Drought / Drylands / Event / Food Security / Mali / Niger / Pastoralism / Vulnerability / West Africa

Recurrent drought can encourage, not kill, pastoralism

Chad Food Crisis: Pastoralists taking their livestock to sell at the market

Pastoralists take their livestock to sell at a market in Moussoro, Bahr El Ghazal Province, in northern Chad. In 2012 countries across the Sahel region are once again facing a serious food crisis. This ecologically fragile region is becoming increasingly vulnerable to insufficient rainfall, and fluctuating animal and food prices that are affecting millions of pastoral and agro-pastoralists across this region of Africa. Grazing areas for their livestock are also fast disappearing, and as a result, their livelihoods are being threatened as the desertification takes its grip. (Photo on Flickr by Oxfam International.)

As many people in the West African Sahel begin to endure a particularly food-scarce  ‘lean season’, IRIN News reminds us that ‘drought does not mean the death of pastoralism’.

‘. . . Policies and attitudes towards pastoralists are changing (in Niger and Mali in particular) and helping communities to maintain their cultural integrity and become resilient as rains become more erratic, said Peter Gubbels, who authored the multi-agency 2010 study Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel.

‘Changes to Niger’s pastoral code ensure animals can drink water from public reserves such as ponds which happen to be located in cropping areas. The code also earmarks certain times of the year when agricultural fields can be accessed by their animals. But some pastoralists said the code is not always adhered to at the local level.

‘Aid agencies are creating and maintaining water points along corridors used by pastoralists to move their animals. The government and aid agencies are also paying pastoralists to stem the desert with planting schemes, which also help restore the fragile ecosystem.

‘Experts support diversification. “To some extent, livelihood diversification among pastoralists is not a totally new phenomenon but it can strengthen resilience to shocks like drought,” said Peter Little, a leading expert on pastoralism and the director of Emory University’s (Atlanta, USA) development studies programme.

‘Many policymakers mistake diversification among pastoralists as a desire to exit pastoralism“Those who are able to keep their animals mobile to adapt to climatic and vegetation variability but also have some family members pursue non-livestock activities are those who tend to be most resilient to drought.”

‘So the communities are not strictly nomadic (where both people and animals are mobile) any more.

That does not mean giving up on a way of life. “Many policymakers mistake diversification among pastoralists as a desire to exit pastoralism, but in reality it actually allows them to remain in pastoralism and to reap benefits both from livestock production and non-livestock activities,” Little said.

‘Studies from Niger show that sedentary forms of animal production are 20 percent less productive than mobile herding. “Nomadic herding generates six times more total revenue than agriculture practised in the same zones,” noted Gubbels. With droughts becoming more frequent, the already vast expanses of dry land will continue to grow, and pastoralism will be the only sustainable way of life. But it needs support in the form of financial services, improved access to water, education and health care. Urban areas are not able to sustain the many pastoralists who may no longer be able to sustain their lifestyles, he said. . . .’

Read the whole article at IRIN News: Drought does not mean death of pastoralism, 22 Mar 2012.

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