The many futures of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa

A 2016 article by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones – The futures of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa: pathways of growth and change – outlines the different pathways of change emerging in the Horn of Africa. It is published in the Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics) and is part of a special issue edited by Jacob Zinsstag and colleagues. The whole issue is well worth a read.

Our article updated and summarised many of the arguments presented in our earlier book, Pastoral and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, and during the recent Tufts webinar, reported in an earlier blog.

To understand contemporary pastoralism in the Horn, we should not be blinded by the idealised stereotypes or imaginaries of tradition. As populations grow, as markets change and as land shifts, becoming individualised and enclosed, so does pastoralism. There are many pastoralisms today, and many futures – not all rosy.

As Andrew Dorward and colleagues explained, livelihoods may follow different paths. This is certainly the case in pastoral areas. A process of differentiation is occurring, with many unable to sustain livelihoods with the herds and flocks they have. Data from Kenya and Ethiopia show a pattern of increasing inequality, with many with very small livestock holdings, and a few with very large ones.

Some are able to ‘step up’ to livelihoods based on export-based commercialisation. Within this group are those who are ‘stepping in’, investing in livestock from outside, acting as absentee owners.  With capital, investing in livestock is profitable, and herders and shepherds are employed to manage, while the owners live elsewhere.  Those profiting from commercial livestock production in pastoral areas is a minority, but data in the paper for exports from Berbera port in Somaliland and overall live and meat exports from Ethiopia show how exports are booming.

Meanwhile, others are just hanging in or dropping out completely – a common feature across pastoral areas in the Horn as climate or economic shocks combine to push households to the limit. Increasing numbers of destitute households reliant almost continuously on humanitarian relief thus exist alongside those who are profiting. Some however are ‘stepping out’, diversifying livelihood options within the context of the pastoral economy, and sometimes they are able to return to pastoral production, as herds and flocks accumulate. The vibrancy of small towns across pastoral areas is witness to an increasingly diversified economy, supported additionally by state and, especially, diaspora investments in infrastructure and business.

The paper examines scenarios for Afar and Somali region in Ethiopia, comparing data schematically over time for four different outcomes. Very different patterns are seen, with different pathways of change occurring, with different patterns of differentiation. The paper identifies two contrasting trends, both of which need attention in policy:

“The first trend is the growth of a substantial domestic and export trade in livestock and meat across the region, driven largely by supplies from pastoralist areas and local and international demand. This trend indicates robust and responsive livestock production and marketing in pastoralist areas, despite recurrent drought, conflict and weak governance. In contrast, the second trend sees increasing levels of poverty and destitution in pastoralist areas, and continued high levels of human malnutrition. The co-existence of economic growth and increasing poverty in ‘high-export’ areas is explained by human population growth, drought, and the private control of pastures and water by wealthier producers. All of these factors combine to push poorer producers out of pastoralism. In areas with lower market orientation, other forms of declining land access are often evident, including the appropriation of land for mechanised farming, hydroelectric schemes, and bush encroachment. These changes, plus population growth and drought, also push people out of pastoralism. In all areas, pastoralism will continue to be the main economic activity but, at the same time, increasing numbers of people are seeking other livelihoods.”

As we explore uncertainty and resilience in pastoral areas in the PASTRES project, the way such drivers intersect and result in different groups with different vulnerabilities to shocks and stresses will be an important part of the analysis, not only in Isiolo, Kenya, but also in Qinghai-Tibet and Sardinia.


The original post was published as part of the Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Resilience (PASTRES) project.