Pastoralism in East Africa: challenges and solutions

Roxanna Deleersnyder
07 March 2018
Pastoralism - travelling with domesticated animals - is still fairly common today, for example in East Africa. Although pastoralists contribute greatly to food security there, they encounter many obstacles.

Pastoralism contributes to food security and nutrition in the dry zones of countries such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda. It offers direct support to an estimated 20 million people, accounting for 90% of the meat produced in East Africa and 80% of the total milk produced in Ethiopia. As such, pastoralism represents important added value for the local and national economies. And yet pastoralists face a lot of challenges.



First of all, pastoralists have difficulty accessing natural resources such as land and water. This restricts their mobility, which is crucial for this type of work. In addition, various services such as education and healthcare, are difficult to reach, both for themselves and for their animals. This is mostly due to the fact that these services are not tailored to their nomadic lifestyle. Furthermore, it is difficult for pastoralists to find access to the markets, while these are the only way to sell their products, such as meat and milk. Finally, the politicians leave them out in the cold. Pastoralists, therefore, lack recognition and receive hardly any support, which is also partly at the root of the above-mentioned problems.

Pastoralism offers direct support to an estimated 20 million people, accounting for 90% of the meat produced in East Africa and 80% of the total milk produced in Ethiopia.


In order to tackle these problems, players from the sector, such as CELEP (The Coalition of European Lobbies for Eastern African Pastoralism), advocate more direct action by the European institutions. For example, they are calling for the European Parliament and the European Commission to mobilise more funds for infrastructure and adapted services. For the milk production, for example, they want decentralised facilities to collect and keep the milk refrigerated, but they also want good roads to transport the milk from the countryside to towns and cities. Modern communication technologies, such as tablets and smartphones, would also be an enormous leap forward. These would allow pastoralists to keep track of safety warnings, market activities and transport options. It would also contribute to the fight against illiteracy, which is still prevalent in this population group, especially among young girls and women.

In addition, CELEP also advocates policy coherence for sustainable development in the European Union: EU activities should not hinder the African pastoralists. In this way, the EU could examine much more closely the economic impact of its milk exports to Africa. Ideally, the European milk and meat trade should not in any way adversely affect local economies. It may make up for the shortfalls, but local producers must retain sufficient scope to operate and expand, with special attention for pastoralists. In addition, CELEP refers to the 'Principals for Responsible Investment in Agriculture' (RAI), drawn up by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The fifth principle refers to legitimate land ownership, fisheries and forests and free access to water resources. Principle number seven refers to respect for the preservation of cultural heritage and traditional skills, with support for diversity and innovation.

Furthermore, the EU should carry out a market analysis to better understand the specific needs of the local milk industry and adopt a tailor-made policy. In this way, the EU would be better able to respond to the specific needs of pastoralists and small producers and would no longer take measures to push the pastoralists out of the market in the long term, as is often the case today.

The role of women in pastoralism also deserves much more attention. This can be done, for example, by promoting their products and supporting their small initiatives. In pastoralist families, women are invariably responsible for the collection, processing, packaging and distribution of milk, but the policy measures put them at a disadvantage. Accordingly, women often do not have access to means of transport for transporting the milk, whereas men usually have a vehicle such as a motorcycle. As a result, they transport and sell the milk themselves and also manage the money.

Finally, CELEP calls for general recognition of pastoralism. If the EU officially recognised it, the concept would gain international standing. African countries would therefore also pay more attention to the challenges that pastoralists are currently having to overcome on a daily basis. This can be done, for example, by civil society organisations representing the pastoralists and ensuring they have a say. They can, in turn, promote a pro-pastoralism agenda.

CELEP (The Coalition of European Lobbies for Eastern African Pastoralism) is the informal advocacy coalition of European organisations, associations and experts in partnership with pastoralist organisations, associations and experts in East Africa. 'Veterinarians without Borders' and' Oxfam International' are also partners of this association. The various organisations are working closely together to encourage the European Union and their European and African governments to explicitly recognise pastoralism and to support pastoralists in the dry areas of East Africa. For more information, please visit

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