foodFIRST for Thought

Workshop Pastoralism, Ministry EL&I 29 September 2011

© 2011-10-06 | Hans Groen

As a spin-off of the Pastoralism Day on June 9, 2011, Food First organised a workshop at the ministry of Agriculture in The Hague. On September 29, about 15 people from both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Agriculture gathered for this workshop: Rural Development in African (Semi-) Arid Lands â?? Doâ??s and Don'ts.

1 Desertification

What comes to mind when talking about pastoralists and pastoralist farming, are terms such as desertification, degradation, fragile ecosystems, over-exploitation. However, when one sees the re-greening of the Sahel and South-Sahara areas, one has to wonder what is meant by these terms. The current wisdom is still that the encroachment of the Sahara desert to the south is the result of man induced irresponsible land use. Now we have been able to study this area over a longer period, we can see climate variability as an important, major, cause. The major flaw that resulted in the impression of ongoing desertification was that in research a generally wetter period was compared with a drier period (see (M. Leach and R. Mearns (eds.): The Lie of the Land and the article of J. Swift herein: â??Desertification narratives: winners and losersâ??). On the longer range, however, dry and wet periods recur every so many years. Pastoralists are used to work with this variability.
An unresolved issue here: is there in the long run still a downward trend anyway?

2 Yields

â??Pastoralists are used to work with this variability,â?? as just said, or is it rather just surviving? It is counterintuitive, but pastoralist herding, coping with variability, returns higher yields than ranching cattle. Research shows that mobile herds produce more meat, have less mortality, and more calves than less mobile or sedentary farming. Grass itself has different nutritious qualities during its growing cycle, and cattle have different needs depending on the season (when calving, when strengthening and putting on meat, etc). Being mobile, pastoralists know where the grass is which they need at a particular time, thus they can keep more, and healthier, cattle then they would on a ranch. Pastoralist farming produces higher economic value: higher yields and more people are employed on the land than if this land were to be subdivided in cattle ranches.
One issue is: does growing crops produce more on the same land than cattle; is this yield in calories versus yield in economic value?

3 Mobility

Variability is a problem for aid, not for the pastoralists. Providers of aid want stability, control, and thus prefer sedentary agriculture. Mobility for production is not recognized, laws are made by and for sedentary people. Sedentary people have rights to land, mobile people donâ??t. Borders limit the mobility of pastoralists, and the last decades have seen more borders being defined after countries in East Africa have been split into new national entities.
In the Vijverbergsession on June 9, the right to mobility as a fundamental right for pastoralists was emphasized. Borders are a barrier for food security â?? how can we overcome this?

4 Opportunities

Though maybe not a major economic value for countries, pastoralists do represent a significant economic value. In Kenya, for instance, 90% of the meat and 50% of the milk used is from pastoralist sources. Only a small middle class can afford the more expensive imported meat. Pastoralists provide for a huge part of the nation.
Tanzania, on a completely different note, earns about $85 mil. from tourism because the northern part of the country is inhabited by pastoralists. They keep the country accessible; if this country had been ranched, and thus fenced off, this tourism would not be possible.

Pastoralism is part of an intricate and resilient system that is well matched with the local climate conditions, that plays an important role in providing food for many, and which also contains opportunities for further economic development.

foodFIRST for thought

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