Pastoral livestock development in the Horn: Where the centre cannot (should not) hold

Pastoralism and Development in Africa

Who eats better, pastoral children in mobile herding or settled communities? (answer: mobile). Which kind of tropical lands are among those most at risk of being grabbed by outsiders for development? (rangelands). Are pastoral women benefitting at all from recent changes in pastoral livelihoods? (yes). Which region in the world has the largest concentration of camel herds in the the world? (Horn of Africa). Where are camel export opportunities the greatest? (Kenya/Ethiopa borderlands). Is the growth of ‘town camels and milk villages’ in the Somali region of Ethiopia largely the result of one man’s (desperate) innovation? (yes). Which is the more productive dryland livestock system, ranching or pastoralism? (pastoralism). Is irrigation involving pastoralists new? (no). Are we missing opportunities to make irrigated agriculture a valuable alternative or additional livelihoods to pastoralism? (perhaps).

The answers to these and other fascinating questions most of us will never have thought to even ask are found in a new book, Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, edited by Andy Catley, of the Feinstein International Center, at Tufts University; Jeremy Lind, of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and Future Agricultures Consortium; and Ian Scoones, of the Institute of Development Studies, the STEPS Centre and the Future Agricultures Consortium. Published in 2012, it includes a chapter by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?

Thirty-six experts in pastoral development update us on what’s so in pastoral development in the Greater Horn of Africa, highlighting innovation and entrepreneurialism, cooperation and networking and diverse approaches rarely in line with standard development prescriptions. The book highlights diverse pathways of development, going beyond the standard ‘aid’ and ‘disaster’ narratives. The book’s editors argue that ‘by making the margins the centre of our thinking, a different view of future pathways emerges’. Contributions to the book were originally presented at an international conference on The Future of Pastoralism in Africa, held at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in Mar 2011.

Here are a few of the book’s ‘unstandard’ ways of looking at pastoralism.

‘Overall, mainstream pastoral development is a litany of failure. . . . Pastoral borderlands are . . . beyond the reach of the state, and so the development industry.  ·  Perhaps no other livelihood system has suffered more from biased language and narratives than pastoralism. . . . Hidden in these narratives also are political agendas that perceive mobile pastoralism as a security and political threat to the state, and, therefore, in need of controlling or eliminating.  ·  To avoid the Malthusian label, or simply out of ignorance, many social scientists have neglected the important implications of demographic trends in pastoral areas. . . . Some of the fastest growing towns in Kenya are in pastoralist districts.  ·  Local demand for education is consistently high among pastoralists, a pattern that was not the case even 10–15 years ago.  ·   It seems feasible . . . to propose a pastoral livestock and meat trade value approaching US$1 billion for the Horn in 2010.  ·  The past dominant livestock practice characterized as traditional mobile pastoralism” is increasingly rare. . . . The creation of a relatively elite commercial class within pastoral societies is occurring at a rapid pace in some areas.  ·  . . . [P]astoral lands are vulnerable to being grabbed. On a scale never before envisioned, the most valued pastoral lands are being acquired through state allocation or purchase . . . . The Tana Delta sits at the precipice of an unprecedented transformation as a range of investors seek to acquire large tracts of land to produce food and biofuels and extract minerals, often at the expense of pastoralists’ access to key resources. . . . A notable facet of changing livelihoods in the Tana Delta is the increasingly important role of women in the diversifying economy, a trend seen elsewhere in the region. . . . Until now, pastoralists have been mostly unsuccessful at challenging proposed land deals through the Kenyan courts.  ·  The shift from a breeding herd to a trading herd is perhaps the biggest shift in Maasai pastoralism.  ·  Although drought is a perennial risk to pastoralist livelihoods, an emerging concern is securing access to high value fodder and other resources to support herds, in areas where rangelands are becoming increasingly fragmented due to capture of key resource sites.  ·  During the 2009–2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, several hundred pastoralists who participated in an Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) scheme in northern Kenya received cash payments.  ·  Despite its many challenges, mobile pastoralism will continue in low-rainfall rangelands throughout the Horn for the simple reason that a more viable, alternative land use system for these areas has not been found. . . . But the nature of pastoralism in 2030 will be very different than today in 2012. . . .’

One of the book’s chapters is on Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism? It was written by ILRI’s Polly Ericksen (USA), whose broad expertise includes food systems, ecosystem services and adaptations to climate change by poor agricultural and pastoral societies; and her ILRI colleagues Jan de Leeuw (Netherlands), an ecologist specializing in rangelands (who has since moved to ILRI’s sister Nairobi CGIAR centre, the World Agroforestry Centre); Mohammed Said (Kenyan), an ecologist specializing in remote sensing and community mapping; Philip Thornton (UK) and Mario Herrero (Costa Rica), agricultural systems analysts who focus on the impacts of climate and other changes on the world’s poor countries and communities; and An Notenbaert (Belgium), a land use planner and spatial analyst.

The ILRI scientists argue that if we’re going to find ways to adapt to climate change, we’re going to need to learn from pastoralists — who, after all, are demonstrably supreme managers of highly variable climates in addition to rapidly changing social, economic and political contexts — about how to make sustainable and profitable, if cyclical and opportunistic, use of increasingly scarce, temporally erratic and spatially scattered water, land, forage and other natural resources.

In important respects, pastoral people are at the forefront of responses to climate change, given their experience managing high climate variability over the centuries. Insights from pastoral systems are critical for generating wider lessons for climate adaptation responses.’

What scientists don’t know about climate change in these and other drylands, they warn, is much, much greater than what we do know. So:

The key question is how to make choices today given uncertainties of the future.’

Because ‘the more arid a pastoral environment, the less predictable the rainfall’, and because ‘vegetation growth closely follows rainfall amount, frequency and duration, . . . the primary production of rangelands is variable in time and space’, with the primary driver of this variability in livestock production in pastoral areas being the availability or scarcity of forages for feeding herds of ruminant animals (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, camels). In severe or prolonged droughts, forage and water scarcity become a lethal combination, killing animals en masse. The authors quote former ILRI scientist David Ndedianye, a Maasai from the Kitengela rangelands in Nairobi’s backyard, and other ILRI colleagues who report in a 2011 paper on pastoral mobility that pastoral livestock losses in a 2005 drought in the Horn were between 14 and 43% in southern Kenya and as high as 80% in a drought devastating the same region in 2009. It may take four or five years for a herd to recover after a major drought.

Map of flip in temperatures above and below 30 degrees C
Maps of a flip in temperatures above 30 degrees C. Left: Threshold 4 — maximum temperature flips to greater than 30°C. Right: Threshold 5 — maximum temperature in the growing season flips to greater than 30°C. Map credit: Polly Ericksen et al., Mapping hotspots of climate change and food insecurity in the global tropics, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), 2011.

Evidence from a range of modelling efforts was used by the authors to calculate places in the global tropics where maximum temperatures are predicted to flip from less than 30 degrees C to greater than 30 degrees C by 2050. This temperature threshold is a limit for a number of staple crops, including maize beans and groundnut. Heat stress also affects grass and livestock productivity. Large areas in East African may undergo this flip, according to these models, although the authors warn that these predictions remain highly uncertain.

Thornton and Herrero in a background paper to the World Bank’s 2010 World Development Report investigated the impacts of increased drought frequency on livestock herd dynamics in Kenya’s Kajiado District. ‘Their results indicate that drought every five years keeps the herds stable as it allows sufficient time for the herds to re-establish. A once in three year drought interval by contrast drives livestock density to lower levels . . . . Hence, if there is a greater frequency of drought under climate change, this might have a lasting impact on stocking density, and the productivity of pastoral livestock systems.

The results were extrapolated to all arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya and estimated that 1.8 million animals could be lost by 2030 due to increased drought frequency, with a combined value of US$630 million due to losses in animals, milk and meat production. . . .’

In the face of changes in climate (historical and current), many pastoralists will change the species of animals they keep, or change the composition of the species in their herds. In the space of three decades (between 1997/8 and 2005–10) in Kenya, for example, the ratio of shoats (sheep and goats) to cattle kept increased significantly. Goats, as well as camels, are more drought tolerant than cattle, and also prefer browse to grasses.

Such changes in species mix and distribution will have important implications for overall livestock productivity and nutrition, as well as milk production.’

While change is and always has been fundamental to pastoralist livelihood strategies, much more—and much more rapid and diverse—change is now sweeping the Horn and many of the other drylands of the world, with local population explosions and increasing rangeland fragmentation and civil conflicts coming on top of climate and other global changes whose nature remains highly uncertain. New threats are appearing, as well as new opportunities.

While the ILRI team argues that we can and should look to pastoralist cultures, strategies and innovations for insights into how the wider world can adapt better to climate change, they also say that ‘development at the margins’ is going to be successful only where pastoralists, climate modellers and other scientists  work together:

. . . [A]daptation and response strategies in increasingly variable environments must emerge from grounded local experience and knowledge, as well as be informed by increasingly sophisticated [climate] modeling efforts.’

Support for the conference and book came from the UK Department for International Development, the United States Agency for International Development in Ethiopia, and CORDAID. Purchase the book from Routledge (USD44.96 for the paperback edition): Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, first issued in paperback 2012, edited by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones, Oxon, UK, and New York: Routledge and Earthscan, 328 pages. You’ll find parts of the book available on Google books here.

To read the ILRI chapter—Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?, by Polly Ericksen, Jan de Leeuw, Philip Thornton, Mohammed Said, Mario Herrero and An Notenbaert—contact ILRI communications officer Jane Gitau at j.w.gitau [at]

Climate change impacts on pastoralists in the Horn: Transforming the ‘crisis narrative’

Shiferaw Teklemariam, Ethiopian Minister of Federal Affairs, opened a ‘Future of Pastoralism in Africa’ Conference yesterday (21 March 2011), which is organized by Tufts University and Future Agricultures Consortium and being held on the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The Minister’s talk was followed by that of Abebe Haile Gabriel, director of the African Union Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture who reminded his audience that ‘Pastoralism is nothing new but is continually forgotten.’

Ian Scoones, of the Future Agricultures Consortium and the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, then set the scene for the conference with remarks such as the following. ‘There is a moment now, with renewed interest in pastoralism in the Africa Union, regional bodies and national governments, for evidence-based research to inform policy. Even a decade ago, we would have been urging governments and the Africa Union to give pastoralism attention. They are now taking pastoralism seriously, as a driver of growth. . . . This meeting comes in a long lineage of meetings discussing the future of pastoralism in Africa. (A meeting in 1951 in Niamey was an early one.) But recently, there has been massive change and dynamism in this continent’s pastoral areas. . . . Popular reports on pastoralism are dominated by crisis narratives. While the popular discourse continues with doom and gloom scenarios, we see dynamic change with growth—as in the livestock trade booms in the borderlands—with both winners and losers. . . .

‘The research on pastoralism in Africa has a rich tradition. Among the more classic works are the optimism displayed in the 1960s and 1970s about the transformation of pastoralism; 1980s work done by ILRI’s predecessor, ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa), on the Borana pastoralists of Ethiopia; the 1990s’ focus on land tenure issues and ‘disequilibrium’ in rangelands; the attention given by CRSP (Collaborative Research Support Program) and others to pastoralist poverty and livelihoods; recent emphasis on the marketing and commercialization of pastoralist livestock products; and today’s attention to the impacts of climate change, conflict and insecurity on pastoral communities. . . .

‘We want in this workshop to build on this huge body of work, to reflect on it, and to judge how robust were those findings. We want to know what new insights are suggested by today’s research and what they suggest for policymaking. . . . We want to offer possible scenarios for pastoralist areas and to do so we want to try out a simple approach. This simplistic diagram categorizes pastoralists according to whether their access to markets and resources is good or poor, as in the following.

  1. Where pastoralist access to both markets and resources is good, there is potential for commercialization and export trade.
  2. Where pastoralist access to both markets and resources is poor, communities should seek alternative livelihood strategies and ways to exit pastoralism.
  3. Where pastoralist access to resources is good but to markets is poor, traditional mobile pastoralism should continue to dominate.
  4. And where pastoralist access to markets is good but to resources is poor, ways of diversifying livelihoods and adding value to livestock products is needed.’

Impacts of climate change on pastoralist communities
Several ILRI scientists participated in a session after lunch on the impacts of climate change on pastoralism. These included Polly Ericksen, who made a presentation, Shirley Tarawali, Jan de Leeuw, Andrew Mude and David Nkedianye. The latter, a Maasai who worked with ILRI while doing his doctoral research, also made a presentation.

Polly Ericksen, of ILRI, reminded her audience that managing climate variability and climate risk is at the very heart of pastoralism. The consequences and implications of climate change are therefore of paramount importance to pastoral livelihoods, production systems and landscapes. The paper developed by Ericksen—along with her ILRI colleagues Phil Thornton, Augustine Ayantunde, Mario Herrero, Mohamed Said and Jan de Leeuw—explores what we do and do not know about how climate change will unfold in pastoral areas of sub-Saharan Africa. And it stresses the importance of successful strategies for adapting to climate change at local as well as higher governance levels for the future of pastoralism.

Among other remarks from Ericksen were the following. ‘Pastoralists of course manage well the considerable changes in climate that they experience. Pastoralism is a supreme adaption to managing climatic variability. . . . The 2009 drought in Kenya killed up to 80% of the livestock kept by the country’s pastoralists. . . . Many crop farmers in Africa’s drying regions will start to incorporate more livestock, a trend that has been occurring in West Africa for the last 2 to 3 decades. . . . New research shows that, contrary to IPCC estimates, the Kenya highlands have been getting drier and are likely to continue to dry. There is fundamental uncertainty regarding the impacts of climate change—not least because we don’t even know how we humans will manage ourselves in the face of climate change.’

Remarks by Gufu Oba, of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences: ‘The variability of Africa’s drylands—season to season, year to year, place to place—makes nonsense of theories of “carrying capacity”. . . . Pastoralists do not run away from risks: they face them straight on. And communities and individuals differ greatly in how they cope with threats. . . . Pastoralism will be less mobile in future, but pastoralism will survive: herders will not exchange their lava rocks and other dryland features for anything.’

David Nkedianye, heading a non-governmental organization called ‘Reto-o-Reto’ (‘I help you, you help me’ in the Maa language) in Kenya’s Kitengela rangeland region, in his presentation said that lack of land tenure and land use policies, increasing demographic pressure, growing rural-to-urban migration, insecurity and lack of a cross-bornder migration framework are some of the key issues to be tackled soon if pastoralism is to survive into the future. Lessons from southern Kenya indicate that trends in land fragmentation and radical policies on land use have been difficult to change. Going by the going rates and direction,  pastoralism is headed for harder times in the future. Nkedianye also said the following: ‘Lands in Kajiado are being privatized and fragmented much faster than those in Narok, with huge land speculation going on. . . . In Kajiado in the great drought of 2008/9, only herders able to move to the wetter north were able to save some of their stock. . . .

‘The irony is that as we open up more and more rangelands by providing roads and other basic infrastructure, more people will move in, which will reduce pastoral mobility even more. . . . We need to be consistent and relentless in our policy messages and to promote our women and our adolescents. Two things that are making a big difference in my part of Kenyan Maasailand [Kajiado] are education and Christianity. . . . Pastoralists have “exited” pastoral livelihoods since time immemorial but the present inability of many herders who have lost their animals to go back into pastoral ways of life once they have rebuilt their herds is perhaps new. . . . We have to come to terms with longer term pressures, particularly demographic. . . . Cell phones have changed pastoralism a lot. But more important are that rich people have richer connections.’

Terry McCabe, of the University of Colorado, reminded the group that the biggest shock to East Africa’s pastoralists in more than one hundred years was not climate change but disease—specifically the great rinderpest plague of the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th centuries, which killed whole populations of wild and domesticated animals and led to the starvation of many herding communities.’

The Future Agricultures Consortium and the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University jointly organized this conference to assess ongoing change and innovation in Africa’s pastoral areas. Researchers, policymakers, field practitioners and donor representatives at this conference are assessing the present and future challenges to African pastoralism to define new research and policy agendas.

View the presentation of Polly Ericksen

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