‘Uncertainty is part of life’ for Kenya’s pastoralists

In this short video, part of a forthcoming series to be featured on the PASTRES blog, Dr Hussein Abdullahi Mahmoud introduces the PASTRES work in northern Kenya by responding to two questions.

Dr Mahmoud is the country lead for PASTRES work in Kenya, based at the Technical University of Mombasa. He is an expert on the social, political and economic dynamics of livestock marketing in dry areas. Coming from northern Kenya himself, he says that “uncertainty is part of life”.

Interacting ecological, economic and political uncertainties dominate dry areas. In answer to the question “in what ways is uncertainty an important lens for looking at pastoralism?” he argues that, whether because of drought or conflict, “we live with uncertainty on a daily basis”.

Through detailed field research in Isiolo county in northern Kenya, PASTRES will be unravelling the intersections of different types of uncertainty, and the responses of pastoralist populations to these. We are currently recruiting PhD students to work in our three study areas, including Kenya (deadline 20 July), and they will each be engaging in detailed fieldwork to explore the complex dynamics of and responses to uncertainty in pastoral areas.

Responding to the question, “how do you think PASTRES can influence the global debates around pastoralism?”, Dr Mahmoud argues that, compared to the ways policy is often thought about in policy circles, “the reality on the ground is quite different”.

How life is changing for pastoralists in Kenya

In the context of decentralisation in Kenya, the responsibilities of county governments to support local economies has increased; and in northern Kenya this means pastoralism. Large infrastructure projects, including marketing facilities, abbatoirs, roads, airports and more are being developed in the region, linked to minerals extraction (including oil) and alternative energy investments.

In Kenya, the major LAPSSET corridor investment is centre-stage. (For background on LAPSSET and other agricultural growth corridor developments in eastern Africa, see a recent paper produced by the APRA Consortium.) Such investments are changing the face of the drylands, and Isiolo is at the epicentre of such developments in Kenya. These investments bring opportunities but also new uncertainties, and new politics of the margins.

PASTRES is associated with ongoing work on this theme, including a stream of multiple panels to be held at the UK African Studies Association in September.

As Dr Mahmoud explains, PASTRES will be engaging with policymakers and development practitioners around these issues, bringing perspectives from pastoral communities to the national debate about pastoralism in Kenya.


Keep posted on new developments with the project by following us on Twitter (@PASTRES_erc), signing up to this blog, as well as the PASTRES mailing list. Forthcoming blogs will share videos with other country leads, and introduce the other two study sites in Qinghai/Sichuan, China and Sardinia, Italy.

Photo credit: Mateo Caravani

The vegan craze: what does it mean for pastoralists?

There’s a vegan craze in full swing in Brighton in the UK – and it seems more broadly. There was a vegan festival near my house the other weekend, and vegan graffiti (in washable chalk, I hasten to add) appears frequently in our local park. My daughter became a vegan for a period a year or so ago after a school trip to a local farm. I have nothing against veganism, and I see its potential health, welfare and environmental benefits, certainly for consumers in northern Europe. But what would a mass shift from livestock products mean for poor pastoralists living in marginal areas?

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Shifting contexts for Maghreb pastoralists

Pastoral territories constitute about two thirds of total land area in the Maghreb, a region in North Africa that includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya and (parts of) Mauritania. Small stock rearing remains a pervasive strategy for most rural communities in the region. Although the land for pastoral use has been shrinking (see graph below), pastoralism continues to be an important source of livelihood in the region. The share of livestock in agricultural GDP ranges from 26 percent in Morocco to 70 percent in Mauritania. The biggest pastoral countries in terms of rangelands areas are Morocco and Algeria, with approximately 40% of their territory classified as steppe. Egypt, Libya and Mauritania are mostly desert countries where rangelands represent a very tiny percentage of the national territory.

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Migrant labour and pastoralism in Europe

As a previous blog showed, pastoralism across the Mediterranean regions of Europe has undergone immense changes in recent decades. Rural out-migration, particularly of young people, is changing the labour profiles of shepherds and herders across Italy, France and Spain. Migrant workers are filling the gap, coming from Albania, Romania, Macedonia and other countries across the Balkans in particular, but also from the Maghreb, and from countries such as Morocco.

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Should we blame livestock for climate change?

Livestock are essential to rural economies and livelihoods across the world. But are these animals contributing to planetary destruction through greenhouse gas emissions? Estimates suggest that 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions are from livestock, and nearly all of this is from grazing ruminants. But what to do about it? This is a big debate, and one that much good science is focused on.

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Wilderness for whom? Negotiating the role of livestock in landscapes

Livestock keeping is seen by some as a scourge on ‘natural’ landscapes, creating devastation through grazing and browsing. Reversion to some form of idealised ‘wilderness’ is seen as the solution, with value created through improved aesthetics, tourism and enhanced ecosystem services.This has been a focus by the ‘re-wilding’ debate. Continue reading “Wilderness for whom? Negotiating the role of livestock in landscapes”

Why killing reindeer is poor science

The Norwegian state has ordered Sami reindeer owners to reduce the size of their herds to the ‘carrying capacity’ deemed acceptable by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, arguing that high stocking rates detrimentally affect the fragile tundra ecosystem. Herder Jovvset Ánte Sara has been battling the state in the courts, resisting the requirement to reduce his herd to 75. Late last year, he lost in the Supreme Court, but vowed to fight on, arguing that this was an assault on indigenous rights.

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The many futures of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa

A 2016 article by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones – The futures of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa: pathways of growth and change – outlines the different pathways of change emerging in the Horn of Africa. It is published in the Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics) and is part of a special issue edited by Jacob Zinsstag and colleagues. The whole issue is well worth a read.

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Beef, borders and Brexit: why livestock movement is essential

Flexible movement is essential for most livestock systems. Whether it’s the transhumance of pastoral herds and flocks responding to seasonally variable grass production or movement along market chains from production zones to markets, mobility is crucial, but under threat. Mobility reduces uncertainty, allowing for opportunistic responses to changing conditions, whether drought, price shifts or new markets. When borders are put in the way, conflicts can arise, or re-emerge.

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