Friday, November 1, 2013

What does the future hold for pastoralists in the Sahel?

IRIN: Harsher droughts and rising numbers of conflicts with farmers are threatening the future of pastoralism in the Sahel, but experts say that integrating crop and livestock systems can help sustain the livelihoods of herders and farmers.

Droughts have wrought severe consequences in recent years, including in 2011-2012, when a major drought left some 18 million people in the region at risk of hunger.  Practices such as rotational grazing, land and tree regeneration, intercropping, and agroforestry can help ensure herders continue to feed their animals while avoiding conflict with farmers over shrinking productive lands, experts say.

Nomadic pastoralism remains an essential part of life in the Sahel, where more than 60 percent of the population is involved in livestock farming.  “In the Sahel, pastoralists are first and foremost mobile,” said Jonathan Davies, the Global Drylands Initiative coordinator for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “So it goes without saying that the thing that defines most pastoralists throughout all of Africa is the herd movements.

“But there’s this huge misunderstanding and prejudice. Many governments and development agencies still see mobility as a problem they need to stop rather than… the most rational management strategy in a highly variable climate,” said Davies.

He explained that moving between areas of good rainfall and vegetation allows pastoralists to manage such variability, particularly in very dry countries like Niger, where land productivity is low.  “For all pastoralists, some sort of crop-agriculture or fodder production is possible, but that is not to say it is desirable,” said Davies. “The scarcer the water, the less you want to waste it on cultivating a tiny oasis.”...

Livestock grazing on an island in the River Niger, seen from a bridge in Niamey, shot by ILRI/Stevie Mann, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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