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The East African – Nationmedia
Africa needs a common policy on pastoralism
By FRED OLUOCH
African countries will soon be required to embrace a common policy on pastoralism to reduce rural poverty and meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Faced with challenges such as climatic change and conflicts, agricultural experts in Africa are concerned that the survival of pastoralism as a livelihood will depend on a comprehensive livestock development policy designed to increase productivity. Such a policy must also promote market access and ensure sustainable use of natural resources and protection of the environment. Consultations are currently going on among various organs of the African Union (AU) to formulate a pastoral policy for Africa to be adopted by the AU heads of state summit in July 2008. It should then lead to legislation.
Pastoralist leaders, government officials and experts from 15 African countries met for a three-day workshop at Sarova Shaba Lodge in Isiolo, Kenya, to kick-start the process of coming up with a common pastoral policy for Africa. The meeting was organised by the AU’s Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Participants included representatives from pastoralist groups and governments from across Africa, experts on livestock management, and representatives from the East African Community, the Economic Community of West African States, the Central African Economic Community and Unicef. Participants argued that a continental policy is essential for a sustainable pastoral livelihood system.
In East Africa, for example, policy makers in government and other development actors understand little about the livestyle of pastoralists. They also do not recognise that mobile herding systems are rotational and efficient use of arid and semi-arid lands.
The new policy is expected to revolve around six major constraints — governance; land access; education; markets and financial services; conflicts and poverty; risks and vulnerability.
While forecasts of Africa’s population growth show a rapid urbanisation in the next few decades — resulting in a rapid increase in demand for livestock products in urban areas — there is no indication that pastoralists are prepared to meet this increased demand.
Data from various sources shows that pastoralists are the most politically and economically marginalised, have less access to resources (land, water, pasture) and basic services such as health and education and suffer from increased insecurity, perennial conflict, poverty, environmental degradation and exposure to climatic risks.
A major milestone could be the proposal that the new policy include livestock insurance, through which an index insurance system — now being experimented with in Mongolia — would offer safety nets and compensation for losses due to natural calamities such as drought.
But more challenging for the proponents of the continental pastoral policy is that most governments in Africa — where pastoralists are a minority — have been pushing pastoralists to abandon the lifestyle “because it is not viable and degrades the environment.”
Notably, pastoralists are mainly found in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Chad, that frequently experience conflicts among pastoralists over water and pasture.
In these countries, the priority is the survival of the state. But even in relatively peaceful countries, governments have more pressing issues that they prefer to deal with rather than commit resources to provide services to the pastoralists.
Anab Abdulkadir, the MP for Awere in pastoralist-dominated eastern Ethiopia, argued that pastoralists needed to qualify know what they contribute to the economy and what they ought to get back in terms of services and infrastructure.
This is because despite the fact that pastoralism offers a viable production system that enables huge arid and semi-arid areas to be used productively, the budgets allocated to livestock production in Africa are consistently lower than its share of the gross domestic product.
Considering that over 70 per cent of the land in pastoral areas is unsuitable for agriculture, livestock production remains the most viable.
Mohammed Salah, Algeria’s Permanent Secretary for Rural Development, said the mistake that most African governments make is to pretend to be deciding on behalf of pastoralists, while the only solution is to ask them first how they want their issues to be addressed before embarking on any policy.
Pastoral areas occupy 40 per cent of Africa’s land mass. In Kenya, this figure is 80 per cent of the country’s land area, which hosts 10 million people.
Some 70 per cent of the total livestock population and 90 per cent of the wildlife population inhabit the area.
According to 2005 statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, there are about 235 million cattle, 472 million goats, 21 million pigs and 1.3 billion poultry in Africa, valued at $65 billion.
Apart from livestock, some pastoral areas have important strategic resources such as minerals and oil reserves. In Chad and Sudan, many mineral and oil deposits are found in areas classified as pastoral.
Participants at the workshop noted that, in most cases, pastoral livelihoods depend on exchange of pastoral products for agricultural ones, but the terms of exchange are often in favour of agriculturalists, whereas pastoralists have to dispose of their animals under unfavourable conditions.
Postoralists are also hard hit by the export of cheap European livestock products such as powdered milk to Africa.
According to Ali Wario, the chairman of the Kenya Pastoralist Parliamentary Group, pastoralists have no access to bank loans because livestock is not recognised as collateral.
In addition, they are not benefiting from the tourism industry even though they have protected and co-existed with wild animals all their lives.
Still, difficulties abound that pastoralism is a cross-border issue, “How many governments will be willing to change their national laws such as those governing the movement of livestock, animal diseases and taxation?”
Pastoral production systems have little or no regard for state borders, mainly because they are driven by the need for pasture and water for livestock.
These movements sometimes promote the spread of trans-border animal and human diseases and provoke farmer-pastoralist conflicts. .
Abdia Mohamud, a board member of the Network of Pastoralist Women in Kenya, which is based in Isiolo, suggested that African governments come out clearly and state whether they believe that pastoralism is a threat to the environment and a contributor to desertification.
She said that, in Kenya, for example, a foreign plant —Prosopis juliflora (mathenge) — had been introduced to fight desertification in pastoralist areas, but ended up being poisonous to both livestock and humans.
Daoud Tari Abkula, a Kenyan who works with the Pastoralist Communication Initiative in Ethiopia, said the new policy must address issues of diversity without undermining the common factors that unite pastoralists everywhere in Africa.