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Contributions of Pastoralists Overlooked, Underreported, Study Finds

FILE - Maasai man David Nina walks with his grazing cattle in Kajiado County in Kenya, April 9, 2020.

Pastoralists, people who raise livestock in the open and are often nomadic, are being overlooked as a benefit to world food security and biodiversity. That's according to a study released Wednesday by the Germany-based League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development. The study, which looked at five countries, including Kenya and Uganda, says a scarcity of data makes it difficult to quantify the contribution of millions of pastoralists to economies, ecosystems, and wildlife.

A new study calls for the proper recognition of pastoralists communities in their countries.

The League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development (LPP), an NGO, commissioned a study of five countries to find the estimated number of pastoralists.

The report, published Wednesday finds that none of the governments used pastoralism as a category for data collection, making the pastoralists invisible and creating a data gap of millions of people, their way of life, and how they raise livestock.

Jacob Wanyama carried out the research in Kenya and Uganda.

“The study was actually provoked by a recognition that livestock keepers, especially pastoralists, normally their roles or contribution to the national economies, are not recognized partly because of their numbers in terms of populations in terms of what they produce," Wanyama said. "They are not usually captured in the national databases or even if they are captured, are not completely captured because of the fact that they are pastoralist and they are mobile, and that makes it difficult for them to provide this information.”

The study also covered Germany, India and Argentina.

Pastoralists move with their animals from one place to another in search of water and pasture. The animals purely depend on natural vegetation. Such traditional practices contribute to biodiversity.

In Kenya, 4 million people who identified themselves as pastoralists rely on livestock, worth more than $1 billion, but the scarcity of data makes it difficult to quantify pastoralism's contribution to ecosystem and wildlife services.

Naomi Waqo is a nominated senator from a pastoral community northern Kenya. She says national resources are divided based on population.

“Like in Kenya, now what we call a revenue allocation is based on the population of people because for us our numbers are not captured most of the time," Waqo said. "People believe that we have few people in our area and that we don’t matter, so it has affected us in terms of education because schools are also built according to the number of young people who go to school. And hospitals are also provided according to the number of people who need the services.”

In 2019, the Ugandan government proposed abolishing nomadic pastoralism, saying such a practice was dangerous for communities that rely on it.

The pastoral communities in Uganda’s Karamajong region that mostly depend on the livestock criticized the move and said it violated their rights.

Waqo says people associate pastoralist communities with poverty due to their way of life.

“We also have natural calamities like drought, the majority of our people are poor, poverty affects people, floods keep on affecting us, and we lose our animals during the drought," Waqo said. "People don’t see a positive contribution.”

Wanyama said most of the wildlife parks and conservancies that attract tourists are found in the pastoral areas, and that should also be considered their contribution to the countries' economies.

“First of all, the fact that pastoralists are mobile and they are found in most fragile areas, otherwise which would not have been used on anything else apart from pastoralists," Wanyama said. "And in the process because of that they are able to survive, live with the natural resources there, wildlife, trees. They conserve all of these things because some of them actually depend on them, for example, trees provide medicine, so they conserve them."

The report calls on governments around the world to support and strengthen the pastoralist system with information, policies, and investments to make the sector more sustainable.