Does pastoralism — the livelihood of semi-nomadic animal herders like the Maasai — have a future in East Africa? In my concluding post on the famine in the Horn of Africa, it seems like a fair question to ask, no more controversial than whether Somalia should be divided into several countries (see here, here, here, and here for previous posts).
I ask this because much of the commentary on the current crisis in the Horn of Africa suggests that “development” is the long-term solution for the region to ward off the potential for recurrent crisis. However, according to FEWS NET, parts of Ethiopia affected by the drought have lost 60 to 80% of their cattle, 25 to 30% of their sheep and goats, and 25 to 40% of the camels. I can only imagine that the situation is more dire in Somalia. Indeed, the region has been buffeted by droughts over the last 10 years, which has likely compounded the effects of this year’s drought.
|Source: Cecchi et al. 2009|
Resilience and Capacity Building
I think one point, I think — we are talking Somalia. But I do think it’s important to say that, in Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent, in Kenya and certainly Uganda where there have been programs of the type, many programs of the type that Oxfam was talking about — long-term resiliency-building programs designed to build community resiliency — the overall levels of affected people are far less than one would’ve expected with a similar level of drought.
And I think a close look, particularly at Ethiopia, where perhaps more of that work in resiliency has been done, Kenya had some good successes — but frankly, their political problems over the last five or six years have made that more difficult to sustain — I think shows it isn’t business as usual.
For the past few years the Ethiopian government, the WFP and others have been running hunger-relief programmes which give out not only food aid but seeds and help to turn wasteland into productive acres. The result, says Josette Sheeran, the WFP’s boss, is that “we have one-third the number of people suffering from the emergency than we might have done [in Ethiopia].” Kenya has kept its school-meal programme running in the drought-stricken areas, so families know their children will get at least a meal a day. In 1984-85 famine ravaged the Karamoja region of eastern Uganda, which shares the same dryland climate as Somalia and Ethiopia. It might well fall into famine again this year. But Karamoja has had a lot of “food aid-plus” projects and so far is not on the WFP’s list of places in emergency need.
At least two people I talked to who have recently been in Ethiopia suggest that the drought is not getting that much national attention there. In light of the BBC story, donors are likely going to have to take a closer look at Ethiopia’s practices and exercise more oversight over how the more than $3 billion in foreign assistance the country receives annually is spent.
That said, no small part of that $3 billion has helped Ethiopia with its social safety net that has provided support for about 7 million people. The program has included cash transfers to poor people in exchange for work, some cash transfers for families without labor, drought risk financing, and a number of measures to improve agriculture (see here and here). Observers credit this program for preventing the situation in Ethiopia from becoming anything like Somalia.
What is the Future of Pastoralism?
In our research trip to Kenya in November 2010, most of the organizations we spoke with — the World Food Programme, FAO, the Red Cross, FEWS NET, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration — were all incredibly involved in food security programs in the agro-pastoralist areas of the region, Uganda (Karamoja), southern Sudan, Northern and Eastern Kenya (particularly Turkana), southern Ethiopia (Ogaden), and southern Somalia.
The map below of the emergency response in Kenya to the drought mirrors the organizations we talked to.
The interventions of these international organizations somewhat compensated for historic marginalization of these communities. Programs included income diversification, the construction of abattoirs, drought resistant agriculture, irrigation schemes, livestock de-stocking programs, livestock diversification efforts, cash transfers, livestock disease management, among a number of other efforts.
Predictably, the tired cliché that government is deliberately marginalising pastoralists is finding political amplification from the talking classes….But finger-pointing at government failure and celebrating perches of irrigated fields and urban concentrations as solutions, may over-simplify the monumental prolems of our rangelands.
Over recent decades, we have fashioned a system where extreme droughts lead to famine relief centres where people who would otherwise have died receive food and housing. We have no way of giving them a new livelihood as their animals are wiped out by drought and theft. After the drought, they have no stock to return to pastoralism. They live on the margins of a pastoral economy but are sustained by food aid.
|Pastoralists at an Ethiopian watering hole, photo: Peter Little|
|Is this the future of pastoralism?
Photos from the Guardian and the 2011 Future of Pastoralism conference
Stephen Sandford, a prominent scholar on pastoralism, echoed these concerns in 2006 (!) advancing the thesis that there are “Too many people too few livestock.” Steve McDowell of the Red Cross described the problem in terms of population growth of animals and humans with insufficient technical innovation to sustain them both:
As a result of a dramatic increase in the region’s population over several decades, five times as many families in pastoral communities have been trying to raise five times as many animals.
In Sandford’s view, the problem goes beyond investing in alternative livelihoods:
Most development organisations have accepted the current conventional wisdom that sound pastoral development requires policies and programs that protect pastoralists’ property rights, facilitate herd mobility, provide services (e.g. animal health) in a way that is designed to fit pastoral conditions, and place decision-making powers and control in the hands of pastoralists and their institutions. I strongly agree that those policies are needed. But they are no longer enough.
NGOs, donors and governments need to accept that what is afflicting pastoral GHA is not just a series of weather-induced independent crises requiring occasional emergency relief but a continuing structural (fundamental-imbalance) problem.
Famines don’t occur in pastoral areas when rains fail unless they have other problems. Crises occur when pastoralists’ migration patterns are disrupted and they can’t access reserve pastures and water sources. This is happening when governments refuse to allow pastoralists to move over the extensive areas they need to cover to cope with failed rains or because of conflict. This is the problem now: conflict in Somalia is also preventing pastoralists from Kenya and Ethiopia from going to their drought reserve area, and conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia is preventing pastoralists from accessing their good grazing lands (in the hawd).
But in recent decades vast areas of the pastoralist land in the Horn of Africa have been taken over by agriculture and large-scale commercial farms – often in the key strategic riverine areas previously reserved for times of drought. This has undermined the whole system and reduced yields of milk and meat.
The question I have is whether or not pastoralism as a way of life can be reconciled with these forces of modernity. I don’t have an obvious answer to this question, but it’s hard to see a pathway for pastoralists to be on the winning side of history here.
For a more extensive debate on the future of pastoralism, see this exchange here from Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) and the research produced by this March 2011 conference hosted by FAC and the Feinstein International Center from Tufts University.