Improving Pastoralist Livelihoods in the Horn of Africa

May 16, 2012

The 2010-2011 drought in the Horn of Africa affected over 13 million people, most of whom were pastoralists. This group of people earn a living by raising livestock, producing firewood and charcoal, and engaging in a variety of other non-salaried forms of work. The size of this population in the Horn of Africa is estimated to be between 12 and 22 million.

The most recent crisis was especially impactful because it exacerbated two challenges facing the drought-prone region: population growth and the loss of grazing area. In response to the devastating effects of the 2010-2011 drought some policymakers have argued that pastoralist livelihoods are no longer sustainable. They assert that the only way to insure food security is for pastoralists to move away from their traditional livelihoods towards more traditional and sedentary jobs. This view is primarily explained through a political disconnect between pastoralist populations and the predominantly non-pastoralist governments in the region.

Although pastoralist populations are increasingly vulnerable to droughts, a move toward sedentary employment is not a guarantor of economic security. Studies have shown that mobility and trade are necessary for wealth accumulation and drought management for pastoralists. Mobile pastoralists have been found to be better off than ex-pastoralist sedentary farmers in the same region. A recent IFPRI discussion paper examines the viability of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa.

Pastoralism makes efficient use of the region’s land and variable climate; in order to increase resilience against droughts, loss of grazing land, and overpopulation, the authors recommend policymakers make livestock investments to make the pastoralist sector more profitable. Instead of completely ignoring pastoralism as a viable form a livelihood it should be one part of a multifaceted strategy that also enhances other forms of employment. The authors argue that rather than rejecting pastoralism, this form of livelihood should be viewed as an important component of regional development, because pastoralism has the potential of being a commercialized and resilient sector. Economic diversification could be achieved through education, vocational training, microfinance, irrigation, and policies the promote migration and remittances. In addition, improved evidence on the benefits and drawbacks of pastoralism is needed in order to gain a consensus on the best way to achieve economic security in the region.