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Pathways to Resilience in Pastoralist Areas: A Synthesis of Research in the Horn of Africa


Executive Summary

Across the Horn Africa, pastoralist areas have been one of the most persistent and difficult challenges for governments, and development and humanitarian agencies. Although often viewed as physically remote, universally poor, and subject to droughts and conflicts, in reality these areas can also be economic hubs, with substantial livestock trade networks to local markets, and crossing borders to neighbouring countries. Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland and Sudan are all major exporters of livestock with most of these animals sourced from pastoralist areas, or from producers who rely on mobile production systems. This synthesis paper reviews research by the Feinstein International Center at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and focuses on the increasing socioeconomic differentiation in selected pastoralist areas, and the implications in terms of pathways to resilience.

Feinstein’s Moving Up, Moving Out analysis first emerged in 2009 and aimed to explain the coexistent of increasing domestic and international livestock trade from some pastoralist areas, and increasing destitution. The analysis showed that although most pastoralists were engaged in livestock markets, commercialization was associated mainly with wealthier pastoralists and herd owners. Over time, and as human populations grew, commercialization was also associated with a gradual shift of livestock from poorer to wealthier producers, and related trends such as increasing privatization of rangelands, and declining social capital related to livestock support. These changes were evident in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia despite diverse central political ideologies and policies over several decades, and within a context of multiple conflicts and frequent droughts.

For pastoralists with sufficient numbers of animals, and adequate access to rangeland and markets, there is a clear pathway to resilience based on pastoralism. However, as commercialization advances, the number of households following this pathway declines relative to the population as a whole. Although severe droughts can still decimate large, more commercially orientated herds, wealthier livestock owners also have various options for positive livelihoods diversification, including investment in businesses in urban centers, and better-quality education.

A far greater number of pastoralists appear to be living on the edge of pastoralism, surviving off small and numbers of animals, and increasingly reliant on a range of diversified activities. Whether located in rural areas or near to towns, for these households the pathways to resilience are far less clear. A full return to pastoralism can be difficult as land becomes more fragmented and privately controlled; and diversification often involves low-paid or exploitative wage labor, or activities with negative environmental or social consequences. The net results are poverty traps. Although often viewed by policy makers as the best alternative to pastoralism, agriculture can be far more risky than livestock production in areas with highly variable rainfall, and few permanent water sources. Commercialization of pastoralism brings new jobs, such as contract herding or market employment, but in general, there is a marked disparity between the slow growth in work opportunities, and the substantial numbers of people who need to find work. The emergence of large-scale social protection programs in pastoralist areas of Ethiopia and Kenya is symptomatic of the problems. The policy message is that for many people, Moving Up, Moving Out is not only about moving away from pastoralism, but also moving out of pastoralist areas. In theory, education is critical, but education services are still very poorly developed in pastoralist areas, or, unaffordable.

For women and girls in poorer pastoralist households, the situation is particularly dire, with consistently lower levels of education and health relative to men and boys, and higher risks of negative diversification, and exposure to violence and sexual abuse. Again, although livestock commercialization provides some opportunities, such as trading in small ruminants and milk processing, women have far fewer pathways to resilience relative to men.

The briefing paper is available here.