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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information, please visit www.ilri.org