Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative
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The Vital Role of Pastoralism in Africa’s Food System

Pastoralism in the Drylands. 

By Jarso Mokku

Pastoralism, the oldest food system, sustains a vast population of livestock in harsh environments unsuitable for crop farming. It is the most viable, productive, and efficient food system in drylands where a sedentary lifestyle cannot support human and animal life.

Mobility, a crucial and unique adaptation strategy, enables the flexible use of scarce resources. However, increasing population pressures and demands for alternative land use challenge pastoralism’s viability, damaging fragile ecosystems in drylands.

Pastoralism is a critical source of food value chains globally. In the Horn of Africa, pastoralists supply 70% of meat to Middle Eastern countries and own 10.5% of cattle, 12.9% of sheep, and 49.2% of camels in the world.

Despite regular climate shocks and devastating droughts causing water and pasture scarcity, which partly cause inter-community conflicts, the primary challenge to pastoralism remains the lack of appropriate public investment and policy support for dryland communities in Africa.

Through their efforts, pastoralists have maintained 43.2% of cattle, 34.6% of sheep, and 56% of all the camels on the African soil, producing millions of tonnes of milk, meat, hides, and skin value chains.

The IGAD protocol on transhumance, a regional policy and legal framework, aims to unblock cross-border bottlenecks, regulate livestock movement, and support those struggling to produce food in Africa’s most challenging landscapes.