Article / Capacity Strengthening / Drought / East Africa / Ethiopia / ILRI / Pastoralism / Vulnerability / Women

Capacity building helps Ethiopia’s pastoral women transform their impoverished, drought-ravaged communities

Borana girl

Borana girl (photo on Flickr by Gustavo Jeronimo).

Layne Coppock, of Utah State University, and Solomon Desta, Seyoum Tezera and Getachew Gebru, of Managing Risk for Improved Livelihoods, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, report in the journal Science this month on a project they conducted in southern pastoral Ethiopia that indicates that capacity building can, and should, ‘set the stage for the use of new information and technology’ in pastoral regions of Africa. The authors say the results of their study demonstrate that such capacity building has specifically helped pastoral women transform impoverished communities in southern Ethiopia.

‘Poverty, drought, and hunger devastate people on Africa’s rangelands. We used an action-oriented approach from 2000 to 2004 to build capacity among thousands of pastoralists to diversify livelihoods, improve living standards, and enhance livestock marketing. The process included collective action, microfinance, and participatory education.

Poor women previously burdened by domestic chores became leaders and rapidly changed their communities.

Ethiopian Boran women's group (PARIMA project)

Boran women’s group in southern Ethiopia, who worked with the Pastoral Risk Management Project (PARIMA), in which these and other Ethiopian women were originally inspired by innovative, dynamic women from northern Kenya (photo by Claudia Radel/UtahStateUniversity).

Drought occurred from 2005 to 2008. We assessed intervention effects on household drought resilience with a quasiexperimental format that incorporated survey-based comparisons of treatment groups with ex post controls. Interventions led to major improvements in trends for quality of life, wealth accumulation, hunger reduction, and risk management. . . .

Excerpts (with reference and figure numbers removed)
‘. . . Pastoralists today are often poverty stricken and beset by hunger. Efforts to “develop” pastoralism have had little success. Human population growth, overgrazing, annexation of key resources by outside entities, physical insecurity, and underinvestment in pastoral areas contribute to declining per capita food production, reduced vegetation cover, increased soil erosion, loss of herd mobility, and more marginalized people. Multiyear droughts pose grave threats to pastoralists because crop failures and massive death losses of animals escalate into crises for food availability, income generation, and asset preservation. Technical options to increase food production or lessen pressure on natural resources remain elusive, largely because of environmental and social constraints. . . .

‘Once considered a prime example of sustainable pastoralism in eastern Africa, the Borana pastoral system of semiarid southern Ethiopia exemplifies the changes noted above. The people have become poorer and more vulnerable . . . . The main objective of this research was to determine whether pastoral livelihoods on the Borana Plateau could indeed be diversified in a sustainable fashion to lessen or reverse the downward spiral at the household level.

Ethiopian Boran community with ILRI's Seyoum Tezera (PARIMA project)

Boran livestock herders in southern Ethiopia in 2007 with ILRI’s Seyoum Tezera (middle of back row) of the Pastoral Risk Management Project (PARIMA) (photo by Claudia Radel/UtahStateUniversity).

‘. . . Stepwise capacity-building interventions were undertaken . . . . By 2004, this process had resulted in the creation of 59 collective-action groups on the Borana Plateau with a total membership of 2300. Capacity building for individuals took 3 years on average. Women made up 76% of the founding members of collective-action groups, and they quickly assumed leadership positions. This was surprising given the subservient domestic roles that women traditionally occupy in this society . . . .

We interpret these findings, overall, as evidence that the capacity-building package helped people become more resilient and better manage risks associated with the 2005–2008 drought.

‘Careful capacity-building processes can provide durable, cost-effective, and low-risk options for improving the human condition in marginal lands. This echoes the view that filling gaps in human development is the key for progress in Africa’s pastoral areas. Inputs such as trading grants may add value to capacity building in some circumstances. The cost of our capacity-building process was about U.S. $1 per person per month over 3 years. The low cost is due to the reliance on participatory education and peer networking . . . .

The greatest future challenges include how to reliably deliver effective capacity-building modules more broadly to the pastoral population, as well as how to sustain commercial livestock sales given the vicissitudes of markets and the crippling effects of drought.

‘A continued focus on technical solutions to rangeland problems by national or international research bodies assumes that technology is the driver for progress. We argue, rather, that here human development is the driver and technology provides the tools. Human development provides the vision, desire, and opportunity to improve lives, and technology can then serve evolving aspirations. . . .

‘Development scholars can strive to broaden the academic agenda by including more societal engagement as part of project research design. This can generate reliable scientific knowledge, as well as build human capacity at multiple levels. Our experience confirms that careful strengthening of human, social, and financial capital can rapidly improve lives and help transform communities in remote, harsh environments where the technical options to boost productivity remain elusive.’

This study was part of a project called Improving Pastoral Risk Management Project on East African Rangelands (PARIMA), which is part of the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

EDITOR’S CORRECTION (of 12 Dec 2011): One member of the study team and co-author, Seyoum Tezera, was a staff member of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Two other members/co-authors, Solomon Desta and Getachew Gebru, were employees of Utah State University, based for most of this project at ILRI’s campuses in Nairobi, Kenya, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, respectively.

Read the whole paper in Science: Capacity building helps pastoral women transform impoverished communities in Ethiopia, by Layne Coppock, Solomon Desta, Seyoum Tezera and Getachew Gebru, 9 December 2011, Vol. 334, no. 6061. pp. 1394–1398, DOI: 10.1126/science.1211232.

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