Article written

Seeking recognition for pastoralism, a key sector in resource management 0

Recurring drought and land disputes have recently placed nomadic pastoralists under the media spotlight. Their skill at managing livestock and the quality of the meat they produce – which is renowned far beyond their country’s borders – is however largely ignored by national political elites.

It is in order to fill this divide that the African Union launched the Pastoral Policy Framework in 2011. As explained by the Director of Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission, Gabriel Abebe Haile, during an international conference in Brussels organised  by the CTA*, this framework should contribute to strengthening the role played by pastoralism within the African economy. This is not to say that there will not be challenges ahead.


Nomadic pastoralism is not an evolutionary impasse”, says Jeremy Swift, who has spent most of his working career at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK.  Swift, who has studied nomadic pastoral societies in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, considers it not only a highly sophisticated system but also a highly profitable one, as demonstrated by Sudan’s traditional pastorals systems. “Pastoralists here are livestock experts. Far from being a subsistence economy, their contribution to the national economy is significant if seldom acknowledged”. The point made by Swift highlights one of the greatest challenges for pastoralism: being included in the government’s official statistics.

It is estimated that there are around 20 million pastoralists in Africa and 50 million in the world. Both these numbers are to be taken with a pinch of salt, however, as they only take nomadic pastoralists into account and not agricultural pastoralists. In West Africa pastoral livestock g is one of the keys to integration as it enables those countries of the Sahel which are far from the sea to export their livestock to coastal areas, particularly the large urban settlements. In Mali the livestock sector accounts for 44 per cent of the agricultural GNP. In Central Africa it accounts for 27 per cent of the GDP in Chad, 18 per cent of the GDP in Cameroon and 9 per cent in the Central African Republic.

These countries, moreover, represent a cattle trading hub as some of the livestock arrives from as far away as Niger to be exported to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea or Gabon. The socio-economic advantages of pastoralism are especially relevant in Eastern Africa. In Sudan, the pastoral-dominated livestock sector accounts for 80 per cent of the agricultural GDP and Somalia is the major livestock exporter to the Gulf States. In Ethiopia, the livestock-dependant leather industry is the second largest source of foreign currency after coffee. In Tanzania and Kenya, pastoralism and tourism try to co-exist and in South Africa 60 per cent of the country’s cattle herding exports supplied by pastoral breeders.

Being recognised by government statistics is one thing, being properly represented in politically elected bodies and in the social services is another. And yet interesting initiatives are beginning to emerge. In West Africa, ECOWAS has created an International Transhumance Certificate (ITC) in order to strengthen pastoral mobility. “This certificate,” explains Boureima Dodo, an agropastoralist Peulh from Niger, “is a set of commitments that both the countries of origin and the countries of destination have adhered to and which define the dates on which transhumance must take place and the areas through which livestock will travel, particularly in relation to vaccination camps and transit points”.

This does not mean that Dodo, who is also the founding member and the Executive Secretary of the Revitalisation of the Breeders in Niger (AREN), believes that transhumance will necessarily be improved by the ITC. “The certificate is lacking in many ways,” he explains, “especially because it doesn’t take climatic hazards into consideration and yet weather forces nomads to change their routes. Excessive rigidity is not good for pastoralism, cattlemen have always had alternative strategies, which is what has saved them”.


Land acquisition trends are an increasingly important challenge for a number of African herders”, insists Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the coordinator of Chadian Association of Indigenous Mbororo Women and Peoples (AFPAT).  In Chad land acquisitions are carried out by agro-industrialists “who are not interested in looking after farm land or property obtained through Common Law”, as well as by a new generation of pastoralists who “pump an incredible amount of water from the wells”.

Other conference participants highlighted the increasingly fierce competition between land reserved for pastoralism and land situated in protected areas. This phenomenon is of particular concern in Eastern Africa but also in Southern Africa.

Unlike other economic actors, in Africa pastoralists do not have access to credit or insurance which would enable them to safeguard themselves against a whole host of hazards, including weather hazards. A pilot insurance project was launched in Northern Kenya in January 2010. “This system, which will be extended to Ethiopia, has ensured that pastoralists were able to buy food without sacrificing a part of their livestock and protecting them from the risk of falling into extreme poverty,” explains Shirley Tarawali, Director of Institutional Planning at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) based in Nairobi.

Another important challenge is that of education. “Education and nomadism are not mutually exclusive,” insists Jeremy Swift, “I know a livestock holder in Iran who has a PhD in Mathematics. He now represents his region in national parliament”.  Access to education and citizenship are just two of the legitimate requests advanced by pastoralists, claims Francesca Mosca, the Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Directorate General Development of the European Commission (DG DEVCO), who is keen to highlight the European Union’s support for the African Union’s Pastoral policy frame work.

By Marie-Martine Buckens –
Former Deputy Editor-in-chief at The Courrier ACP-EU

* The Brussels Development Briefing on pastoralism in ACP countries was organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), in partnership with the African Union Commission, the European Commission (DG DEVCO), the ACP Secretariat and Concord, and in collaboration with CELEP.

This article is published in the framework of an editorial project supported by CTA in the framework of Brussels Development Briefings, but does not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation.

© Le Républicain (Niger), Le Confident (Central African Republic) and (Italy)

You can also follow us on twitter and become a fan on facebook

subscribe to comments RSS

There are no comments for this post

Please, feel free to post your own comment

* these are required fields

P.IVA 11273390150
Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi