Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic change at the margins

This book takes a fresh look at the livestock sector in the Horn of Africa. The region is often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons: drought, famine, conflict and suffering. But this is only part of the story.

Looking at the regional centres and their hinterlands, where pastoralists operate, reveals a booming livestock export trade; the flourishing of the private sector; growing investment and expanding towns; and the emergence of a class of entrepreneurs commanding a profitable market. This is the livestock trade in the Horn of Africa, across Ethiopia, Somaliland, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya.

A new book, Pastoralism and Development In Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, highlights innovation and entrepreneurialism, cooperation and networking and diverse approaches which are rarely in line with standard development prescriptions.

Through 20 detailed empirical chapters, the book highlights diverse pathways of development, going beyond the standard ‘aid’ and ‘disaster’ narratives.

The book is part of the STEPS Centre’s Pathways to Sustainability book series.

Order the book

A discount of 20% is available until the end of 2012.

Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins
Earthscan / Routledge, July 2012
Paperback, £24.95 GBP
Order online (discount code: PDA20)


In this short video, the book’s contributors talk about the changing landscape of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa. This video includes clips of the book’s editors Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones, and chapter authors Hussein Mahmoud and John Letai.


More about the book

Pastoralism book coverOnce again, the Horn of Africa has been in the headlines. And once again the news has been bad: drought, famine, conflict, hunger, suffering and death. The finger of blame has been pointed in numerous directions: to the changing climate, to environmental degradation, to overpopulation, to geopolitics and conflict, to aid agency failures, and more.

But it is not all disaster and catastrophe. Many successful development efforts at ‘the margins’ often remain hidden, informal, sometimes illegal; and rarely in line with standard development prescriptions. If we shift our gaze from the capital cities to the regional centres and their hinterlands, then a very different perspective emerges. These are the places where pastoralists live. They have for centuries struggled with drought, conflict and famine. They are resourceful, entrepreneurial and innovative peoples. Yet they have been ignored and marginalised by the states that control their territory and the development agencies who are supposed to help them. This book argues that, while we should not ignore the profound difficulties of creating secure livelihoods in the Greater Horn of Africa, there is much to be learned from development successes, large and small.

This book will be of great interest to students and scholars with an interest in development studies and human geography, with a particular emphasis on Africa. It will also appeal to development policy-makers and practitioners.


In 2010 the African Union released the first continent-wide policy framework to support pastoralism and pastoralist areas in Africa. The policy draws on a central argument of this new book, being that innovative and dynamic changes are occurring in pastoralist areas in response to increasing livestock marketing opportunities, domestically, regionally and internationally, and these changes are providing substantial but often hidden economic benefits. At the same time, the book also shows very clearly how we also need to accelerate support to alternative livelihood options in addition to supporting pastoralism and livestock production.  Dr Abebe Haile Gabriel, Director, Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission

There is a rich array of case studies in this book, which capture the vitality and innovation of pastoral societies. They are a welcome antidote to the negativity that infects far too much of the discourse on pastoralism. Each chapter also illuminates the forces that are driving change in pastoral areas and the impact of change on rich and poor, women and men. In such a fluid environment, policy-makers and practitioners need to start ‘seeing like pastoralists’ if they are to find the right way forward. This book will help us do so. Hon. Mohamed Elmi, MP, Minister of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands

This book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the future of pastoralism in Africa. In Ethiopia, pastoralism is a vital economic sector and essential for the country’s development. This book will provide important guidance for both policymakers and development practitioners. Hon. Ahmed Shide, MP, State Minister, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Ethiopia

This book is exceptionally deep in the analysis of the conditions of the pastoralists and provides far-sighted and comprehensive options for improving their livelihoods within the context of country-specific reality and regional and global challenges. Understanding the resilience of pastoralists in the face of growing complex challenges moves us away from a focus on traditional coping strategies to innovative efforts which provide more robust and sustainable solutions for the livelihoods of pastoralists. Dr Luka Biong Deng, formerly National Minister for Cabinet Affairs of Sudan

This is a candid and thought provoking scrutiny of some of the diverse, complex and often emotive issues around pastoral development and investment. The book is an important and timely resource as African countries embark on securing the future of pastoralists as espoused by the recently approved AU Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa. Dr Simplice Nouala, African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR)

This book is a fascinating, timely collection of case studies by researchers, activists and policymakers (many of whom are African pastoralists themselves) that document the creativity of pastoralists in seeking economically secure, politically stable, and environmentally sustainable livelihoods – and the many challenges they face.  By analyzing what pastoralists are actually doing (rather than dictating what they should be doing), the book will be of tremendous value to anyone with an interest in the future of pastoralists and pastoralism in the Greater Horn of Africa. Dorothy Hodgson, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey

This book drives home the tremendous scale and pace of change in northeast African pastoralism. Grounded in authoritative knowledge of general context as well as incisive analysis of social and historical particularities, the book spans resources and production, commercialisation and markets, land and conflict, established and emerging alternative livelihoods. The book brings alive the way this seemingly remote and notoriously volatile region, with its rapid and violent shifts in socio-political and biophysical environments, connects at all levels with national and international arenas, policies and economic flows. It traces the multiple and divergent directions of pastoralist enterprise, the risks run and opportunities seized, the striking innovations developed alongside robust, tried and tested strategies being maintained, and the successful diversification for some as against spiralling impoverishment for others. The book conveys the vigour, dynamism and adaptability of these arid and semi arid land populations, and their ability to embrace and exploit change, in a context of policies that too often constrain rather than enable. Katherine Homewood, Professor of Anthropology, University College London

This timely and highly relevant publication challenges the prevailing view that there is no future for pastoralism in the Horn of Africa.  It further advances the debate and deepens our understanding of pastoralism and its dynamics in the drylands of Africa, providing a nuanced and differentiated analysis of its potential and limitations in the face of new opportunities and challenges.  Its detailed case studies and fresh empirical evidence offer clear insights into a range of potential pathways for the development of these complex and uncertain environments. Ced Hesse, International Institute for Environment and Development, London

This important book helps narrow the prevailing knowledge gap on pastoralism and pastoral development. Tezera Getahun, Executive Director, Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia

This book, about one of the most diverse pastoral regions of the world, brings together many cutting-edge studies on the sustainability of pastoral development. The book provides cause for optimism as well as pause for thought, since pastoralism is evidently thriving in drylands that are also home to some of the world’s worst poverty. The book illustrates how sustainable pastoralist development depends on development partners doing what pastoralists have always done: managing complexity.  Jonathan Davies, Coordinator, Global Drylands Initiative, IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature