News / Africa

Disappearing Herds Threaten Culture, Livelihoods in Uganda

A boy tends goats in Karamoja, Uganda, where traditional animal herding is giving way to agriculture, August 27, 2012. (VOA - H. Heuler)
A boy tends goats in Karamoja, Uganda, where traditional animal herding is giving way to agriculture, August 27, 2012. (VOA - H. Heuler)
KARAMOJA, Uganda — Uganda's pastoral Karimojong people have long relied on cattle to survive. In an effort to wean them off food aid, however, they are being encouraged to embrace agriculture - a practice that clashes with their culture and livelihoods.

For centuries, the Karimojong people of northeastern Uganda have herded their cattle across the sun-baked plains. They grew food when they could, but it was milk, blood and meat that carried them through the long years of drought, as people followed their animals from one watering hole to the next.

But the cattle are disappearing fast, and with them the Karimojan way of life. With help from the Ugandan government and its partners, people increasingly are embracing agriculture, and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Pastoralism versus agriculture

Karamoja-based researcher Karol Czuba said there are a number of reasons that people here are dealing with a marked decrease in the size of cattle herds.

“The number of livestock in the region has reduced, as a result of both natural factors and raiding, which was really very commonly practiced in the last few decades," said Czuba. "This, combined with constant government pressure on people to give up their traditional way of life altogether. There has been very little support for people who wish to continue to be pastoralists.”

Permanent Secretary from the office of the Prime Minister Puis Bigirimana has denied that the Ugandan government favors agriculture over pastoralism. He said agricultural support programs are designed to wean the Karimojong off 30 years of food aid.

“We are saying that it should not continue like that, because that is keeping people in perpetual poverty. And we believe that as much as they love their cows, they can still do agriculture,” said Bigirimana.

Reasoning behind shifted emphasis

Czuba said the Ugandan government has good reasons for discouraging pastoralism. Among them, he said, is the local habit of cattle raiding, with heavily armed raiders often crossing the border with neighboring Kenya.

“It is not in [the government’s] interest to have people within these territories who go across borders to raid other people, and to have people within their borders who have guns," said Czuba. "The traditional agro-pastoralist or pastoralist existence, which this region has known for centuries, is certainly not in line with the needs of modern states.”

In Napak, in southern Karamoja, some men still herd cows and goats through the dusty streets. But for 56 year-old Michael Ooyan, those days are over.

He and his village used to be rich in cattle, he said, but now the cows are gone. Ooyan blames Kenyan raiders, and government disarmament programs that took away the villagers’ guns.

No one knows how many thousands of people have died over the years at the hands of raiders. Aid worker Adam Riddell, with the NGO Samaritan’s Purse, said many people have sold their animals to avoid the risk.

“It is like having a big target in your house, and when raiders come and take all your cows, you are left with nothing,” said Riddell.

Persistent drought problems

But he said the Karimojong lifestyle evolved for a reason. Rains in the region often fail, making agriculture an unreliable option. He said people who have given up their animals will still need food aid during the next dry year.

“What do you turn to when there is no agriculture? Your animals. But if, over the past three years, you have gotten rid of all your animals, what do you turn to? Aid. I do not know what else. We have a long way to go in getting to the place where the Karimojong are ready for that shock if the rains do not come. If that happens even next year, big problems,” said Riddell.

It has been decades since the Karimojong have been self-sufficient. Riddell said dependence on aid is eroding their self-respect.

“There is a real lack of dignity, which does not get talked about much. They are tough, tough people, but they have been neglected for a long time, they are the black sheep of Uganda, and nobody really knows what to do with them. And maybe losing all of their cows is kind of a cultural identity crisis.”

Michael Ooyan agrees.

Many Karimojong ceremonies used to revolve around giving or killing animals, he said, including weddings, harvest festivals and gatherings of elders.  Now, he said, he is afraid young people are beginning to forget their culture.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mike from: California
September 03, 2012 1:15 PM
Poverty continues in Africa because of bad governance which allows low productivity, low value labor to persist. Subsistence agriculture is essentially rural poverty anywhere it is practiced. Only by building higher value labor requirements can people move out of this poverty. I know of no counter-example except in rich countries which tax others to provide subsidies for "cultural" reasons, like in Switzerland.
In Response

by: xionghao from: China
September 11, 2012 5:55 AM
I think the only way changing the situation is education.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs