Pastoralism in Africa’s drylands: Reducing risks, addressing vulnerability and enhancing resilience

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Pastoral livestock production is crucial to the livelihoods and the economy of Africa’s drylands. It developed 7 000 years ago in response to long‑term climate change. It spread throughout Northern Africa as an adaptation to the rapidly changing and increasingly unpredictable arid climate. It is practised in an area representing 43 percent of Africa’s land mass in the different regions of Africa. In some regions it represents the dominant livelihoods system. It covers 36 countries, stretching from the Sahelian West to the rangelands of Eastern Africa and the Horn and the nomadic populations of Southern Africa, with an estimate of 268 million pastoralists.

The mobility of pastoralists exploiting the animal feed resources along different ecological zones represents a flexible response to a dry and increasingly variable environment. It allows pastoral herds to use the drier areas during the wet season and more humid areas during the dry season.

It ensures that pastoral livestock access sufficient high‑quality grazing and create economic value. The objectives of this paper are twofold.

• First, to investigate the current situation of pastoralism and the vulnerability context in which it functions.

• Second, to outline the policy, the programming and the research areas of intervention to enhance the resilience of pastoral livelihood systems.

Scholarly views of pastoralism’s ecological impact have grown more positive since the early 1990s, when a new understanding of dryland dynamics led to the so‑called new rangeland paradigm. The new rangeland paradigm represents a shift in the wider discourse on pastoralism from the earlier debates based on the “tragedy of the commons.” The new rangeland paradigm has provided a more comprehensive understanding of the drylands and shown that mobility is an appropriate strategy to sustainably exploit the natural resources in these areas. In recent decades, the adaptability and mobility of pastoralists in relation to resource variability have been undermined by factors that are embedded in the institutional and policy environments which shape a context where pastoralists are vulnerable.

The paper analyses factors that undermine the pastoral livelihoods resilience and the implications of these factors for the viability of pastoralism. These factors include:

• neglect and exclusion of pastoralists

• violence, displacement and militarisation of pastoral livelihood systems

• insecure land rights and natural resource management

• diminishing forage base and increasing trend toward nutritional vulnerability

• increasing risk of animal and zoonotic diseases

• climate variability and climate change

On the basis of the analysis of the uncertainty and insecurity contexts that shape pastoralism and the vulnerability of pastoralists’ communities, this paper identifies interventions for increasing pastoral resilience. These interventions are categorised in the following priority areas:

• improving capacity, accountability and responsiveness in governance institutions

• addressing the cross‑border and regional dimension of pastoralism

• developing and using a livelihoods‑based information and monitoring system

• ensuring stronger linkages between local and higher‑level peace initiatives

• reducing vulnerability by supporting livelihoods resilience programming

• ensuring a timely livelihoods‑based livestock emergency response when a crisis threatens

Despite their weakening capacity, pastoral communities remain highly resilient and make enormous contributions to social, environmental and economic wellbeing in the dryland areas. Strengthening pastoralism’s capacity to operate in more sustainable pathways requires a more in‑depth understanding of the dynamics of the socioecological challenges and opportunities in the different regions of Africa’s drylands. It also requires long‑term engagement and broad partnership among the diverse actors involved at the local, regional and international levels.