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Pastoralism under threat

Researchers and PhD students from six nations, including Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Italy, China, and India, came to a three-day workshop called PASTRES with Masresha Taye, a professional who works in pastoralism and development and a researcher on pastoralism and climate change at the University of Amsterdam.

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On March 6, 2023, at the ILRI Addis Ababa campus, PASTRES, a European Research Council-funded research project with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was held with the theme “Pastoralism, Uncertainty, and Development Policies.” It aims to present a fresh viewpoint on extensive livestock systems.

“The project we worked on that got us here today takes a look into the lives of pastoralists and the policy narratives that now exist, as well as how we may change these policies in response to what we have seen so far,” Masresha says.

Pastoralism, development, and uncertainty, according to him, are at the center of the debate, with the focus on how to enhance these areas through the introduction of new ideas and external interventions into the pastoralist community.

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Livestock rearing and pastoralism, for Masresha, go back to the dawn of civilization, with the technique originating in Ethiopia, where the first known humans are thought to have resided. About 15–20 million Ethiopians still live mostly or exclusively in a pastoralist or semi-pastoralist way of life, and 40 percent of Ethiopia’s land is still capable of supporting pastoralists.

Masresha explained that the severe drought that has plagued Borena and the surrounding Somalia region for the past three years, which is due to the absence of rain during the course of the previous six rainy seasons, has caused a significant loss of resources.

As a result, he says, it amounts to a loss of nearly three billion birr in a little over a year and a half.

“One of the major problems we emphasized is that 43 percent of the residents of Borena have lost all of their cattle and are now starting from scratch,” he said. Masresha believes that the policy trajectory of pastoralism needs to be considered when working on such endeavors.

“There are many promising new initiatives to explore.”

Masresha suggests establishing livestock insurance and boosting the population of drought-resistant cattle by cross-breeding them with indigenous cattle as ways to lessen the impact of livestock losses in Ethiopia caused by droughts and other natural disasters. One alternative is to bring in forage that can grow successfully in arid conditions or that requires very little water. Aside from that, there is still a great deal of ground to cover in terms of policies.

Another problem is that pastoralists’ increased vulnerability to drought is exacerbated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) efforts to halt their movement from one area to another. Even though, unregulated grazing and the migration of pastoralists necessitated the prohibition, farmers and their animals can escape a drought-stricken area and move to a new location with access to food and water by permitting pastoralists to shift in a regulated and disciplined manner.

As part of its policy efforts to combat drought, IGAD is currently seeking to legalize the restricted cross-border movement of pastoralists in the Horn of Africa and allow for the inter- and intra-mobility of pastoralists.

The limited distribution and availability of information, according to Masresha, is a problem among pastoralists. “A lot of pastoralists don’t have access to technology or phones, so it is difficult for them to receive early warnings about upcoming droughts and climate change issues.”

He believes that there should be a modern policy that ensures pastoralists receive information about the availability of rain and which way they should go to avoid drought and save their cattle. That, according to him, should be considered part of the solution.

The current drought has had a significant impact on pastoralists’ ability to make a living, says Yohannes Girma, advisor to the minister of agriculture. Moving forward, Yohannes said the focus should be on bolstering pastoralists’ livestock production for the market, increasing water availability, developing fodder, and strengthening resilience against a possible future drought.

He explained why it’s important to foster conditions that allow pastoralists to keep their cattle safe from drought so that they may raise and sell enough of them to maintain their way of life even when drought strikes. He agrees that the response to the projected absence of rain was on a lesser scale than it should have been.

“There were responses, but they weren’t as strong as they should be. There is a definite need to strengthen the gaps there are when it comes to early action, which we are working on.”

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