Nelly Bassily | July 20, 2009
Pastoralists are a familiar sight in many parts of East Africa. With walking sticks in hand, they herd cattle across vast plains. But when Ced Hesse sees pastoralists walking by, he spots more than herders and cattle. He sees a bank, an insurance company, and a supermarket.
Mr. Hesse is co-author of a new report by the International Institute for Environment and Development. The report reveals the hidden value of pastoralism.
The numbers are impressive. Up to 20 million East Africans earn their livelihoods as pastoralists. Their work provides meat, milk, and leather for the market. In fact, pastoral herds provide more than 90 per cent of the meat consumed in East Africa.
But Mr. Hesse says the “hidden value” of pastoralism is just as important. He explains that a herd is a type of savings account. While pastoralist families can’t always access typical banks, they can invest in livestock. And they get returns on their investment. Livestock produce a form of interest when they give birth. When the price is right, a cow can be sold for goods such as grain.
A herd is also an insurance policy. Pastoralists insure their families by building large herds. They obtain additional insurance by diversifying the age and species of their animals. Pastoralists with large and diversified herds recover more quickly from drought.
James MacGregor is the other author of the report. He explains that most economic activity related to pastoralism takes place outside the wage, tax, and market system. Therefore, it is not tracked by the government in the same manner as other agricultural activities. The report urges governments to realize the full value of pastoralism and support herders as they confront challenges.