Cordaid study conference on pastoralism and policy influencing (17-19 June 2009)

by Michael Ochieng Odhiambo et al

From 17 to 19 June 2009 Cordaid organised a study conference on pastoralism in Eastern Africa and policy influencing in Europe. The aim was to bring together various European NGOs who work with pastoralist communities in Eastern Africa in order to find new ways to cooperate in the field of policy influencing at the European level.

On the first day of the conference, presentations were given on pastoralism and policy influencing in order to gain a common understanding on the subject. The presentations can be found in the attachments.

Michael Ochieng Odhiambo (Director of Resource Conflict Institute / RECONCILE) dealt extensively with perceptions surrounding pastoralists. He pointed out that pastoralists regularly suffer from inappropriate development action and are often viewed in a ‘romantic’ light leading to what he calls the museum-characterisation of pastoralists. Many questions were raised in the following discussion. The role of the media was highlighted, as well as the consequences of long-held colonial views and the need to engage in awareness-raising. Our own perceptions were also questioned. For example, everyone understands agriculture and feels comfortable when seeing cultivated land, whereas few Europeans immediately understand and appreciate pastoralist lands. Besides misconceptions, other factors explaining governments’ lack of support of pastoralism were considered.
Michael explained that misconceptions are part of a knowledge gap. Rather than pointing at the media, Michael said that the source of misconception still comes from another source, namely society at large. Besides a lack of knowledge among decision makers and within society, power relations are also an important factor. Pastoralists constitute a minority in each of the Eastern African countries they live in and are therefore not of significant political value to policymakers. Similarly, governments of Eastern African countries can be just as powerless at the international level where they have to engage with global powers. The donor government’s wish to see policies in place before it financially supports the recipient government might lead to ill-conceived and hastily devised policies by the latter.

According to Michael, the trick is to articulate pastoralist issues as positives and not as problems. There is a need to talk about opportunities, not complexities. “Which pastoralist area is worse than Nevada?” Michael asks. If we start looking further than plants and agriculture, we will be able to see the contribution and opportunities pastoralist lands bring. Coincidentally, an example of new and additional opportunities for pastoralists was given by The Economist in an article published on the second day of the conference.

The presentation of Ced Hesse (Principal Researcher on Climate Change at the International Institute for Environment and Development / IIED) focused on the total economic value of pastoralism. He made the argument that pastoralists are contributing to their national economies by their significant involvement in hide exports, beef production, cross-border trade and tourism. He also showed that pastoralist livestock-keeping systems are more productive than sedentary livestock-keeping systems in the drylands. Pastoralism is also more productive than some land-use systems such as commercial irrigated agriculture.

Participants asked how this information is used in policy and whether we are too late in making the economic argument considering that pastoralists are being deprived of their lands. Ced replied that this information is a.o. disseminated through training programs such as the one at MC-TCDC in Arusha, Tanzania. There is no lobby or advocacy on it, partly because not all relevant economic research is available. The contribution of pastoralists is poorly captured by national statistics since data are not disaggregated between different livestock-keeping systems.

For the full Conference Report, click here: Conference Report (682) For the full Perceptions of Pastoralism Presentation, click here: Perceptions of Pastoralism Presentation June 09 (972)

Posted on 21 September 2010 in CELEP Documents, Pastoralism & Services, Pastoralism, Policy & Power, Value of Pastoralism