génomes de différentes variétés de bétail provenant de plusieurs régions, et la recherche des signatures génétiques associées à leur adaptation à un environnement particulier.

Les experts de l’ILRI considèrent la génomique du paysage comme étant particulièrement importante vu l’accélération du changement climatique qui impose à l’éleveur de répondre toujours plus rapidement et avec l’expertise voulue à l’évolution des conditions de terrain. Mais ils soulignent qu’en Afrique en particulier, la capacité des éleveurs à s’adapter aux nouveaux climats va dépendre directement de la richesse du continent en termes de diversité de son cheptel indigène.

« Nous assistons trop souvent à des efforts qui visent à améliorer la productivité du bétail dans la ferme africaine en supplantant le cheptel indigène par des animaux importés qui à long terme s’avéreront mal adaptés aux conditions locales et vont demander un niveau d’attention simplement trop onéreux pour la plus part des petits exploitants agricoles, » dit Carlos Seré, Directeur général de l’ILRI. « Les communautés d’éleveurs marginalisées ont avant tout besoin d’investissement en génétique et en génomique qui leur permettront d’accroitre la productivité de leur cheptel africain, car ce dernier reste le mieux adapté à leurs environnements. »

M. Seré souligne la nécessité de nouvelles politiques qui encouragent les éleveurs et les petits exploitants agricoles africains à conserver les races locales plutôt que de les remplacer des animaux importés. Ces politiques, dit-il, devraient comprendre des programmes d’élevage centrés sur la l’amélioration de la productivité du cheptel indigène comme alternative à l’importation d’animaux.

Steve Kemp, qui dirige l’équipe de génétique et de génomique de l’ILRI, ajoute que les mesures de conservation en exploitation doivent également s’accompagner d’investissements en faveur de la préservation de la diversité qui permettront de geler le sperme et les embryons. On ne peut en effet exiger du seul exploitant agricole qu’il renonce à une augmentation de la productivité au nom de la conservation de la diversité.

« Nous ne pouvons pas attendre de l’exploitant qu’il sacrifie son revenu avec pour seul objectif de préserver le potentiel de diversité, » explique M. Kemp. « Nous savons que la diversité est essentielle pour relever les défis auxquels l’exploitant africain est confronté, mais les caractéres de grande valeur qui seront importants pour l’avenir ne sont pas toujours évidents dans l’immédiat. »

M. Kemp recommande une nouvelle approche pour mesurer les ressources génétiques du cheptel. Aujourd’hui, dit-il, l’estimation de ces caractéristiques porte essentiellement sur des éléments tels que la valeur de la viande, du lait, des œufs et de la laine, mais elle ne prend pas en compte d’autres attributs qui pourraient avoir une importance égale, voire supérieure, pour l’éleveur, qu’il soit en Afrique ou dans une autre région en développement. Ces attributs comprennent la capacité d’un animal à tirer la charrue, à fournir de l’engrais, à faire office de banque ou compte d’épargne ambulant, et d’être une forme efficace d’assurance contre les pertes de récolte.

Mais l’association de ces multiples attributs avec l’ADN d’un animal exige de nouveaux moyens pour rechercher et comprendre les caractéristiques du cheptel dans une région caractérisée par une grande diversité et une grande variété d’environnements.

« On dispose aujourd’hui des outils nécessaires, mais nous avons besoin de la volonté, de l’imagination et des ressources avant qu’il ne soit trop tard, » indique M. Kemp.
 

Experts warn rapid losses of Africa’s native livestock threaten continent’s food supply

N'DamaHerd_WestAfrica

Resilient disease-resistant, 'ancient' West African cattle, such as these humpless longhorn N'Dama cattle, are among breeds at risk of extinction in Africa as imported animals supplant valuable native livestock

Urgent action is needed to stop the rapid and alarming loss of genetic diversity of African livestock that provide food and income to 70 percent of rural Africans and include a treasure-trove of drought- and disease-resistant animals, according to a new analysis presented today at a major gathering of African scientists and development experts.

Experts from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) told researchers at the 5th African Agriculture Science Week (www.faraweek.org), hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), that investments are needed now to expand efforts to identify and preserve the unique traits, particularly in West Africa, of the continent's rich array of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs developed over several millennia but now under siege. They said the loss of livestock diversity in Africa is part of a global 'livestock meltdown'. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, some 20 percent of the world's 7616 livestock breeds are now viewed as at risk.

'Africa's livestock are among the most resilient in the world yet we are seeing the genetic diversity of many breeds being either diluted or lost entirely', said Abdou Fall, leader of ILRI's livestock diversity project for West Africa. 'But today we have the tools available to identify valuable traits in indigenous African livestock, information that can be crucial to maintaining and increasing productivity on African farms.'

Fall described a variety of pressures threatening the long-term viability of livestock production in Africa. These forces include landscape degradation and cross-breeding with 'exotic' breeds imported from Europe, Asia and the America.

For example, disease-susceptible breeds from West Africa's Sahel zone are being cross-bred in large scale with breeds adapted to sub-humid regions, like southern Mali, that have a natural resistance to trypanosomosis.

Trypanosomosis kills an estimated three to seven million cattle each year and costs farmers billions of dollars each year in, for example, lost milk and meat production and the costs of medicines and prophylactics needed to treat or prevent the disease. While cross-breeding may offer short-term benefits, such as improved meat and milk production and greater draft power, it could also cause the disappearance of valuable traits developed over thousands of years of natural selection.

ILRI specialists are in the midst of a major campaign to control development of drug resistance in the parasites that cause this disease but also have recognized that breeds endowed with a natural ability to survive the illness could offer a better long-term solution.

The breeds include humpless shorthorn and longhorn cattle of West and Central Africa that have evolved in this region along with its parasites for thousands of years and therefore have evolved ways to survive many diseases, including trypanosomosis, which is spread by tsetse flies, and also tick-borne diseases. Moreover, these hardy animals have the ability to withstand harsh climates. Despite their drawbacks—the shorthorn and longhorn breeds are not as productive as their European counterparts—their loss would be a major blow to the future of African livestock productivity.

'We have seen in the short-horn humpless breeds native to West and Central African indiscriminate slaughter and an inattention to careful breeding that has put them on a path to extinction', Fall said . 'We must at the very least preserve these breeds either on the farm or in livestock genebanks because their genetic traits could be decisive in the fight against trypanosomosis, while their hardiness could be enormously valuable to farmers trying to adapt to climate change.'

Other African cattle breeds at risk include the Kuri cattle of southern Chad and northeastern Nigeria. The large bulbous-horned Kuri, in addition to being unfazed by insect bites, are excellent swimmers, having evolved in the Lake Chad region, and are ideally suited to wet conditions in very hot climates.

ILRI's push to preserve Africa's indigenous livestock is part of a broader effort to improve productivity on African farms through what is known as 'landscape genomics'. Landscape genomics involves, among other things, sequencing the genomes of different livestock varieties from many regions and looking for the genetic signatures associated with their suitability to a particular environment.

ILRI experts see landscape genomics as particularly important as climate change accelerates, requiring animal breeders to respond every more quickly and expertly to shifting conditions on the ground. But they caution that in Africa in particular the ability of farmers and herders to adapt to new climates depends directly on the continent's wealth of native livestock diversity.

'What we see too often is an effort to improve livestock productivity on African farms by supplanting indigenous breeds with imported animals that over the long-term will prove a poor match for local conditions and require a level of attention that is simply too costly for most smallholder farmers', said Carlos Seré, ILRI's Director General. 'What marginalized livestock-keeping communities need are investments in genetics and genomics that allow them to boost productivity with their African animals, which are best suited to their environments.'

Seré said new polices also are needed that encourage African pastoralist herders and smallholder farmers to continue maintaining their local breeds rather than abandoning them for imported animals. Such policies, he said, should include breeding programs that focus on improving the productivity of indigenous livestock as an alternative to importing animals.

Steve Kemp, who heads ILRI's genetics and genomics team, added that in addition to conservation on the farm, there must also be investments in preserving diversity by freezing sperm and embryos because farmers cannot be asked to forgo productivity increases solely in the name of diversity conservation.

'We cannot expect farmers to sacrifice their income just to preserve the future potential of diversity', Kemp said. 'We know that diversity is critical to dealing with the challenges that confront African farmers, but the valuable traits that may be important in the future are not always immediately obvious.'

Kemp called for a new approach to measuring the characteristics of livestock genetic resources. Today, he said, these estimates focus mainly on such things as the value of meat, milk, eggs and wool and do not include qualities that can be of equal or even greater importance to livestock keepers in Africa and other developing regions. These attributes include the ability of an animal to pull a plough, provide fertilizer, serve as a walking bank or savings account, and act as an effective form of insurance against crop loss.

But associating this wider array of attributes with an animal's DNA requires new ways of exploring and understanding livestock characteristics in a region where there is so much diversity in so many different environments.

'The tools are available to do this now, but we need the will, the imagination and the resources before it is too late', Kemp said.

Climate experts gather in Nairobi to seek ‘transformative’ solutions for feeding a growing and warming world

Achim Steiner making his introductory remarks at the CCAFS conference

The livelihoods of many of the world’s rural poor are increasingly threatened by climate change. Most of these livelihoods are dependent on farming, fishing and forests. Climate change will affect and worsen the living conditions of people who are already vulnerable and food insecure, especially in developing countries. In the face of what seems an inevitable change, scientists are looking for solutions that will help poor smallholder farmers adapt their agricultural practices to cope with, and mitigate, climate change.

Through a new Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) initiative, a consortium of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is seeking innovative approaches to address the emerging threats to global agriculture and food security. CCAFS is a 10-year initiative launched by the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS works to diagnose and analyse threats to agriculture and food security, to provide evidence for development of climate change policies and to identify and develop pro-poor adaptation and mitigation practices that will benefit poor farmers and urbanites alike.

In a CCAFS workshop held at the World Agroforesty Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi, Kenya, on 4 May 2010, scientists and researchers held discussions on ways of ‘building food security in the face of climate change’. Among the key challenges to food security identified by the participants were: lack of a platform by which developing countries could share their experiences in dealing with climate change; weaknesses in presenting lessons from climate change impacts on farming; and inability to implement policies to address climatic risks to developing-country agriculture because of widespread poverty, limited human capital, and poor governance in many poor countries.

According to Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), ‘Agriculture needs to be understood within the greater context of livelihood sustainability’. Steiner believes the threat of climate change offers opportunities for agricultural development if new innovative ways of enhancing agriculture are explored. For example, agricultural practices that help communities reduce carbon emissions should be considered. ‘If we can demonstrate that a farming or production system reduces emissions, communities could be paid to develop it for expansion to solve two challenges at the same time. ‘The future of agriculture is not just in increasing production,’ the UNEP head said, ‘but in having working systems that protect the planet and that benefit those who engage in practices that protect the planet and livelihoods of the poor.

Thomas Rosswall, who chairs the CCAFS Steering Committee, noted that the ‘big disconnect [in addressing agricultural production] has been because development and global change have been addressed, researched and funded as unrelated issues’. He said ‘the approach to research needs to change so that it can link the local experiences to global needs while working with the poor to improve agricultural productivity.

Participants of the meeting agreed that ‘transformative solutions’ are needed to address agricultural challenges in the world. These solutions, they agreed, need to work with, not against, nature and they need to address conflicts of interest among farmers, countries and markets. Researchers, they said, need to focus on plant breeding and improving soil fertility. And regional decision-makers need to integrate development and climate-based polices and strategies between countries. In many countries, agricultural productivity is already being linked to climate change. In Africa, for example, an African Bio-Carbon Initiative is working to reduce the impacts of climate change on the continent’s farmers while increasing and sustaining their agricultural production. In India, environmental studies show that climate change is creating opportunities for farmers to increase their vegetable production, and thus their incomes.

According to David Radcliffe, of the European Commission, the CCAFS initiative will build understanding of the problems climate change is causing smallholder tropical farmers and will provide evidence for policies that can reduce these problems. CCAFS will focus on climate hotspots. It will pilot methods to help farmers both adapt to climate change and reduce their production of greenhouse gases, which cause climate change. Both adaptation and mitigation methods, Radcliffe said, will be needed to feed the world’s growing population while using fewer resources.

Re-assessing the fodder problem

Small-scale farmers depend largely on their animals and need to feed them well. However, several factors threaten its supply. Technology based innovations have been the mainstream solution to improve the fodder problem. But making farmers find relevant information and networks appears to be as effective for innovation. An ILRI project looks at the issue from a different point of view and discovered that the problems related to fodder availability have just as much to do with access to knowledge as with access to appropriate technology. This article in the March 2010 issue of ILEIA’s ‘Farming Matters’ magazine profiles the DFID-funded Fodder Innovation Project. Read the article… Farming Matters Magazine In this video interview, Ranjitha Puskur shares some lessons from the project: [blip.tv ?posts_id=2966873&dest=-1]

Innovation network platforms to overcome fodder scarcity

In this short video, Ranjitha Puskur from ILRI shares some lessons emerging from the DFID-funded Fodder Innovation Project.

The project looks at fodder scarcity and how to address it, but from the perspectives of capacities, policies and institutions.

This current second phase of the project, she says, emerged from the realisation that the availability of technologies is not really the limiting factor, policy and institutional factors are the major bottlenecks.

She briefly introduces the innovation systems approach that underpins the project: Essentially, the aim is to form and facilitate a network of different actors in a chain or continuum of knowledge production and its use, mobilizing all their various resources and capacities to address a problem.

What outcomes and changes has she seen?

At the farm level, farmers are changing their livestock feeding and management practices; there is an emerging demand for technologies, inputs and services that, ironically, were earlier promoted without success.

“Farmers are seeing the need for knowledge and can articulate demands to service providers.”

She emphasizes that “getting a network of actors isn’t an easy process, it takes time”. Different organizations with different interests and motives have to be brought around the table to contribute and benefit.

“It needs great facilitation skills and negotiating skills which are not very often core competences of researchers like us.”

Beyond facilitation of this network formation, “we also see that linkages don’t happen automatically” … we need a facilitating or broker organisation to create them.

In her project, they work through key partner organisations: “This works well, but they needed much support and mentoring from us.”

She concludes with two final observations: Policies are a very critical factor and it is important to engage policy makers from the outset, ensuring that we know what they really want, and that the evidence base is solid.

Traditional project management approaches don’t seem to work in such projects: We need nimble financial management, and very responsive project management.

“Very traditional logframes and M&E systems seem very inadequate.”

See her presentation with Alan Duncan

More information on this project

View the video:

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2966873&dest=-1]

Exploring farmer-herder relations and conflict management in Niger

This week, ILRI and partners are presenting research on farmer-herder relations and conflict management at an international conference on 'the future of transhumance pastoralism in west and central Africa'.


farmer-herder relations

 

The main objective of the conference, taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, from 20-24 November 2006, is to provide a forum for discussing the challenges of transhumance pastoralism and associated issues affecting the economy and society of pastoral communities in the West Africa sub-region. Through the presentation and analyses of different experiences, conference participants will share experiences to identify interventions that could enhance pastoral livelihoods and promote environmental and social harmony among communities.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are presenting their findings on farmer-herder relations and conflict management, based on research conducted in Niger. Their study found that conflict, in some form or another, is common in agro-pastoral communities of Niger and has the potential to affect the livelihoods of farmers and herders alike.

Background to study

The nature of livestock husbandry and farmer-herder relations is changing and the potential for conflict management failure increases unless systems of governance change accordingly. Farmer-herder conflicts are enduring features of social life in the Sudano-Sahelian zone. A survey was carried out in four sites in Niger (Bokki, Katanga, Sabon Gida and Tountoubé) to determine the proximate and long-term causes of conflict over natural-resource use, to evaluate the appropriateness of existing institutional arrangements for managing conflicts and identify innovative options and incentives to reduce the incidence and severity of conflicts.

Causes of farmer-herder conflict

Conflict should be expected in an environment of highly fluctuating resource availabilities on unfenced land. Results from this study showed that in all sites, damage to crops was the first reported cause of conflict between farmers and herders. Crop damage is not limited to growing crops on the field but also unauthorized livestock grazing of crop residues after harvest.

Reported causes of farmer-herder conflict in study sites between 2002 and 2004


The increasing number of conflicts due to unauthorized livestock grazing of crop residues is a reflection of the change in farmer-herder relations from that of mutual trust that characterized manure and entrustment contracts to more inherently conflictual relationships based on wage and tenancy contracts. Other causes of conflict reported were access to watering points, expansion of crop fields to corridors used for animal passage, and theft of animals.

Farmer-herder relations and conflict management
 

The ability of rural communities to prevent and manage conflict is largely based on the strength of networks of communication between herding and farming interests, respected community leaders, and leaders in neighbouring communities. Overall, local institutional arrangements were found to be functional with a high percentage of conflicts effectively managed at local levels. In all the study sites except Bokki, there was a high level of involvement of internal mediators.
Reported causes of farmer-herder conflict in study sites between 2002 and 2004

In all the villages, at least 75% of reported cases of farmer-herder conflict between 2002 and 2004 were resolved. In Tountoubé all reported cases of conflict were resolved. The results support a basic premise that conflicts that necessarily arise as people pursue diverse livelihood strategies are largely managed effectively at the level of local communities. In all the villages, the elders, marabouts and chiefs are the main channel for mediation. For example, all resolved conflict cases in Sabon Guida and Tountoubé were through village elders and chiefs. The high level of success of internal mediation in both villages could be attributed to the high respect for the authority of village chiefs and council of elders by all social groups. However, in Bokki there is a relatively high involvement of external mediators – local court and police- in resolving conflict in the village.

Understanding changing farmer-herder relations


Over the past 20 years, there have been changes in livestock ownership and management that have worked to increase both the inherent conflicts of interest between farming and herding and the potential for these conflicts of interest to escalate. Conflicts of interest have intensified in many areas due to the greater proximity of livestock and cropping during the growing season.

There have also been a number of changes that have affected how local communities manage farmer-herder conflicts. The continued erosion of the local authority of elders, while welcome on a number of levels, have increased the number of poles of authority which may potentially reduce local communities’ ability to manage conflict effectively. The number and nature of social ties between farmers and herding professionals have changed as livestock wealth has become more concentrated, availability of cropland has declined, and the range of herd movements has shrunk and become more erratic.

The relationships between farmers and herders in the Sudano-Sahelian region of West Africa have always been multi-dimensional and like most social relationships have involved both cooperation and conflict. There has always been a strong seasonality to this relationship, with conflicts associated with crop damage and field encroachment onto key pastoral sites common during the rainy season, while cooperative relationships of milk barter and manure contracting are more important during the dry season.

Understanding farmer-herder relations is key to conflict management and resolution. This will improve understanding of the proximate and underlying causes of conflict, the behavioural patterns that are most conducive to provoking or avoiding conflict and the main mechanisms by which conflict between the groups are resolved or managed. Innovative options and incentives that reduce the incidence and severity of conflicts would enhance livelihoods of both farmers and herders, and promote social harmony within and between communities.
 

farmer-herder relations

West Africa’s regional livestock trade

Regional livestock trade in West Africa is suffering due to lack of policy integration and illegal cross-border “taxes”.

Livestock trade policies differ widely between countries in West Africa. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are livestock exporting countries, and want to strengthen livestock marketing and processing and promote regional trade. Livestock importing countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria, promote policies that protect local livestock producers, boost internal production, and ensure food security in livestock products. A recently released report investigating livestock policies in six West African countries has urged that regional policies be streamlined, harmonised and implemented in a coordinated way to avoid bureaucratic bottlenecks. The report also noted that transportation of livestock across borders and illegal “taxes” represent significant additional marketing costs that impact negatively on regional livestock trade.

  • In West Africa, cross-border transportation can cost a staggering 300% more than the equivalent transfer of beef from Europe to West Africa’s coast. Meantime, regional cross-border transfer of cattle costs twice as much as domestic transportation, despite better transportation infrastructures.
  • Intra-regional trade in live animals attracts certain costs which are unlikely to be incurred if meat products are traded. For example, livestock drovers (people who drive herds of animals to market) are paid handling fees during the 2-3 day trip.
  • Some governments in the region are not fully committed to the implementation of agreed trade policy reforms concerning trade liberalisation and facilitation, exchange and payments systems and investment facilitation. This negatively affects costs of livestock trade and regional integration.
  • Illegal road taxation at numerous checkpoints can be as much as 10% of total marketing costs. Here, traders are required to make non-receipted payments to public agents for no obvious reason (see box below)
Illegal “taxes” at checkpoints hurt regional livestock trade

Numerous checkpoints exist along the highways where non-receipted payments are systematically made to police, customs, veterinary and other officials per truckload of cattle.

    Along the main cross-border trading routes, the checkpoints at Ferkessedougou and Bouake, both in Côte d’Ivoire, have the most notorious reputation, harbouring up to three different agents, namely: police, customs and gendarmerie. The checkpoint in Zegua, Mali is also reputed for frequent payments made to officials. Depending on the itinerary, total non-receipted payments can range from 12,000 FCFA on the Bittou to Accra route to 71,000 FCFA from Sikasso to Abidjan, translating respectively to 1.7 and 10.5% of cross-border marketing costs for cattle in the two routes. Illegal “taxes” between Sikasso to Abidjan are nearly twice as high as the government imposed fuel taxes for the same route.

Abolishing illegal cross border “taxes” would result in significant cost reductions and minimisation of delays that lead to deteriorating cattle health and sometimes death.

Recommendations include:

  • Protocols on regional livestock trade and regional integration introduced by the Union Économique et Monétaire de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (UEMOA) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), need to be streamlined, harmonised and implemented.
  • Regional livestock trade should shift its current focus from live animals to meat.
  • Regulations that provide for the free movement of people and goods in the region should be implemented by reducing the number of roadside checkpoints, curbing the excesses of conveyance companies (sociétés de convoyage), and actively fighting illegal road taxation.

Report and Briefs

The full report and a set of four briefs are now available for download.

Read the complete Improvement of Livestock Marketing and Regional Trade in West Africa report: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/1572/1/CFC_Report_on_Trade_In_WAfrica_1.pdf

Brief 1: Marketing livestock in West Africa: Opportunities and constraints: Brief 1  T.O. Williams, I. Okike, I. Baltenweck and C. Delgado.

This brief summarises the discussions and major outputs from a regional workshop held in Niamey, Niger in 1999. The objective was to analyse the economic, institutional and policy constraints to livestock marketing and trade in order to provide a basis for new policy interventions to improve market efficiency and intra-regional livestock trade.

Read the complete brief: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/1593/1/WestAfrLivestock1-Eng.pdf

Brief 2: Livestock marketing channels, flows and prices in West Africa: Brief 2. I. Okike, T.O. Williams, B. Spycher, S. Staal and I. Baltenweck

Livestock markets that are strategically located along the border of neighbouring countries to ease cross-border trade were studied to identify livestock marketing channels from farm gates to terminal markets. Economic operators and livestock flows within these channels were also examined along with seasonal variations and other factors affecting livestock prices. The findings indicate that producers and operators can realise significant economic benefits by increasing meat production and livestock trade value through improved credit access and better market information.

Read the complete brief: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/1774/1/WestAfrLivestock2-Eng.pdf

Brief 3: Lowering cross-border livestock transportation and handling costs in West Africa: Brief 3. I. Okike, B. Spycher, T.O. Williams and I. Baltenweck

This brief analyses the costs incurred in the transfer of animals through the marketing chain and highlights areas where costs could be reduced for example, intra-regional trade in live animals attracts certain types of costs which are unlikely to be incurred if meat products, rather than live animals, are traded.

Read the complete brief: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/1932/1/WestAfrLivestock3-Eng.pdf

Brief 4: Promoting livestock marketing and intraregional trade in West Africa: Brief 4   I. Okike, T.O. Williams and I. Baltenweck

Livestock trade has the potential to contribute even more to foreign exchange earnings if properly promoted. The major economic, institutional and policy barriers to the realisation of the full potentials of livestock trade are identified in this brief.

Read the complete brief: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/1702/1/WestAfrLivestock4-Eng.pdf

Photo essay: Niger: Behind the famine footage

Girl

The words being spilled over the hunger crisis in Niger are rising to a torrent. Media attention and consequent growing concern over soaring levels of child malnutrition finally made the crisis register on the world’s conscience. In July, as babies were shown succumbing to malnutrition, respiratory and other infectious diseases (malaria, diarrhoea) that attend the malnourished young, Niger virtually overnight became, in the words of an emergency advisor with Save the Children UK, ‘sexy'. It had been difficult until then (22 July), she said, to get international donors to dip into their pockets for Niger, a country that had not hit the headlines for drought and famine since 1985. ‘Niger is sexy now’, she said. ‘Children are dying.’ We’re now fed daily images of matchstick thin children with swollen bellies and yellow hair; of cattle carcasses littering pasturelands and roadsides, where the beasts have lain down on the sandy soils to die; of men and families and whole villages roaming the countryside with their remaining animal stock in search of work or food; and of hungry families feeding themselves on boiled grass, acacia leaves and rats. These images are signs of the country's nutritional distress.

To those of us in the over-fed developed world, they are dramatic signs. To most of the developing world’s rain-fed dryland farmers, however, such images are commonplace towards the end of the annual dry season. The story behind the famine footage in Niger is that forced fasting and weight loss, dependence on wild foods, migration, transhumance, liquidation of livestock assets, and early death of people as well as animals – particularly among the young and old – remain the cornerstone of traditional seasonal coping strategies of Niger and other drylands of the developing world. That such annual suffering and untimely death is commonplace among the world’s one billion people living in ‘absolute poverty’, defined by American economist Jeffrey Sachs as ‘the poverty that kills’, is a story itself, one that surely deserves the world's attention as much as Niger's current crisis does.

Although Niger is a country that ‘works’ on many levels, including the daily courage and stamina of its 12.9 million people, whose life expectancy is just 46 years, levels of infant mortality are high even in good years, with 3 out of 10 children dying before they reach the age of 5 from poverty, malnutrition and disease. In the 1990s it was estimated that over 32 percent of Niger’s children were stunted (half of them severely), over 15 percent wasted and over 36 percent underweight. Beyond a shortage of food, factors contributing to the country’s rising malnutrition rates include water shortages, poor water quality, an inability to pay for medical services, poor sanitation conditions and inappropriate child-care practices.

The media are calling Niger’s crisis a ‘famine’ or ‘starvation’. MSF (Doctors without Borders) is calling it a ‘severe nutritional crisis’. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) calls it a ‘complex emergency’. FEWS NET, a research-based famine warning service financed with United States assistance, speaks of the ‘locally severe, but non-famine nature of the crisis’. Whatever we call this food crisis, it should not be happening and it is not a temporary emergency. As FEWS NET remarks, ‘It is the predictable and inevitable result of inadequately addressed chronic poverty. Although the willingness of much of the world to address these 'famine' conditions in Niger is appropriate and welcome, without a similar commitment and prolonged attention to addressing the chronic issues that are at the heart of the current localized crises, the same problems will re-occur again soon.’

The Hunger Crisis Little Boy WalkingAfter months of repeated pleas from the United Nations, international aid began in July to pour into this vast arid and semi-arid and landlocked West African nation, ranked by the United Nations to be the second poorest in the world. Niger is now at the biggest impact of last year’s reduced grain, pasture and fodder yields, brought about by the biggest locust invasion of the last 15 years followed by a premature end to the rainy season. Crop and livestock farmers in Maradi, Tillabery, Zinder, and Tahoua – four departments bordering Nigeria in the south – are suffering the most. In villages here, household granaries and fodder stocks are low or empty, cereal prices are skyrocketing (they are now 75-80 percent above the average for the last five years), and livestock prices are plummeting (the cereal purchasing power for livestock-dependent households in agro-pastoral zones is only 25 percent of what it was a year ago).

Populations have migrated out of the most vulnerable zones and are consuming wild food. One child out of five under the age of five is moderately malnourished and at risk of becoming severely so in the near future if not assisted. Moderate malnutrition is estimated between 13.4 and 19.4 percent, severe malnutrition between 2.4 and 2.9 percent in the most severely affected areas, with rates similar to those of the worst conflict zones and emergencies in the world. As many as 150,000 under 5-year-old children are affected by severe malnutrition among the estimated 800,000 malnourished children nationwide.

Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, told reporters in July that several thousand children had undoubtedly perished this year for lack of food. An April 2005 joint food security assessment by the Niger Government, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), WFP and FEWS NET estimated that 2.4 million of the 3.6 million people living in agropastoral areas were highly vulnerable to food insecurity. Of those, 1.2 million were judged to require some level of food aid. The latest estimate is that 874,000 persons face extreme food insecurity conditions and need free food. This number could grow in the next six weeks as pastoralists return north with their remaining livestock.

Although some press reports indicate that from 150,000 infants to 3.5 million people are threatened by starvation in Niger, FEWS NET argues that there is no basis to expect that starvation is a likely outcome for these numbers of infants or people. ‘Children will likely die from malnourishment but a substantial proportion is probably dying from conditions related to poor water quality, or other non-food related problems.’ FEWS NET reports that although the current food security crisis in Niger is serious, it affects far fewer people than current crises in Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Sudan (Darfur and Northern Bahr El Gazal). The situation in Niger is on par with that found in eastern Chad (in both the refugee camps and among local populations near the camps), and much more severe than those currently found in Mali and Mauritania.

The Hunger Season Woman Carrying ChildHunger is an annual event in Niger, where some 82 percent of the population rely on subsistence farming and cattle rearing and only 15 percent of the land is suitable for arable farming. Beyond a little irrigation along the Niger River, most farmers are at the mercy of the rains. Food shortages lasting several months are nothing new. The annual hunger season starts after the millet is planted, at the beginning of the rains in June, and lasts through October, when it’s harvested. Last year’s double whammy of a locust plague followed by poor rains reduced not only millet harvests but also pastures, which feed the country’s livestock, the lifeblood of Niger’s farmers as well as herders. So the hunger season this year has been longer and more intense than normal, putting many people, along with their livelihoods and livestock, over the edge. Niger’s nutritional crisis is likely to deepen still further in the run up to the next harvest. Rural households traditionally help close the annual hunger gap by selling a few animals to buy enough grain to survive until the next millet harvest, in October. This strategy is not working this year. Too many animals are flooding the market, sending livestock prices down, and rising prices for scarce local grain are beyond the reach of poor farmers surviving on less than US$1 a day. Farm households have exported their young men to work as far away as Libya and Algeria and nomads are competing with farmers for scarce resources as they move their herds around looking for fodder. FEWS NET has published the following crisis indicators about the crisis in Niger:

  • Unprecedented high food prices.
  • Scarcity of local foodstuffs.
  • Scarcity of animal feed.
  • Collapse of livestock prices.
  • Exodus/migration of entire households to neighboring countries in search of new employment.
  • Accelerated use of unsustainable survival strategies, liquidation of livestock, household assets and excessive felling of trees in fragile environments.
  • Malnutrition rates continue to climb.

The Bad News/Good News

  LittleBoy SmilingBoy Crying

The bad news is that in the short-term, malnutrition rates, especially for children, are likely to continue to deteriorate, even if this year’s rains continue to be good. Admissions are rising at therapeutic feeding centres and it is estimated that fewer than one malnourished person in ten makes it to one of the centres. In addition, the rainy season increases the prevalence of malaria and diarrhoeal diseases, which typically increase the risk of severe malnutrition among children. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in July doubled its Niger appeal and warned that it would soon raise it again. Less publicized food crises await to be properly addressed in other countries of the Sahel, the semi-arid strip south of the Sahara desert, such as Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

The good news is that the current rainy season has gotten off to a very good start in Niger. FEWS NET reports that farmers have been able to plant early; according to the Niger Government’s estimates, 92 percent of the area expected to be under cultivation had been planted by June 15 compared to the 65 percent that is normal for this time of year. The favourable rains are improving pastures, although animal conditions will not rebound immediately. FEWS NET reports that cereal prices in other parts of the Sahel are beginning to fall and those in Niger will likely do the same. Prices for livestock should soon improve with good pasture conditions. The maize harvest is underway in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, and Ivory Coast, and supplies of imported maize from those countries should soon be arriving in Niger. This will bring lower overall cereal prices.

The national body in Niger in charge of coordinating risk reduction, prevention and response activities to mitigate and manage food crises (Dispositif National de Prévention et de Gestion des Crises Alimentaires – DNPGCA and Cellule Crise Alimentaire of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet – CCA) has so far promoted subsidized sales, cereal banks, food for work and loans of cereals to be reimbursed after the upcoming harvest in October. Since mid-July, the Government has been distributing free food to specific targets in the most critical areas while continuing to subsidize sales in less critical areas. New partners are settling in Niger and/or boosting their capacities: French Red Cross, Spanish Red Cross, Norwegian Red Cross, Qatari Red Crescent, IFRC, Save the Children US, Islamic Relief, Oxfam UK, Concern, Réunir, MSF/Switzerland. Development partners are stretching their ongoing programs to emergency response activities: World Vision, Care, Africare, CRS, Caritas, Oxfam Québec. These Christian, Muslim and secular humanitarian actors are implementing a range of activities in the most affected area of Niger’s southern agro-pastoral zone, where most of the population is concentrated, with the objective to save lives, to protect agricultural production tools/livelihoods and livestock and to promote the 2005 agricultural campaign.

Immediate Needs Girl Carrying ChildFEWS NET recommends the main focus of additional, immediate, assistance be:

  • an augmentation of supplemental feeding for children under five;
  • additional support for Niger’s free food distributions;
  • provision of emergency animal fodder and livestock nutritional supplements;
  • assistance with sanitation and potable water (in areas with the highest malnutrition); and
  • seeds for second season cropping, especially short cycle beans.

On 4 August, the UN raised its emergency flash appeal to almost $81 million and the WFP reported that if assistance were not provided quickly, it expects to see a massive liquidation of property and livestock with a severe impact on the current agricultural season.

Long-term Needs

Boy Shovel

Emergency assistance is not enough. More research and development resources should be spent to address Niger’s chronic food insecurity. Observers say projects aiming to address the root cause of the food crisis, which is poverty, are being diverted to support emergency efforts when the situation calls for close links between relief, development and research activities. Only such links will ensure that humanitarian programs do not inhibit longer term research and development efforts from addressing the underlying causes of poverty. Serious analysis shows that hunger can be conquered and at a modest cost compared to the benefits. The case for making agriculture a priority sector for aid to Niger – where agricultural production accounts for 39 percent of GDP – is overwhelming. ‘The least funding so far is for agricultural programmes’, Jan Egeland has said, ‘which I regret because those are the programmes that can get people out of this,’ explaining that people are now slaughtering or selling their cattle used for breeding.

The case for supporting livestock development in Niger – where livestock products make up one of just two main exports and 82 percent of the population practice agro-pastoral subsistence farming – is also overwhelming. ‘The hunger crisis in Niger is difficult to assess because it is “patchy”,’ says Bruno Gerard, an ILRI partner scientist based outside Niamey and working for the last 14 years working for ILRI’s sister institute, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). ‘That and other issues that must be addressed to resolve Niger’s chronic food insecurity are largely researchable issues,’ he says. Gerard manages a large project with 10 partners building research-based ‘decision-support systems’ to help farmers improve their marketing, soil fertility and other strategies. ‘This is not a hopeless country’, says Gerard. ‘Traditional options are simply not working well. The real opportunities here are in finding ways to intensify the traditional mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems for greater productivity and sustainability. And that’s just what we’re doing with ILRI and other scientific partners.’

The Livestock Crisis Cattle Carcass Nomadic herdsmen, whose starving cattle and donkeys have begun dying in large numbers, are at even greater risk than crop farmers. Humanitarian workers reckon it will take them at least two years to rebuild their herds. The limited availability of pasture and of fodder is endangering livestock. Niger’s fodder deficit in pastoral areas in 2004 was 154 percent greater than the 2000 deficit, and at 4.6 tons, the largest fodder deficit in Niger’s history. One-third of this deficit was caused by locusts and two-thirds by the 2004 drought. Fodder remains very expensive. Cows, sheep, goats and camels, which represent the ‘saving accounts’ of agro-pastoralists and pastoralists, are typically meagre and are being sold at dramatically low prices. The monetary value of livestock compared to the equivalent in cereals has decreased between 42 and 55 percent. High cereal prices and falling animal prices in the most affected pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, have led to some households having to liquidate assets in the face of these harsh terms of trade.

In worst cases, cows are being sold for US$10. Dakoro, Filingué and Ouallam are the worst affected zones for livestock. Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists began moving their animals south towards the coast earlier than normal to graze on the residue of harvested crops. While this preserves the herds, pastoralist households, especially women and children who normally remain in Niger, will be longer without meat and milk from their animals, and will have to buy more of their food by selling small animals, their assets, or their labor. This also results in larger numbers of males migrating to seek paid labour. This year's return of livestock herds from the south began with the good rains that started in May and June. There have been cases where some herds were temporarily ‘stranded’ between their northern pastures that had yet to regenerate, and the areas they were leaving in order for planting to begin. It is also noted that this year, coping capacities appear to be stretched to the limit by continuing high cereal prices that translate into poor terms of trade in selling livestock to buy cereals.

Cattle Herded

-Source: FEWS NET

ILRI and Livestock Research in Niger

Woman Cattle Back

ILRI has conducted livestock research for development in Niger for three decades. ILRI’s senior scientists in the country have included (in chronological order) geographer and anthropologist Matt Turner (USA), rangeland ecologist Pierre Hiernaux (France), soil scientist Mark Powell (USA), agricultural economist Tim Williams (Nigeria), animal nutritionist Salvador Fernández-Rivera (Mexico), and livestock systems specialist Augustine Ayantunde (Nigeria), the latter leads ILRI research in Niger today. Among the Nigerian support team that have worked for ILRI over these years are two technicians who have lived and worked for 15 years in ILRI’s two target villages in Fakara, an area between the Niger Valley and the Dallol Bosso, one hundred km east of Niger’s capital, Niamey. ILRI work in Fakara covers a region of over 500 sq km. Most of the images in this photo essay were obtained in Fakara in June 2005, one month before the country's hunger problem began to make news.

ILRI’s long-term focus in Niger is finding improved ways to integrate livestock keeping into crop farming systems to improve the Sahel’s fragile lands as well as the livelihoods of its peoples. ILRI (www.ilri.org) has conducted much of its research in Niger under the aegis of two systemwide programs of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (www.cgiar.org), which sponsors the research of ILRI and 14 other centres working to alleviate poverty in the developing world: the ILRI-convened Systemwide Livestock Programme (www.vslp.org/vslp/front_content.php) and the ICRISAT-convened Desert Margins Program (www.icrisat.org/text/partnerships/dmp/dmp.htm). In these and other projects, ILRI focuses on livestock aspects and ICRISAT on food and feed crops which, taken together, can refine the integration of crop and livestock production with triple-bottom-line benefits for people (more food), livestock (more feed) and soils (more nutrients).

ILRI’s Niger team recently conducted a project funded by USAID investigating how to improve markets for small-scale peri-urban farmers producing milk and fattening sheep (for Muslim holidays) and collaborated with America’s Wisconsin University on research to help manage conflicts between crop and livestock producers. In the scorching hot and resource-challenged Sahelian environments, where transhumance is practised as it has been for millennia, and where millet and livestock mean life and livelihood to most of the population, conflicts over increasingly scarce water and land resources are increasing.

Livestock Relief Man HerdingFAO renewed on 2 August its appeal for $4 million urgently needed for veterinary services and to feed livestock, which play a key role in the livelihoods and food security of many of the most vulnerable households. ‘Livestock are crucial to agro-pastoralist families in Niger, for income as well as food,’ the Chief of FAO’s Emergency Operations Service, Fernanda Guerrieri, said. ‘The sale of livestock is often a measure of last resort, after families have already consumed all of their cereal stocks and require cash to buy food for the lean period before the next harvest. A loss of livestock or decrease in their market value can have a devastating impact on these families’ food security,’ she added. Livestock aid is needed for more than 10,000 families who have lost their animals. Without this assistance, the crisis could worsen and more food aid would be needed. The funds will be used to provide veterinary services and feed for more than 10,000 families facing severe hunger due to livestock losses. Livestock Floods

Oxfam is helping 28,000 people by buying, for a fair price, cattle too emaciated for herders to sell. Cattle prices have been plummeting and are now 90 percent lower than they were before the crisis. Even healthy animals are fetching only a fraction of their former value. A strong bull that once went for more than $500 now sells for as little as $18. ‘Oxfam’s response is stimulating the economy by trying to use local markets,’ said Mike Delaney, Oxfam America’s director of humanitarian response. Another voucher-for-work project is linked to the cattle-buying program. Oxfam has already purchased 1,000 cows from local breeders for about $53 a head, providing people with money to feed both their families and their remaining animals. Oxfam then has the cows slaughtered in the villages and inspected by veterinarians to make sure the meat is fit for consumption. Women involved in the voucher-for-work program dry or fry the meat. Oxfam gives some of the meat to them in exchange for their work, or distributes it through the rest of the voucher program.

Bitter Ironies Scrub Newcomers heading into Niger’s countryside find it surprisingly green. Aside from pockets of dusty scrub, healthy young foot-tall millet crops appear from one horizon to the other. Herein lies a bitter paradox. The rainy season, which gets into full swing in August, actually started well this year, in June. But this does nothing to fill the so-called hunger gap between the June planting and October harvesting. Crops may be growing, but they are of no use to anyone for another two months. New grass sprouting from sandy rangelands is just as useless to the ubiquitous herds of cattle and donkeys, for many of which the young shoots are too little too late; the animals lie down on the new green pastures and don’t get up again. Things appear deceptively fine even in the mud hut villages – where the women pound millet and the children run and play – until one takes a closer look or pays a visit to the women’s huts where the ‘silent hunger’, as its being called, has struck young children, making them too weak or ill to cry.

Many villagers say they can’t afford to leave their families to take a famished child to the nearest feeding centre. They are busy ploughing and preparing their land for the next crop that will feed their household for the coming year. Even when sick, many people won’t come for treatment because they’re frightened to leave the young crops that they’re trying to nurse into life. It is a deathly bind. Top United Nations aid official Jan Egeland and aid officials have accused the international community of reacting slowly to the crisis in Niger, which was widely predicted after last year's poor harvests, and further say the slow response has greatly increased the cost of dealing with the crisis. When the first appeal was made, only $1 per day, per person would have helped solve the food crisis, the U.N. has said. Now that the situation has worsened and people are weaker, $80 will be needed per person. One reason for the delay in international response was that other events were crowding out news about the hunger in major media.

Following the worst turmoil in Darfur and the tsunami in Southeast Asia, ironically it was the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in June, with the rock-star Live8 concerts and ‘Make Poverty History’ campaigns that attended it, that helped push the Niger crisis off world headlines. While the G8 was noisily canceling the debts of Niger and 13 other African countries, this club of the world’s most powerful nations failed to notice or even mention Niger’s hunger crisis.

The Cereal Crisis Women As local cereals (millet, sorghum) have become scarce items on the market in Niger and the subregion as well as subject to speculation, prices have doubled over normal. Most warehouses are empty. Assessments undertaken by CILSS (the regional inter-governmental body responsible for Sahelian food security) found that unusually high prices for millet and sorghum in neighboring markets in Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Ivory Coast have been drawing Sahelian grain to the south during the last few months. Outflow from Niger has been significant and a major factor in driving up prices in the agro-pastoral and pastoral zones of Niger where purchasing power is the weakest. In most years, Niger imports cereals from surplus-producing areas of its neighbors in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali. However, this year, each of these three countries imposed restrictions of exports, due to fears of famine and grain shortages, despite trade treaties that forbid that. CILSS has cautioned that overstatements of the severity of Sahelian food crises by the media, international agencies, and NGOs have had the unintended consequence of causing private traders to withhold stocks from the market, in anticipation of higher prices, or of local purchases by aid agencies, further pushing up cereal prices.

These issues merit further study. Market PlaceWest African grain markets are generally working very well, perhaps too well. The high cereal price levels found in the Sahel are being driven by strong demand for Sahelian cereal production, and greater purchasing power in coastal West African countries. Markets in the most food-insecure zones in the Sahel (and in Niger) usually have higher cereal prices than elsewhere, due to the high costs of transporting grain to these sparsely-populated and poor areas. Although their governments are committed to open markets, high costs and infrastructure limitations do not allow Sahelian markets to efficiently collect surpluses, anticipate local and regional demand conditions, and supply foods to poor households at affordable prices. Source: FEWS NET

ILRI, Livestock and the Millennium Development Goals Boy Ringing Bell The international community is laying the groundwork for a new, coherent and eminently feasible attack on global poverty. The focus of this effort is the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – eight commitments drawn from the Millennium Declaration, endorsed by all member states of the United Nations in September 2000. Ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education – all by the target date of 2015 – they represent a set of simple but powerful objectives that every man and woman in the street, from New York to Nairobi to New Delhi, can easily understand and support. . . . The MDG are people-centred, time-bound and measurable. . . . Now we have a set of clear, measurable indicators, focused on basic human needs, that can provide clear benchmarks of progress – or the lack of it – both globally and on a country-by-country basis. . . . Never before have such concrete goals been formally endorsed by rich and poor countries alike. And never before have the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and all the other principal arms of the international system come together behind the same set of development objectives. . . . And the MDG are achievable. – Source: Kofi Annan, Economist: The World in 2003

The knowledge and technologies generated by ILRI and its many partners in the North and South that are conducting livestock research for development are helping to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. ILRI is a non-profit-making and non-governmental organization working at the crossroads of livestock and poverty. ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Institute belongs to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). This association of more than 60 governments and organizations supports a network of 15 Future Harvest agricultural research centres working to reduce poverty, hunger and environmental degradation in developing countries. The co-sponsors of the CGIAR are the World Bank, the UNDP, FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Niger: Emergency assistance is not enough

Emergency assistance is not enough to end Niger's hunger problems. The underlying causes of the current crisis can be addressed only through longer term research, development and policy programs focusing on agriculture, particularly on livestock keeping, the backbone of Nigerian livelihoods. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), a US-funded and research-based organization, argues convincingly in its July reports that the crisis in Niger is serious but less severe and affects far fewer people than current crises in four other African countries. This forecast organization warns of the consequences of continued failure to address the root causes of Niger's current crisis. 'Without a similar commitment and prolonged attention to addressing the chronic issues that are at the heart of the current localized crisis in Niger, the same problems will reoccur again soon,' FEWS NET warns. ILRI agrees that much more of the world's attention and resources should be spent addressing the root causes of the hunger crisis now afflicting parts of Niger and its Sahelian neighbours. Emergency assistance is not enough. Such assistance will save the lives of infants today who will go on to suffer and succumb to the affects of poverty over the coming months and years, after the world's media has turned its spotlight elsewhere. The factors underlying Niger's chronic food insecurity need to be understood and acted upon. That requires more research and development work. The case for making agriculture – and livestock production in particular – a priority in research, development, policy and emergency assistance for Niger is overwhelming. The present food crisis also calls for better and stronger links between relief, development and research work. Such links will help ensure that decisions made by development and relief workers are based on credible evidence, that policymakers and journalists are informed by the high-quality research-based information, that research remains relevant to local priorities and that short-term emergency activities do not inadvertently divert longer term R&D from tackling the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerabilities of poor people We need to work in new turfless ways, bringing together the resources and expertise of emergency, development and research workers for integrated and long- as well as short-term problem-solving. The attention Niger's hunger and suffering has generated in recent weeks offers us an opportunity to scale up work that will not only relieve the suffering of the tiny victims of this Nigerian tragedy and their families, and not only help farming communities rebuild their livelihoods, but also leave a more enabling legacy for future generations of the  peoples of the Sahel, whose indomitable spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges we would do well to emulate. Links ILRI photo essay (pdf and html): 'Niger: Behind the Famine Footage' (8 Aug 2005). ILRI image gallery (Flash): ‘Daily Life and Livestock Livelihoods in Niger’ (Jun 2005). ILRI website ‘Top Story’ (html): ‘Livestock aid urgently needed for Niger families’ (2 Aug 2005).