Drought / Drylands / DRYLANDSCRP / East Africa / Nutrition / Pastoralism / Pro-Poor Livestock / Vulnerability

Does Africa’s modernizing Horn no longer have room for 20 million drought-adapted livestock herders?

Tribal views: the Nyangatom at Kangate

Letting the herd down to water at the Omo River at Kangate, in southern Ethiopia (photo on Flickr by Carsten ten Brink).

Helen de Jode, editor of Modern and Mobile: The Future of Livestock Production in Africa’s Drylands, argues in the Guardian last week that ‘underneath the high visibility famine in the Horn of Africa lies an age-old way of living that has been disrupted by a modern world system.

‘. . . An estimated 20 million people live in the dryland areas of the Horn of Africa; nomads, or pastoralists, who own livestock and feed themselves, their communities and the regional economy with milk, meat and other livestock products. Pastoralists have lived in the harsh and erratic dryland environments of the Horn for centuries, surviving its regular and repeated cycle of droughts through their unique production strategy that depends on mobility.

‘While a farmer waits for the rain to arrive, a pastoralist moves to where the rain has already been—feeding their camels, cows, sheep or goats on the new grazing opportunities and accessing the water sources. . . .

‘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 . . . .

‘Food aid provides a temporary solution when drought hits, saving the lives of the pastoralists, but it often fails to save their livelihoods. Fortunately there are a number of initiatives that seek to protect herds before they are decimated by drought—vaccinating livestock, providing temporary food and water for animals, or selling the animals for slaughter before their condition deteriorates. Development agencies are also making important progress in understanding and managing the cycle of drought—recognising that in the Horn of Africa pastoralists are always expecting, surviving or recovering from a drought. . . .

Read the whole article at the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog: Food is desperately needed—but ultimately it is not the answer, 20 Jul 2011.

Read more about the drought-turning-into-famine in the Horn here and here and here and here.

Read about livestock-based research recommendations for better managing drought in this region, 18 Jul 2011.

One thought on “Does Africa’s modernizing Horn no longer have room for 20 million drought-adapted livestock herders?

  1. And in the letters section of the Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog is this:

    ‘The UN’s declaration of a famine across large parts of Somalia, the first there in a generation, is as tragic as it is predictable.

    ‘The international community, so adept at mounting vast emergency relief operations, has failed to mitigate the worst of this crisis through its blindness to the one self-evident fact that is clear to all who visit the Horn of Africa: that poor communities rely on livestock.

    ‘Many of the poorest people across the region, those who are finding their way to refugee camps, are nomadic pastoralists. They don’t grow crops and have few possessions: livestock is all they have of any worth. When pastoralists lose their livestock they are known as “dropouts” – they have dropped out of the nomadic lifestyle.

    ‘SPANA, the charity for animals across the developing world, last supported feeding programmes in north-east Kenya five years ago. There I met dropouts who had lost their livestock and livelihoods. It’s telling that on my last trip, just a matter of weeks ago, I met the same dispossessed pastoralists, now completely institutionalised and reliant on food aid, with no livelihood to return to.

    ‘The situation is worsening, but there is still time to act. We must protect at least a nucleus of livestock to ensure a future for these desperate people.’

    —Jeremy Hulme, Chief executive, SPANA

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