La résilience
Pastoralist ‘dropouts’ in Ethiopia’s lowlands boost income through animal feed production and marketing

Pastoralist ‘dropouts’ in Ethiopia’s lowlands boost income through animal feed production and marketing


Climate-related phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, have, in the last several decades, increased both in frequency and ferocity, hitting global agriculture with a blunt and brutal force. Typically, once every ten years, El Niño events now occur in regions like East Africa every four to five years, leaving farmers and (agro) pastoralists decidedly more food insecure and – due to wide-scale crop failure and animal losses – deeply debt ridden. In the last several years, a growing number of pastoralists and agropastoralists have chosen to scale down on livestock rearing or to ‘dropout’ of livestock-based livelihood alternatives altogether. Lulled by the diverse employment opportunities associated with big cities, each year, unknown numbers of former pastoralists move in and out of the pastoralist system. However, many lack the technical, managerial and organizational skills and resources needed to earn a stable income in cities.

In lowland and arid regions such as Afar and Somali, local economies orbit around livestock-based industries – nearly 9 in 10 residents undertake animal rearing as a main source of income. To stem the negative impact of dropouts on markets and households, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) mobilizes former pastoralists who have lost most or all of their livestock into multinutrient block (MNB) producing and marketing cooperatives. Cooperatives are given the technology required to produce the blocks, as well as technical and organizational support. So far, FAO has supported four cooperatives of this kind in Afar Region, other groups are being organized in Somali, Ethiopia’s other livestock-dependent region. Close to one hundred of these former pastoralists have been organized into cooperative groups.

An excellent source of energy, protein and mineral-nutrients, these 7.0 kilogram blocks are ideal for livestock such as small ruminants and cattle. In Afar Region, MNBs are produced locally from agro-industrial by-products such as mollasses, wheatbran and oilseed cakes. The pods of the invasive prospis plant, notorious for its negative impact on biodiverisity in much of Ethiopia’s lowlands, are often grounded and added to the mix. On the whole, MNBs are relatively cheap to produce, and easy to store and transport. Competitive in price, they are routinely sold for 40 percent less than the closest subsititute – concentrate or compound feeds.

Due to the severity of the El Niño-induced drought which plagued Ethiopia in 2015 and partly in 2016, the provision of supplementary animal feed was essiential in order to reduce animal losses, particularly of core breeding stock. In response to the current El Niño-induced feed crisis, FAO purchased over 140, 000 MNBs from these MNB cooperatives and distributed the blocks to the most vulnerable pastoral and agro-pastoral households.

“During normal periods, MNBs can supplement available forage and increase milk yields in both small ruminants and cattle,” shared Dr. Gizachew Lemma, Livestock Expert with FAO Ethiopia’s Country Office. Dr. Lemma believes that given the relatively low cost per animal (between USD 0.12 for small ruminant and USD 0.45 for cattle per day for each animal), MNBs are a less expensive feed supplement to protect livestock assets during times of crisis in the lowland areas close to sugar and oil extracting industries.

The Organization also plans to link the forage production which it promotes in Ethiopia’s agro-pastoral areas with MNB production. FAO will include locally produced Alfalafa and Leuceana leave meals, which the Organization distributes as seeds, as well as other improved varieties into the production of MNBs, making the hardy meal a complete ration for animals. So far, FAO has distributed improved forage seed to more than 7 600 households.

Through these MNB cooperatives, FAO links years of experience in animal rearing which may have otherwise gone untapped, directly to activities that are beneficial to livestock-based value chains. As a result, these former pastoralists are contributing to the traditional systems they were raised in, all the while boosting their household incomes and diversifying regional markets.

Hassan Zebide, a member of the Eneb Cooperative in Afar believes that MNBs are critical to boosting the resilience of pastoral communities in times of drought. “We want the MNB production and marketing to sustain not only for our own pockets. We want our people to learn how to defeat future droughts,” said Zebide. Along with 18 other members of his small cooperative, Zebide labours daily on their modest MNB manufacturing unit in the town of Awash, southern Afar, to make this a reality.