Open access book: ‘Pastoralism and Development in Africa’

The book Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins is now available Open Access, ten years after its release in 2012.

The open access version is being launched along with a set of new commentaries from book contributors and others, reflecting on changes in the last decade.

Histories of pastoralism in the Greater Horn of Africa

The original book was written in the aftermath of the devasting Somali drought of 2011. Now, the Greater Horn of Africa is in the grip of a long-term recurrent drought, which is having major impacts on pastoral systems, exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The book emerged from a conference in 2011 convened by the Future Agricultures Consortium and Tufts University and held at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. The conference had participation from a wide range of researchers working on pastoralism. One of the sessions at the conference involved a reflection on how things had changed over the past decades since the landmark publications on pastoralism in Africa from Pastoralism in Tropical Africa in 1975 onwards.

We concluded that indeed much had changed, but there were also important continuities. Despite the persistent proclamation that pastoralism as a system of production and way of life is dead, pastoralism continues although in multiple new forms.

Pastoralists in Kenya. Photo: Ian Scoones

What has changed?

In the decade since the publication of the book, there have been some important new changes in the pastoral areas of the Greater Horn of Africa, the geographical focus of the book. We invited our commentators to reflect on these, highlight which ones they thought were the most significant.

As the commentaries highlight, these have included the expansion of livestock commercialisation, facilitated by the mobile phone technology revolution; and the growth of small towns in pastoral areas affecting where pastoralists live, how they are educated, their access to health care and importantly their patterns of mobility.

Land issues persist as processes of enclosure and territorialisaton increase, often supported by the state in alliance with external players, resulting in insecurity of tenure for pastoralists over open rangelands. External investment continues to expand in pastoral areas, with the growth of ‘green energy’ being particularly important in the past years, even if some of the large-scale ‘land grabs’ that were so prominent in 2012 have since failed.

Finally, the acceleration and intensification of conflict in certain areas, exacerbated by unresolved political questions around borders and increasing pressure on resources due to expansion of farming and other investments.

Of course, none of these developments are new and all, in different ways, were highlighted in the book a decade ago, but all are intensifying and affecting how pastoralism is practised and by whom. A key theme of the book is how there are increasingly multiple pastoralisms as different people pursue different activities as part of a wider pastoral economy.

Changing pathways of pastoral development

In chapter 1 of the book we present a simple diagram of potential trajectories of pastoralism, affected by changes in access to resources and markets.

Pathways of pastoralism

In exploring different settings across the Greater Horn of Africa, we identify changing pathways of pastoral development, as well as the shocks, stresses and drivers that affect their evolution.

In the last ten years, the different categories of pastoralism (and many shades of grey in between) still exist but, as the commentaries highlight, we have seen perhaps a greater differentiation within pastoral settings, with rising inequality between those with large herds (of large stock) and those with few (mostly small stock). This has a gender and generational dimension too, as men and women take on different roles in pastoral production.

Women sell milk by the roadside in Borana, Ethiopia. Photo: Masresha Taye

As different pastoralists ‘move up’ or ‘move out’, different livelihood combinations and trajectories are seen, with some accumulating while others lose out.

The role of external actors, whether private investors or the state, is increasingly evident. Absentee pastoralists who may or may not have a pastoral background are increasingly important, with the pastoral economy – now more accessible and with more opportunities thanks to better infrastructure and mobile phone connections –becoming more commercialised.

However, this does not mean that mobility and other so-called ‘traditional’ pastoral practices are no longer important. Far from it; as the commentaries suggest these sources of adaptation and resilience become more and more significant as climate change, conflict and increasing resource scarcity in particular places affects pastoral production.

Policies and pastoralists

On the policy front, there have been some positive developments, with a greater recognition of pastoral development by some national governments, and investments in pastoralism emerging as a priority in some decentralised, federal settings. In certain places, progress has been made in registering community land, although new problems may arise.

Given the importance of humanitarian interventions in pastoral areas, the development of guidelines for more appropriate responses in relation to livestock systems has been important.

Meanwhile, a more regional perspective has emerged with organisations such as IGAD taking a lead, while aid donors and others invest across countries in a more integrated way.

The shifting political economy of the region, as affected by geopolitics as well as changing trade relations, will continue to affect how the pastoral ‘margins’ are treated, as several commentaries note. As global powers – both established and emergent – compete for influence and investment opportunities, the stability of nation states in the region becomes crucial, with secessionist movements and others being seen as potential ‘terror’ threats. Political contests at national level, especially as refracted through ethnic identities, equally influence pastoral areas, which often are sites for contests over land and resources.

Change and persistence  

There will continue to be voices who proclaim the end of pastoralism, but there is little doubt that in another decade’s time, if we reflect again on changes in the Greater Horn, pastoralism in some new forms will continue to exist.

In the dry rangelands of pastoral regions, pastoralism remains a successful production system and perhaps especially so in the context of climate change. As the investors behind the earlier ‘land grabs’ for large-scale agricultural investments found, alternatives to extensive livestock systems are difficult to establish and highly costly to manage.

Other incursions into pastoral areas will no doubt continue, with the expansion of conservation areas and ‘green energy’ being driven by international agendas around biodiversity and climate change. Yet greater recognition of the value of pastoralism in dryland areas helps show how pastoral systems can promote biodiversity conservation in rangelands and are effective at adapting to climate change with low emissions.

As we found a decade ago, there is no single pastoral system – differentiation along contrasting pathways will continue, pushed by different shocks and drivers, with winners and losers emerging. A development agenda for pastoral areas that takes account of this ‘dynamic change at the margins’ and involves ‘seeing like a pastoralist’ rather than a state, investor or development agency remains imperative, even if under increasingly constrained and challenging circumstances.

Explore the book

For more information, and to download the text Open Access, visit the publishers’ website.

Read the commentaries

Read a series of commentaries from book authors and others on developments over the last decade.