Pastoralist aspirations versus policy in the Horn of Africa


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

NAIROBI, 24 February 2014 (IRIN) – Since the Horn of Africa drought of 2011 aid agencies have been working to understand the changes taking place in the drylands, hoping to better anticipate people’s needs. Recent research shows these changes go beyond climate and environment to encompass social and economic factors. The findings have important policy implications.

“The predominant narrative of what these people want to do with their lives is a traditional, pastoral one, where their lives focus on raising animals and continuing in a tradition of pastoral transhumance little changed over centuries,” notesChanges in the arid lands: the expanding rangeland, a joint report by the Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children.

External factors, such as drought, have been used to explain pastoralists’ movement from nomadic livestock keeping to living in settlements and peri-urban areas. But this explanation ignores the rapidly changing socio-economic circumstances in these communities, the report says.

“The predominant narrative did not take into consideration vast increases in population (approximately six times greater than 50 years ago), growing materialism and commercialization, and increasing connectedness to the world outside their community… The narrative needed to be updated.”

Changing aspirations

Researchers asked communities in Shinile and Jijiga in Ethiopia, Togdheer in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, and Turkana, Kenya, what they want for the future.

“Across the board, education was listed as the number one method to reach one’s aspirations; either for the interviewees themselves or for their children and grandchildren. Parents – no matter where they live – hope for their children to be educated and to get jobs,” stated the report.

The report also found that youths and children, including those from pastoral settlements, were eager for professional futures, with the more settled and urban people interested in commerce.  Women were also increasingly taking on professional careers or managing businesses, moving away from their traditional roles as caretakers of the home and family.

Still, livestock remains important, with families expecting “to continue to exploit both traditional and non-traditional opportunities”. In Turkana, however, many interviewees felt that a better future was one without livestock. Under recurrent droughts and a decline in the numbers of livestock, Turkana residents have increasingly looked to diversify their livelihoods.

Opportunities and challenges

In Kenya, long-marginalized arid regions are now moving closer to the centre stage of planning and development.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 national development plan, published in 2007, already saw the historically marginalized drylands as the “new frontier” for development, notes a working paper by the Future Agricultures Consortium.

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