Agriculture / Article / Climate Change / DRYLANDSCRP / East Africa / Livelihoods / Livestock / Pastoralism / Vulnerability

Making visible the ‘invisible benefits’ of African pastoralism will spur national and pastoral economies both

Fulani boy in Niger herds his family's animals

Pastoral areas of Africa are experiencing a booming livestock export trade and inflow of investment that can be harnessed to grow national economies (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

A comprehensive economic evaluation of pastoral livestock’s often invisible livelihood benefits in Africa’s drylands could be key in maintaining and harnessing the increasing economic benefits for poor herders and communities living in the continent’s marginal lands.

An article published by IRIN last month (16 May 2013) cites findings from a book published last year by the Future Agricultures Consortium, to which researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) contributed.

Polly Ericksen, who leads a CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Systems in East and Southern Africa and is based at ILRI, is one of the book’s authors. In a chapter on Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism? Ericksen says ‘insights from pastoral systems are critical for generating wider lessons on climate adaptation responses’ because ‘pastoral people are at the forefront of responding to climate change using their experiences in managing high climate variability over the centuries.’

The article says pastoralism, against many odds, is generating an ‘estimated USD1 billion each year through trade between pastoral communities in Africa’ and ‘contributes to the livelihoods of millions of people . . . in some of the poorest and most deprived areas’ of the world.

‘[We are seeing] in areas where pastoralists live, the growth of a booming livestock export trade, the flourishing of the private sector, the expansion of towns with the inflow of investment, and the emergence of a class of entrepreneurs commanding a profitable market, and generating employment and other business opportunities; and all of this driven without a reliance on external development aid’, said the authors of the study

Research by ILRI scientists has shown that ‘pastoralism contributes between 10 and 44 percent of the GDP of African countries. An estimated 1.3 billion people benefit from livestock value chain’.

But even though pastoralism is ‘a key economic activity in dryland areas where other forms of agriculture are impossible’, assessing its benefits to livestock keepers and their communities is often hampered by the use of techniques that are not adapted to capturing its impacts. ‘The benefits that pastoralism brings are invisible to most governments because the methodologies they use for assessing economic activity and growth, the most popular being GDP, are not adapted to pastoralism’, says the article.

According to Ian Scoones, of the Institute of Development Studies, who is one of the book’s editors, ‘rapid urbanization in Africa will continue to provide increased market opportunities for pastoralists’ and will provide ‘opportunities for diversification’ for some livestock keepers.

‘There are spin-off benefits from such trade, including opportunities for engaging in diversified activities, including processing animal products, providing transport, fodder and marketing support, and offering services in the growing small towns in pastoral areas’, says Scoones.

The book recommends ‘a total economic valuation framework’ to capture the benefits of pastoralism, which could lead to a better appreciation of pastoral livestock’s contribution to individual livelihoods and countries economies. For example, the article highlights the use of this framework by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which revealed that ‘livestock’s contribution to Kenya’s agricultural GDP was about two and half times greater than official estimates indicated’.

Pastoral livestock keeping will inevitably face many challenges in coming years, as pastoralists are ‘forced to abandon their livelihoods’ through conversion of their lands for use in more ‘viable’ development projects like large-scale irrigation schemes or ranches. The book’s authors, however, advocate for a more nuanced approach that will allow pastoralism to continue producing ‘benefits in arid and semi-arid environments characterized by rainfall variability’. Such approaches might lead to more sustainable change, at least for those communities already benefiting from improved livestock trade and business opportunities in these regions.

Read the whole article on the IRIN website: Pastoralism’s economic contributions are significant but overlooked.

Read an ILRI news article about the book cited in this article: Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins.

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