African livestock can triumph in the face of climate change

News, 3 February 2010
Africa's livestock producers are bucking a trend, by proving resilient to climate change and generating huge economic benefits for their nations and regions, say researchers in a book published today by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and SOS Sahel.

It shows how pastoralism is a major economic player and contributor to many African economies and one whose importance is only set to grow as climate change takes hold.

"Pastoralists manage complex webs of profitable cross-border trade and draw huge economic benefits from rangelands ill-suited to other land use systems," says Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, writing in the book’s preface. "Their livestock feed our families and grow our economies. And mobility is what allows them to do this."

The book, Modern and Mobile, shows how livestock play a key role in the economic prosperity in African’s drylands by supporting hundreds of millions of people, and a massive meat and leather industry.

"What is remarkable is that these benefits all arise from animals fed solely on natural pasture," says Ced Hesse, a researcher at IIED and one of the book’s authors.

"The financial inputs are minimal but the benefits rapidly extend beyond the herders and their communities to enrich the lives of millions of people involved in the livestock supply chain including consumers in far off cities," he adds. "This shows how crucial it is to support Africa’s pastoralists for their contribution to wider economic development."

The book shows that contrary to popular belief pastoralists actually profit from climatic variability.

"Harsh, arid and unpredictable environments are not obstacles to pastoralists as they would almost inevitably be to other primary producers," says co-author Saverio Kratli, who is the editor of the journal Nomadic Peoples.

"This is because pastoralists are experts at leading, breeding and training their animals to use the richest possible diet for milk and meat production in environments where highly nutritious grasses are not growing everywhere at the same time."

"As long as this is understood and respected by decision makers then pastoralism can, like other modern production systems, be strengthened, improved and integrated into modern market economies," he says.

Modern and Mobile argues that what is needed to support this mobility is not large amounts of finance but a change in mindsets of policymakers and international donors.

The book is the final output from a year-long project funded by the Howard G Buffett Foundation.

Modern and mobile. The future of livestock production in Africa's drylandsModern and mobile. The future of livestock production in Africa's drylands

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pastoralists video

View a selection of short videos exploring the impact of climate change on drylands pastoralists

Project: Supporting pastoral mobility in East and West Africa

Lessons from initiatives in ten countries to increase understanding about the importance of livestock mobility in drylands. Video and free to download publications available.

Pastoralist in Africa. Photograph: Stephen Anderson/Modern and Mobile

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