Africa / Agriculture / Animal Diseases / Climate Change / Crop-Livestock / Drought / Drylands / DRYLANDSCRP / ECF / Environment / Food Security / ILRI / Kenya / Livestock Systems / Pastoralism / Research / Vulnerability

Livestock research addresses issues underlying the pastoral crisis in the Horn of Africa

Things Fall Apart

Things have quickly fallen apart in this particular drought in the Horn’s vast drylands because of a toxic mix of underlying factors.

Land Use

Among the things not being redressed are land-use policies and practices that fail to account for population increases and thus are restricting herders to ever smaller, drier and more fragmented rangelands. Increasing numbers of mixed crop-and-livestock farmers are moving onto former rangelands and cropping them unsustainably. We are in urgent need of sustainable land-use policies in this region, which comprises many of the world’s oldest and most renowned pastoral cultures. These societies have endured here precisely because they have evolved lifestyles that suit the region’s highly variable environments that are largely inhospitable to cropping. Pastoral communities need land-use policies that help them enhance their uncommon resilience to climate and other shocks.

Climate Change

If climate change shows us anything, it is that we shall depend more and more on such expert traditional knowledge as that held by pastoralists to teach us how to cope better with increasing climatic shocks. Pastoralists can help us understand, for example, how they track with precision and take sustainable advantage of highly variable natural resources such as changing sources of grass and water.

Livestock Disease

It’s not obvious to many of us that protecting famished cattle, sheep and goats from disease is an urgent need in a drought. Our pastoral clients tell us otherwise. In the Kitengela rangelands here in Nairobi’s backyard, for example, Maasai herders are crying out for a vaccine that will protect their remaining cattle against the lethal tick-transmitted disease called East Coast fever. Conventional wisdom has it that with such a vaccine the Maasai and other pastoralists will begin keeping too many animals, leading to degradation of their rangelands. Again, our work with partners in Tanzania suggests otherwise. Maasai herders in northern Tanzania, just across the Kenyan border to the south, are paying USD10–12 to vaccinate each of their calves against this disease and are now selling their surplus animals as soon as they mature, at about two years of age. They are using their new income to diversify their pastoral livelihoods, to educate their girls, to build homes, to buy medical care—in short, to climb out of poverty. ILRI is working with private as well as public partners to get this vaccine, mass produced by ILRI, registered and distributed in Kenya and the nine other countries where East Coast fever is endemic.

Livestock Markets

Other ways of helping pastoralists cope with the big changes they are facing include higher quality information about when to sell their animals, better access to livestock markets, and policies and slaughterhouses that encourage timely destocking sales of animals. ILRI is working with a range of organizations to encourage these market incentives.

Livestock Feeds

Images appearing daily in the local papers of East Africa of dying animals and carcasses littering the rangelands wrench the heart, dramatically pointing up the fundamental need for new kinds of animal feeds and improved feeding strategies that herders and farmers can rely on to get them through the ‘hunger seasons’, as well as emergency feeding schemes to implement in times of crisis. ILRI is working with partners to widen use of disease-resistant Napier grass for animal feed and to improve the fodder as well as food value of cereal crops.

Livestock Breeding

Herders are superb judges of what breeds of animals best suit their environments, but as those environments (social and economic as well as natural) change at ever faster rates, we in the research community need to better understand and disseminate this indigenous knowledge more broadly. We are working to get our research information out faster and to many more farmers about, for example, new community-based breeding techniques and the pros and cons of adopting genetically improved breeds of animals or breeds that work well in distant but ecologically similar regions.

Livestock Insurance

This region’s livestock herders could be helped by new mechanisms that build on their time-honoured strategies to save their livestock assets. ILRI and partners, for example, have provided insurance agencies in Kenya with research-based information that is encouraging them to set up the region’s first viable insurance schemes for pastoral herders in Kenya’s northern drylands. Such ‘index-based’ livestock insurance schemes will dovetail with community action and new credit and food security measures to allow herders to insure themselves against periodic drought and to build their financial as well as livestock assets over time.

Pastoral Emergency Aid

Better coordination of emergency aid in the Horn would obviate well-meaning piecemeal aid that can work perversely to hurt the holistic and long-term needs of its pastoral groups. ILRI works with NGOs and governments to think through seemingly obvious solutions to pastoral drought, such as digging new water wells, which are not always in the best long-term interests of pastoralists.

Pastoral Ecosystem Payments

Longer-term solutions for supporting pastoral livelihoods are also being investigated. We are working with other organizations to explore the possibility of making payments to pastoral communities for the critically important ecosystem services their herding lifestyles and livelihoods provide the region as a whole. A ‘land lease’ scheme paying Maasai in Kitengela to keep their rangelands open for the benefit of wildlife as well as domestic stock is already working well in Kenya’s Kitengela rangelands and could provide a model for other wildlife-rich savannalands.

Pastoral Exit Strategies

And many of the region’s pastoralists will need support in their transition from herding to settled lifestyles. ILRI supports efforts by many organizations to diversify livelihood options among pastoralists as well as mixed crop-and-livestock farmers cultivating marginal lands.

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14 thoughts on “Livestock research addresses issues underlying the pastoral crisis in the Horn of Africa

  1. My heart is heavy as I read your report, i.e., Oct. 16 of the pastoral crisis in the Horn of Africa. I was at ILRI, in Spring of 1999, working for Dr. Jerry Stuth of Texas A&M University-Rangeland Ecology and Management with an East African Famine Early Warning System project. I was humbled by my opportunity to visit some of the Maasai, Turkana, and Samburu people. Precious people. For 10 years now, I have conducted a sustainable agriculture extension education program with the University of Tennessee-Center for Profitable Agriculture. TO MY POINT: What could I do – either within my university appointment OR as ‘mission’ efforts within my church (Vineyard Christian Fellowship), to help you in your mission? With much respect, Peg.

    • Peggy: We here at ILRI are also thinking of what we might do in future. I want to work more closely in future with national livestock experts—perhaps we could set up information groups using new social tools—so that we are all feeding each other information as we get it, and sharing it, and disseminating it quickly. Mobile phones radio programs, tv broadcasts, newspapers, we ought to be using all of these to give the best information we have. But your sustainable agricultural work is surely what we all must continue to do. Thanks for writing and your offer of support.

  2. It would be useful to include website links to more detailed information and reports regarding ILRI’s work on the various research / activities mentioned above. I do not find the WordPress links at the top of the page particularly helpful in accessing more in-depth information on the topics listed.

  3. I am a PhD student at Boku university here in vienna. I read the information you gave us it is very critical issue not for Ethiopians alone but the whole region of Africa.I think the rain fall pattern this year is not attractive on top of the high livestock population we have. In line with feed shortage, me as acitizin wants to contribute some thing related to cheap urea molasses multinutrient blocks evaluation using locally available materials and see the interaction effects of genotpe and feed ssource. I will start my work in the comimg September and I am sure I may contribute some thing to my people.
    Dear friends, it is an issue that we all should be ready to involve to save our pastoralists. We researchers should focus around this isuues and not research papers for the liberary. Thank you

  4. This element of sensitization is very useful for those of us in Nigeria who live next door to the Sahel that has a large population of Livestock. The prognosis given are exciting but are we able to rise to the occasion before the drought wrecks its damage.The decimation of livestock herds in Nigeria during the 1970’s drought are fresh in my mind – not a road to pass a second time.
    ILRI should make effort to attend the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change in December to challenge the world with our challenges in the animal industry where pastoralists still hold sway in Africa.

    • We shall indeed have representatives at the climate change conference in Copenhagen this December. And we shall be promoting adaptation and mitigation strategies like those listed above.

  5. for a some years now, life in the great horn of africa has deteriorated, real wealth of pastoralists have declined mostly due to range grazing resources degradation,most of us think the weather is to blame, probably, but who puts the animals out there? while climate change has indisputably caused ecological changes, man being in God’s image should be able to adapt to the changes, but we arent helping our pastoralists do that, am not yet beaten, who ever is out there and have done any research on the relationship between drought risk reduction and social factors in a pastoral setup, could help us start preparing our people for this challange.

  6. The challenges in the Horn of Africa and its potential impact have for long been a major concern for researchers and humanitarian advocates. Unfortunately, it seems our political leaders are yet to come to terms with these issues, involve the right people and act the right way.

    Whenever I reflect the crisis of pastoralism in Africa and see the approach and responses our respective countries, I conclude the pastoralists are largely abandoned and neglected.

    In Nigeria, the land crisis are ongoing, the rangeland degradation is escalating, livestock productivity declining and the people are increasingly marginalised.

    This situation calls for stronger unity among the African pastoralists and stronger support from international organisations to challenge the policies on pastoralism in the continent.

    Saleh B. Momale
    The Pastoral Resolve,
    Kaduna – Nigeria

    • While marginalization can play a significant role in derailing development at a micro-level, competition for national and global resources dictate a more open mind to win the war, why do pastoralists present more animals to the market during drought than during the rain and even refuse to sell during the drought. Managing drought in pastoral areas may need a new order,this should constitute our research agenda, why we fail and fail again is troublesome, probably, could we engage the pastoralism advocacy bottom -up?

  7. Times are changing, and the weather patterns too. With increasing pressure on available resources due to demographic, land use and policies on land, pastoralists will have to change to survive. Among the inevitable changes is to have more and more people off the land, diversifying livelihoods into off-land activities and more sensitive livestock husbandry, among others. For researchers, we need to give reliable information about diseases, weather patterns, appropriate breeds and their pros and cons, etc. This information must be shared in a timely way with pastoralists so it can be useful when it is really needed. The Policy environment can just be hostile to pastoralists thereby making matters worse. Some governments are full of a crop-oriented viewpoint that if all the land is not under cultivation it must be idle! these leaders also badly need education!

    • Pastoralist most needed change may be commercialization of production, imagine a rancher who sell animals just to meet basic needs?Diversification is a big word and requires external survival strategies, our problem is on the low value of marketed output,if we optimized on this, then, we may not need to put our high potential rangelands on crops, our leaders think it this way; if cattle keepers have to be provided with relief food(which is usually crops, then let them produce the crops.In the long run this will be self defeatist as most range soils are inherently inferior and can not sustain crops production

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