West Africa: Pastoralists meet new challenges – in the field and the market (Farm Radio Weekly, CTA)

| January 19, 2009

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For decades, Sahelian pastoralists have been forced to adapt to climatic changes. During the dry season, they move south in search of pastures and watering holes for their herds. Increasingly, the changeability of rain patterns puts pastoralists in a vulnerable position, as well as degrading soil and reducing the amount of vegetation in the region. What’s more, conflicts with sedentary farmers are displacing pastoralists and their herds. These ongoing realities highlight the need for the sustainable management of resources, to ensure lasting solutions for pastoralists.

Mohamed Ali Ag Hamana is manager of a regional pastoral program operated by the NGO Oxfam, Great Britain, and based in Niamey, Niger. A Malian by origin who comes from a family of herders, Mr. Hamana was in Ottawa, Canada, last week for a conference on climate change and environmental justice organized by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Mr. Hamana explained to Farm Radio International that access to water is the biggest problem that pastoralists face as a result of climate change. Often, pastoralists traversing the Sahel find places with enough pasture but not enough water, or vice versa. Investments are needed to make water available to the animals.

However, climatic change isn’t the only challenge threatening pastoralist livelihoods. Mr. Hamana’s program endeavours to strengthen Sahel’s pastoralist organizations by offering organizational and institutional support, so that the groups can influence the policies that affect them, obtain better access to the market, and assist women in raising their economic and political standing.

Mr. Hamana explains that the support provided to women responds to needs that the women themselves identified, in the areas of milk production and processing The pastoralist program supported the installation of a milking unit in Burkina Faso. Women working in the unit package milk into bags under hygienic conditions, following the training they received. Their milk is in high demand, preferred by locals to imported milk.

The pastoral program has established a market information system which allows all livestock rearers in the Burkinabe Sahel, the Gao region of Mali, and the Tillabéry region of Niger to receive information about the livestock market. This system allows herders to identify which market is the most advantageous to sell their livestock, and protects them from selling their product at a loss.

Mr. Hamana hopes that livestock rearing will occupy a larger place in the debate over food security. According to Hamana, the importance of herders is rarely taken into account, even though it is fundamentally important not only to income generation, but also in responding to the demand for meat. Mr. Hamana says that, when it comes to food security, all of the focus seems to be focused on cereal crops, and the only way to correct this injustice is through more investment in pastoralism.