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Who should address these policies and issues?


Pastoralists pose a number of problems for policy-makers resulting from their transnational status. Unlike farmers, who are largely tied to the boundaries of the nation State, pastoralists tend to cross borders freely in their quest for forage, regardless of the wishes and policy of individual countries (Blench, 1996). Pastoralists in parts of the Near East have changed from being romantic figures of the desert representing tradition and freedom to becoming a "national problem" (Chatty, 1996: 15). Most countries with an extensive pastoral sector have limited resources, both to service the pastoralists and to police their national frontiers. Individual countries inevitably want to see pastoralists as "their" citizens - an enthusiasm that pastoralists exploit willingly, often by holding identity cards for several countries at once.

It is therefore logical to treat pastoralism on a regional basis and to draw up common policies in relation to health, forage and water resources, subsidies on feed, etc. However, such an approach runs counter to the burgeoning ideology of the nation State and it has rarely been possible to develop regional policy initiatives, let alone implement them effectively. Health provides a good example of this; with the JP-15 campaigns in the 1960s, it was possible to eliminate rinderpest effectively from sub-Saharan Africa. However, a coordinated programme of vaccination of young stock had to be maintained in order to prevent the return of the disease. This was never feasible, with the result that 1984-1985 saw a West Africa-wide rinderpest epizootic that killed up to one-third of the animals (see e.g. Nwosu, 1989).

The primary task, then, is to coordinate approaches and persuade research and development agencies not to subvert each other's policies with ill-considered projects. Second comes propagating an understanding of the significance of long-term sustainability in livestock projects - after two years, preliminary results cannot show impressive increases in productivity and, after ten years, rural householders may even be more impoverished than they were at the start of the project. As is so often the case, other development projects may stand in the way of effective development.


Constructing policy: telling the truth

All agencies that deal with pastoralists now pay lip-service to the concept of participation; gone are the former top-down mandarins and bureaucrats, to be replaced by the listening field worker. Pastoralists gather and express their problems, preferably by drawing conceptual maps in the dust, and solutions emerge, preferably based on the indigenous knowledge that pastoralists have been hoarding for millennia. Agency or non-governmental organization (NGO) then joins with pastoralist, and happy cows and their owners appear in the annual report. At the inevitable workshop another victory for the participatory approach is announced; luckily no top-down advocates appear.

Without some key input from the real world, it may seem that things have never been better for pastoralists. However, the evidence suggests that the reality is very different. War and famine preferentially displace and impoverish pastoralists, as their herds are obvious targets for hungry soldiers. Agricultural expansion increasingly cuts into pastoral land and cultivators extract the water that feeds pastoral wells. Collapses in the command economies have created widespread impoverishment of pastoralists because no corresponding infrastructure has been established as a safety-net. Examples of governments shifting to pastoralist-friendly policies are few and far between.11

The reason for this is that it is not in the interest of agencies concerned with pastoral development to identify national trends and policies as the source of pastoralists' woes. A neat project with no loose ends ideally involves a defined region or subset of population and includes elements of cooperation and improved social cohesion, in addition to technical inputs. For this reason, various types of association all too frequently feature on the menu of options.

Difficult as it is, it may be time to correct these untruths. The nature of their occupation leads pastoralists to form loose and flexible social groupings. The closer they come to sedentarization, the more likely they are to form cohesive social structures. But pastoralists are also opportunists, and whenever a visitor arrives to suggest a project they listen in case something useful emerges. Nonetheless, no matter what they say to a passing development expert, they will do whatever seems expedient for their herds in the light of the current situation.

Relations among pastoralists, governments and developers thus come close to institutionalized dishonesty; many governments depend on the milk and meat from their pastoral sector to feed urban populations, although they are often unwilling to acknowledge this. Pastoralists have an inbred distrust of national governments and a dismaying unwillingness to pay more than lip-service to the values of the nation State. Governments all too often repay them with violence and coercion, a consequence of their incomprehension. Such phenomena are not confined to the developing world; the treatment of gypsies in Europe suggests that highly developed societies feel equally threatened by mobile populations who do not subscribe to their values.

Governments are usually controlled by settled populations who regard mobile pastoralists as a threat or as the location of famines and emergencies. As a consequence, both governments and food aid providers have tended to characterize arid rangelands as special cases that require regular assistance, but not as potential zones for livestock and commercial development. This is reflected both in government policies and internally within multilateral agencies (MLAs) where drylands are argued to be low-return and therefore low-priority. Since the failures in African rangelands in the 1970s, investment in pastoralism by MLAs has been at very low levels. As a consequence, there is very limited recent experience and, furthermore, much that has been learned in the academic sphere about pastoralists and their relation to rangeland ecology has not been transferred to project design or emergency relief.

The result is that pastoral peoples in rangelands feel neglected by government and are therefore hostile to it, even when there is no larger conflict in progress. Relations between State and pastoralists thus tend to be confrontational at the best of times. The lack of infrastructural development makes it increasingly difficult for pastoralists to meet the hygiene demands of international livestock trade, and thus to generate income other than by low-level local sales. Lack of government in remote areas makes possible the spread of modern weapons, so pastoralists attempt to gain access to pasture by force rather than negotiation.

It must be recognized that any sort of rational policy process involves some element of top-down imposition and some element of consultation and participation. Governments have access to regional information on climate, disease, feed supplies and water resources, while pastoralists can provide a dense account of local conditions. It is obviously in the interest of governments to make as much of this information as possible available to pastoralists and to collate and synthesize their comments and suggestions, but there will always be practical barriers since pastoral areas tend to be remote and inaccessible. Governments must make policy and resource decisions on information that is less than perfect and some sector will almost certainly be disadvantaged. This is inevitable in the real world; the key task is to make information flow among sectors as effectively as possible in order to minimize the impact on individual groups.

Rethinking policy clusters

Apart from the key questions of who should be making policy and what mechanisms should be used to support it, policies aimed at pastoralists are themselves in dire need of reform. This is in part because key players who are in a position to influence the policy reform process are usually both highly conservative and problematically close to the agendas of large modern livestock companies. Some clusters of policy reform revolve around:

More specifically, however, policy reorientation should tackle the following:

The future of pastoralism will depend heavily on political decisions made by national governments managing significant grassland zones. Enclosed pastures are unlikely to see any significant extension, but conditions for existing pastoralists will become more difficult with land expropriation by both farmers and conservation lobbies. Working with pastoralists on the basis of a more sympathetic understanding of their production systems could act both to protect their ways of life and to continue their capacity to produce protein on otherwise marginal land.

Experience to date suggests that technical inputs will have only a very limited impact on overall output. The key in the next millennium will be major policy reorientation. The following elements are likely to become important:


Intervention versus information dissemination

Traditionally, it is usual to conclude that developing countries need policy assistance, and there are a wealth of international agencies, think-tanks and consultants ready to jump in and offer this advice. It is worth remembering, however, that much of the policy already in place results from this very process, and one legitimate response would be to ask whether another proposed paradigm shift would be any less ephemeral than previous re-engineering has been. It is also clear that many countries have benefited from failing to take international advice on pastoralism, livestock biodiversity, dairy production, traditional remedies and the like, and have conserved a store of indigenous skills and knowledge that would perhaps otherwise have been jettisoned. It is useful to remember that the great reverence in which indigenous knowledge is held is very recent and hardly backed up by the detailed field research that would actually contextualize such knowledge.

All interventions, whether top-down or participatory, are problematic in retrospect. Over time, they have a poor record of bettering the lives of those whom they are intended to assist. At the same time, as the world rapidly stratifies into information-rich and information-poor societies, it should be clear that pastoralists are bound to fall into the latter category. This follows both from the inaccessible regions in which they live and from their structured confrontation with national governments, which is common. The consequence is that pastoralists will fall ever further behind in their capacity to deal with the modern world, whether it be in understanding livestock markets, gaining access to effective drugs or articulating their opposition to land expropriation.

The role of multilateral agencies and NGOs should therefore be reoriented increasingly towards information dissemination - instead of asking what "we" can do for "them", asking what pastoralists might do for themselves were they to have access to greater information. It may seem perverse to be recommending yet more information flow when there already seems to be an overload in this area and when the problem is often choosing among a variety of sources whose quality is difficult to assess. However, this is very much the perspective of individuals who have the Internet at their disposal. Most pastoralists, and many of those who make policy decisions at the local level, have extremely weak access to information, especially in electronic formats. Such information as might be useful is often contained in lengthy reports written in tortured English and is consigned to the back-shelf, along with other worthy documents. Better policies for pastoralism can flow from more accessible, better-presented information. The implications of this are the need for:

Remedying uneven research

It should be clear from these accounts that research and policy developments in pastoralism are extremely uneven. Pastoralists benefit from being accessible and picturesque and from knowing the dominant language of the country in which they reside. While a bibliography of the Turkana or the Saami would probably fill several fat volumes, it is hard to find a single substantive reference to some Indian or Ethiopian pastoral peoples. A pastoral programme should aim for global comprehensiveness, ensuring that at least some information is available to pastoral peoples throughout the world and that valuable but antique monographs are updated.

Increasing the penetration of tertiary education makes it easier for pastoralist research to be carried out by a member of the pastoral group itself; the key here is probably a small application of funds in the right place, as well as an option for translation and dissemination of the product. The role of multilateral agencies should thus be to identify gaps in the coverage and arrange opportunities for such gaps to be filled, as well as making the product available to other pastoral specialists throughout the world.

Practical support

The promotion of pastoral production will undoubtedly remain controversial, but the argument that it is an effective use of land that could not otherwise be used for agriculture suggests that governments and others will continue to invest in it. If this is to be a productive enterprise, as opposed to a simply humanitarian project, the linking of understanding with action will have to become more effective. This in turn means trying to root out entrenched attitudes, which probably do more harm than any large herds of herbivores could achieve. It is also useful to know what support would be most valuable. The following suggestions emerge:

Pastoralism, almost by definition, is an ecozonal phenomenon that is not bounded by the nation State. Unless it is redefined as a regional issue, both technically and in terms of its institutions, it may be a significant casualty of the early twenty-first century.

11 One exception to this might be the oil-rich States of the Persian Gulf that have given considerable financial assistance to their remaining pastoral populations. However, the outcome has been, not only unviable production systems that exist only within a bubble of subsidies, but also the additional irony that the countries in question do not need the meat and milk produced by the pastoralists, who are given assistance, essentially, for reasons of sentiment.

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