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Pastoralism can pay - but you wouldn't know it

Sunday, 6 December 2015 22:00 GMT

Samburu tribesmen stand during the Maralal Camel Derby, Kenya, August 15, 2015. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

It isn't easy for private companies to open up new markets in pastoralist regions of Kenya or Ethiopia

Pastoralists know markets well, but markets don't know much about pastoralists - and that is one reason it can be hard for businesses to expand into dryland areas in East and West Africa, to offer their goods and services to livestock herders.

Researchers and organisations working to expand income options for pastoralist communities - who are struggling to deal with growing climate change impacts like drought - are gaining a better grasp of these remote rural economies.

But decades of neglect by policymakers and under-development mean it isn't easy for the private sector to open up new markets in the pastoralist regions of northern Kenya or eastern Ethiopia.

"There are high barriers to entry," said Chloe Stull-Lane a consultant with the Kenya Markets Trust, which is helping animal health and insurance companies, among others, expand into pastoralist areas.

One major problem is a lack of education, with herding communities generally scoring low on basic development indicators.

"Levels of education need to increase," Stull-Lane told a discussion on pastoralist economies at Development & Climate Days on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks.

Higher literacy would enable companies to provide information to potential clients and market themselves more easily. "Pastoralists haven't been very exposed to products and services," she added.

For companies wanting to offer financial and veterinary services, or start up livestock-related industries such as meat or dairy processing, it can be a challenge to find local staff with the right skills, so training requirements are high.

The Kenya Markets Trust is working with researchers, businesses and policymakers through programmes funded by the British government and other donors to analyse and find solutions to the obstacles, and create market opportunities linked to the livestock industry.

For example, Stull-Lane said it was initially difficult to persuade an animal health firm and an insurance company to combine their distribution channels, to reduce costs and reach more people. But three years on, they have followed the advice and sales have expanded fast.

And there are people with money to spend in pastoralist regions. Achiba Gargule, a researcher at Bern University who comes from a pastoralist family, said it was a myth that all pastoralists are poor.

Many are, but some are wealthy thanks to large herds or working as middlemen between herders and markets, he said.


In general, the economic value of pastoralism is understated, new research published by the International Institute for Environment and Development shows.

Nine studies of hard-to-reach pastoral areas in Ethiopia and Kenya demonstrated that camel milk, goat meat and other goods and services feed households, bring in money and create employment and access to credit.

Pastoral products also contribute revenues to local authorities and support the provision of basic services in rural towns, the paper said.

Gargule said most development problems in herding regions stem from policy and governance problems affecting pastoralism "that have been dragging the system down".

Izzy Birch, who works as a technical advisor to Kenya's Drought Management Authority, said it was important to put the right institutions in place, and work on issues such as building infrastructure and improving security before looking at more traditional development questions.

Different solutions are needed for different groups of people, she added. Constructing schools fixed in one place won't work for nomadic communities that travel a lot, for instance.

But things are starting to change. The focus is no longer on food aid when hunger strikes, but on social protection and early warning of weather and climate risks, Gargule said.

Researchers agreed there is a need to open up more channels for pastoralists and local civil society to influence policy making. "It is very hard to hear dryland voices," Birch said.

The media could help by providing more coverage and more balanced reporting of pastoralist societies, the experts said.

That might lead to fewer headlines such as the one recalled by Gargule: "Drought is the straw that broke the camel's back".

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