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Chapter 5. Surviving in the desert: the resilience of the nomadic herders Pastoralist food system of the Kel Tamasheq people in Aratène, Mali

Section 3 Conclusions and future projections


The outputs and the inputs of the food system are presented below.

TABLE 5.5. Ouputs and inputs of the food system image


The sustainability of a food system implies the need for a system to continuously provide quality and diversified foods in sufficient quantity for everyone as main pillars of food security.

To be sustainable, the food system needs to: (1) maintain healthy rural ecosystems and fertile agricultural soils, and (2) limit its dependence on economic fluctuations and external politics. With respect to the protection of livelihoods, as far as Aratène’s native food system is concerned, in comparison with the past, the diet shows little diversity and food security is seasonal. Livelihoods and incomes are inadequate. Only the sale of animals, out of necessity for that matter, provides relatively high revenues. These sales have limits that should not be exceeded to protect the herds’ core reproductive members. One improvement that can be noticed in the pastoral environment is wintering that occurs between August and September when there is sufficient milk and meat, a sign of food sufficiency. All other livelihoods are adequately meeting the community’s needs during this period. The farms, households with herds, can be qualified as self-sufficient during the period, since the other food types are not systematically sought.

The food system’s main strength is the existence and preservation through the generations of one or more primary food groups, which constitutes the core diet. In addition to other criteria such as language, specific body markings, etc., communities identify themselves through these foods, such as milk, meat and tea in a Kel Tamasheq setting. This strength determines heritage. Other strengths include social self-organization, which is strong in this community thanks to the presence of local governing institutions for natural resources; and reflected and shared learning, an achievement conducive to the creation of the local food system’s human capital.


The community sees its future through the prism of the projections and future trends relating to: (1) the environment, where the settlement of populations and livestock farming will be favoured over long journeys, with the necessary accompanying measures in the form of development projects; (2) production, affected by the decline of wild edibles gathering, but mostly by the intensive use of the land and the soil for the cultivation of crops; (3) diets, which must remain dominated by local product consumption as much as possible whilst taking into account market produce – but changes in diets lead to other problems related to the costliness of “new foods” and the gradual abandonment of certain food traditions; and (4) the disappearance of their system and of traditional knowledge, a consequence of negative external influences, going by young people’s current aspirations. The latter do not intend to stay in the village, but rather plan to leave to discover other worlds, to study, to take advantage of globalisation’s new technologies, to become doctors, teachers, drivers, transporters or shopkeepers, or to enter military services. This list is not exhaustive. The same aspirations influence the diet, where variety is sought: hors d’œuvres, snacks, ice cream, fruit, vegetables and modern yoghurts. Adults continue to be demanding with regard to maintaining traditional practices in the future local food system, but they remain in tune with young people and children and are receptive to the positive changes from external influences such as, for example, the consumption of market foods not produced from the local landscape.


Aratène’s native food system demonstrates strengths but also faces challenges for its sustainability. The big challenges for the food system’s sustainability are: the risks caused by change and/or the abandonment of secular food traditions in support of “new foods”, which will be accentuated by young people’s aspirations to leave the community – who represent tomorrow’s community members and its human capital; the condition of the local natural capital, damaged for the most part due to sand dunes and gravel crusts; and the food system’s ecological self-regulation, which requires work and local initiatives to be functional because the scarcity, if not the disappearance, of certain forage crop varieties due to droughts and repeated animal grazing is a sign that the system has reached its self-regulation limits. This work and local initiatives must be backed by significant means provided by the State and development partners such as institutions and global political platforms to strengthen resilience and native food system protection in response to climate change. This will consist of prolonged rescue operations depending on the difficulties experienced at the time or on actions of a structural nature for rehabilitation/recovery. Development scenarios can be established, such as the settlement of population and livestock, for example, already envisaged by the community as a future trend.

The community’s self-sustainability has decreased from 1973 to today due to certain lakes drying out permanently, recurring droughts, insufficient help, poverty, poor livestock productivity, and the disappearance of certain woody and herbaceous species used for food and medicines. It is the duty of the farmers’ cooperative, in the absence of public or non-public consultancy support, to take the necessary steps depending on the urgency of the measures needed to strengthen the protection of the ecosystem. Education is needed in terms of training, raising awareness and capacity-building.

The preliminary solutions proposed by the community aimed at improving the diversity and quality of food include the flooding of dried-out lakes, helping farmers to make farms more profitable, simplifying subsistence agriculture, improving land access and learning other trades. Projects designed to help the community need to be implemented to achieve these solutions. This applies to the State in the first instance, with the solicitation of development partners. Participants in the thematic discussions noted that most of the indicators of resilience were weak and that, to improve them, they believe only projects designed to help the community in terms of livestock rearing, agriculture and learning new trades, as well as flooding dried-out lakes, should be introduced.

“Animals are everything for a Kel Tamasheq. We drink their milk, we eat their meat, we use their skin, we exchange them. When the animals die, so do the Kel Tamasheq.”

Kel Tamasheq saying.