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1. Studying pastoral indigenous knowledge and information systems

1.1 Justifications and objectives of the study

Despite the fact that nomadic herders are amongst the most food insecure groups in the area, pastoral systems have received little or no attention from researchers and extension services. In studies on pastoralism in the Horn of Africa, and especially in Eritrea, there has been no systematic review of the past policies and programmes of states and development agencies aiming to improve pastoral livelihoods. Moreover, there has been little in the way of research that examines pastoralists’ information systems and indigenous knowledge. These knowledge gaps may sharply reduce the chances of achieving success in pastoral development programmes. Many commentators have noted that considerable investments have been made in pastoral projects in sub-Saharan Africa, with relatively little success measured against the stated aims (Waters-Bayer & Bayer, 1994). Communication is, in fact, a key component in human resource development for pastoral production and improved food security. Communication can facilitate pastoral development that seek to establish sustainable natural resource management involving pastoralists, development workers, researchers, input suppliers, local authorities and national decision makers. This could help to foster acceptance of veterinary development policies and programmes, including vaccination campaigns; mobilizing people for participation and action and conveying information for education and training.

The purpose of the study is therefore to contribute to the conceptual development of demand-led extension and advisory services aimed at nomadic herders in Eritrea, through a better understanding of pastoralists’ traditional natural resources management practices and their own sources and channels of information, as a prerequisite for future fieldwork. This study is a follow-up to recent activities carried out jointly in Eritrea by FAO, the Government of Eritrea and DANIDA (Garforth, 2001).

1.2 Outline of methodology

FAO and the World Bank have recently developed a shared vision for an integrated approach to agricultural education, research and extension - the Agricultural Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) (FAO & WB, 2000). An AKIS links people and institutions to promote mutual learning and generate, share and utilize agriculturerelated technology, knowledge and information.

An AKIS relating to pastoralism should include pastoralists, educators, researchers, extensionists, input suppliers, marketing agents and others who have knowledge and information that can be used to improve cattle breeding, to ensure food security and sustainable livelihoods for pastoral people. When assessing an AKIS within the context of traditional ethnic societies (such as those of Eritrean herders) it is essential to have a sound understanding of the nature of pastoralists’ Indigenous Knowledge (IK), the way it is shared and the elements that influence its reproduction.

Generally speaking, IK is the knowledge used by local people to make a living in a particular environment (Warren, 1991). Such knowledge evolves in situ, so that it is specifically adapted to the requirements of local people and conditions. It is also creative and experimental, constantly incorporating outside influences and inside innovations to meet new conditions. It is therefore a mistake to think of indigenous knowledge as “old-fashioned” or “static” (Emery, 2000; Langill, 1999; IIER, 1996).

Researchers concerned with sustainable development have focused on different categories of pastoral IK, such as: animal production, animal husbandry, ethnoveterinary knowledge and practice, and ethno-botanic knowledge. While research may center its attention on a particular category of IK, any IK under investigation must be viewed in terms of the overall cultural context. IK is embedded in a dynamic system in which spirituality, kinship, local politics and other factors are tied together and influence one another. The interrelation amongst these aspects, the integrality of this system should be taken into account when examining a particular part of the IK system. IK has many positive aspects, and incorporating IK into projects can contribute to local empowerment and provide valuable input for alternative natural resource management strategies. Furthermore, in order to promote sustainable development that is culturally appropriate to traditional societies, it is necessary to enhance the traditional/local knowledge and information systems which allow the survival and renewal of culture, identity and societal wealth, and are important generators of innovation. Given the importance of IK, pastoralists’ management of their own knowledge may therefore play a critical role in ensuring food security for the nomads living in the Horn of Africa.

1.3 Overview of pastoralism in the Horn of Africa

The most current definition of pastoralism in the development literature is the one given by Swift (1988): “Pastoral production systems are those in which 50% or more of household gross revenue (i.e. the total value of marketed production plus the estimated value of subsistence production consumed within the household) comes from livestock or livestock-related activities (for example caravan trading), or where more than 15% of household food energy consumption consists of milk or milk products produced by the household. An ‘agro-pastoral’ production system is one in which more than 50% of household gross revenue comes from farming, and 10-50% from pastoralism”. As highlighted in a recent study (Morton & Meadows, 2000), such a definition has the merit of de-emphasizing the concept of nomadism, long used as a term indicating a particular mobility strategy carried out by some pastoralists for obscure psychocultural reasons, which needed to be overcome in the name of civilization.

As anthropologists have pointed out, pastoralism is a “mode of perception” as well as a mode of production (Baxter & Hogg, 1990). In this sense the term “pastoralists” has to be extended to people who have been forced by poverty to depend on non-livestock activities, as well as to wealthy households who have successfully diversified into trade or agriculture, both groups still holding common beliefs about the fundamental importance of livestock to their ways of life and self-perceptions.

The Horn of Africa[1] is home to the largest aggregation of traditional stockbreeders in the world, estimated at 15-20 million people (FAO, 2000a). For all the states of the region, arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) represent a major portion of the land area.

In such areas, characterized by erratic rainfall and periodic droughts, pastoralism is a well-suited natural resource management system[2]. Nevertheless, pastoralists in the Horn of Africa are now amongst the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups. This is due to a number of elements, historical, social, economic and political in nature, linking and influencing one another. Traditional livestock production is becoming increasingly impracticable because of a greatly reduced access to land and water, as they are turned over to cultivation. This loss has been facilitated by the reluctance of states to acknowledge and respect pastoralists’ rights to land (Lane & Moorehead, 1995). Restrictions on the mobility of herders and their cattle have disrupted the process of adjustment that maintains an ecological balance between men, animals and land (Baxter, 1990). Pastoralist society has been negatively affected by state borders that divide ethnic groups, separating people from their kin, pastures, watering places and markets. Colonial and postcolonial arrangements disrupted the social and political cohesion of pastoral societies, and poverty intensified competition for resources, further undermining social organization (Markakis, 1993; Barfield, 1993). The result was conflict, both within pastoralist society and with state authority supporting sedentarised farmers (Maknun, 1986).

State policies throughout the region aim to develop livestock production, rather than to improve the living conditions of pastoralists. They are based on a desire to turn their land over to commercial cultivation through irrigation, or over to meat production in ranching schemes, leaving pastoralists, whose land has remained state domain, as the only social group without any land tenure rights.

In a situation characterized by marginalization, conflict and competition over meagre resources, it is widely recognized that extension and education services have had a limited impact on the status of pastoralist societies. Often provided by governments, these services have failed to achieve their goals. Education programmes have been at odds with and in opposition to nomadic culture at every level, from their principles and goals to their approach to evaluation (Krätli, 2001). Extension services have been undermined by communication gaps between extensionists and pastoralists (Butcher, 1994).

[1] Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
[2] Although pastoralist-induced damage to rangelands cannot be ruled out, the recently emerging “new ecology” showed how in dryland ecosystems characterized by “non-equilibrium” dynamics, mobility in tracking pasture and the high degree of specialization of pastoral knowledge play a critical role (Ellis & Swift, 1988; Behnke & Scoones, 1993; Scoones, 1995).

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