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Protect pastoralists' rights to tap into Horn of Africa's economic potential

         Date: 2012-07-19

           Tag: Africa economic, Africa economic potential

Summary: The Horn of Africa too often conjures up images of conflict, hunger and most recently famine, as last year when relief groups mounted a huge emergency operation to save thousands from starvation.

The Horn of Africa too often conjures up images of conflict, hunger and most recently famine, as last year when relief groups mounted a huge emergency operation to save thousands from starvation.

Yet those headlines obscure another reality: a vibrant livestock trade worth an estimated $1bn (£640m) a year in exports as camels, goats, sheep and cattle are shipped to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries in vast numbers.

It is a trade network encompassing thriving market hubs such as the Kenyan town of Garissa, the port at Berbera in the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland and Jijiga in Ethiopia. The driving force behind this trade are pastoralists.

The livestock keepers who make use of the dry range coming and going across borders have often been viewed with suspicion and deemed backward by government authorities.

In addition, pastoralists face new challenges ranging from climate change to land rights as their areas are coveted by foreign investors.

A new book, Pastoralism and Development in Africa, makes the case that policymakers and donors need to shift their "gaze to the margins, away from the capital cities where the development and policy elite congregate" so they can see the new opportunities in "seemingly backward, deprived and desolate areas".

As the book makes clear, the economic activity is generating wider benefits, creating a swath of ancillary services, including camel brokers, private veterinarians and milk sellers, who are usually women.

But not everyone is benefiting from the boom. Few have large herds of cattle, camels, goats and sheep and can employ people to herd, hire transport and negotiate with traders, border officials or tax agents.

Poor people, without access to livestock, land or employment, lose out. In times of conflict or drought – as when both combined to lethal effect in 2011 – some pastoralists fall into destitution, fleeing the area or becoming dependent on aid in refugee camps such as Dadaab in northern Kenya.

Ian Scoones, a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and co-editor of the book, says one pessimistic scenario is a winner-takes-all situation with commercialisation and exports for a wealthy few and large numbers of former pastoralists sinking into poverty.

The more optimistic outcome is the growth of broad commercialisation, with herders engaging in the myriad businesses that have grown up around livestock.

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