News / Africa

Experts Debate How East Africa Livestock Herders Should Handle Drought

A young boy walks away with his food from a government sponsored feeding center in central Turkana, Kenya, August 30, 2011
A young boy walks away with his food from a government sponsored feeding center in central Turkana, Kenya, August 30, 2011

Experts are wrapping up meetings in Nairobi this week to look at options for mitigating drought-induced food shortages. They say pastoralism is the best land-use practice in the region's drylands and are looking at ways to help herders maintain their lifestyle.

Herders have been getting a bad environmental rap. The common thinking is that large groups of animals wandering around a parched, drought-stricken territory further degrade the land and water supplies.

The best strategy, popular opinion suggests, is to settle herders onto farms to grow their own food, especially in times of severe food insecurity.

Bad idea, says David Mwangi, researcher with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

“Pastoralists would move in search for pasture, and also water, because what then would happen, if you are in a small area, the moment the water is exhausted, you’d have to move to the next area where there is water. It gives the area you have left time to re-generate and by the time you come back through the loop, this area now has pasture to graze,” Mwangi said.

But, says Mwangi, farming in arid and semi-arid areas - especially during a drought - is not sustainable or even realistic, given the absence of water, poor soil quality, and the difficulties of implementing irrigation.

Mwangi and other experts say that pastoralism is the most efficient use of arid and semi-arid lands, both environmentally and economically.

Jeff Hill, director of policy for the Bureau of Food Aid at USAID, describes the value of arid and semi-arid lands to the region’s economies. Arid and semi-arid lands comprise some 80 percent of the Horn of Africa. “Their livestock-based economies drive a value chain which constitutes 35 to 40 percent of agricultural GDP (gross domestic product) in Ethiopia and 45 to 50 percent of the agricultural GDP in Kenya. In Somalia, livestock systems fuel the economy,” Hill said.

Livestock is sold for cash, as well as providing meat, milk and other by-products to families. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development estimates that over 90 percent of meat consumed in East Africa comes from pastoralist herds. Kenya’s pastoral livestock sector is estimated to be worth some $800 million.

But herders and their lifestyles have long been looked down upon, viewed as being “backwards.” Arid and semi-arid lands have often been excluded in government planning, with very few roads and other infrastructure being built.

Hill says it is only recently that the Kenyan and other governments have recognized the value of arid and semi-arid lands and have put the development of these areas into national plans such as Kenya’s Vision 2030.

Experts say ensuring that herders and their livestock have access to grazing and watering areas - especially during the dry season - is critical to preventing famine in arid and semi-arid lands. But conflict over these resources and poor roads and other infrastructure are some of the factors that restrict herders’ access.

During their meeting this week, scientists and other experts discussed concrete ways to support herders and their lifestyle.

Kenya Agriculture Research Institute’s Mwangi describes a project in Kenya’s Chalbi Desert in which grass is grown to feed livestock. He says communities need to be creative with the resources they have, giving the example of rangeland near the Tana River in Eastern Kenya.

“What would happen if we developed a system where we grow fodder and pasture along the river, and the animals are taken off from the range and finished nearer to the market? What we really need is a system, and that is what has been really lacking,” Mwangi said.

He says more efforts also need to be put into camel rearing, as camels tend to be the only livestock that lactate during a drought.  

Herder Nixon ole Parmisa describes for VOA more support strategies.  “If there is a drought, we need to have some drought mitigation measures. Now you warn the community (that) the drought is coming, so what do you do? Sell your livestock. Maybe the government will buy - the Kenya Meat Commission - at a good price, so sell. And the community will be very much willing to sell,” Parmisa said.

A recent report by the International Livestock Research Institute lists additional pastoral-support strategies, including the construction of roads, access to market information, and schemes that pay herders for wildlife conservation and other ecological services.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Official Pleased With Ebola Containment Measure

Official says three-day sensitization effort will help reduce infection rate of Ebola disease nationwide More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid