Nine-year-old livestock herder near Kitengela town, outside Nairobi, at the height of the 2008–2009 drought in this region; dryland peoples in East Africa are both restricted and marginalized (photo on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).
Simon Levine says in an opinion piece in the New Agriculturist this month that the current famine in the Horn of Africa was preventable.
Levine, a research fellow at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) argues that ‘Even though lessons about how to prevent famines have been documented time and time again, we don’t learn. . . .
‘To stop the tragic pattern of crises in Africa’s dry areas, two things need to happen: the international community needs to support pro-pastoralist policies, and we have to make our humanitarian system effective and accountable. The first requires a greater understanding of nomadic livestock rearing systems and their value, and seeing pastoralism as a solution, not as a problem.
People also look for technical fixes, but the problem is much deeper and more political. For example, it’s common for government offices or NGOs to have projects like reseeding degraded rangelands. But these organisations don’t understand why the rangelands are degraded and overgrazed, which is to do with mobility. Developing an overall strategy for supporting pastoral systems is essential before looking at specific technical fixes.
‘Pro-pastoralist policies should recognise that nothing else works as well as pastoralism in dryland areas. . . .
‘International donors need to support programmes which demonstrate a respect for mobility and pastoral land rights. This, however, demands “joined-up” thinking. For example, a donor may have one budget supporting pastoralists and another to improve access to water. If the water budget is used to enable settlement in grazing lands, that may improve access to water, but deny access to the grazing reserves pastoralists depend on. . . .
‘Donors might justify waiting to see if a crisis really will materialise, to ensure best use of limited funds, but this is false logic. Firstly, the loss of people’s assets during these situations is enormous: in terms of lost livestock, hundreds of thousands of dollars is wasted each day. Secondly, there are significant cost-benefits to acting early. Treatment for an acutely malnourished child costs hundreds of pounds. Feeding a child to prevent malnutrition costs just a few pounds, and keeping their goats alive, as a source of milk and income, often costs even less. . . .’
Read the whole article by Simon Levine at the New Agriculturist: Famine is not a natural disaster—it’s our fault, Aug 2011.