Pastoralism and policy training: addressing misconceptions and improving knowledge

Pastoralists are one of the most researched, yet least understood, groups in the world. Policy consistently ignores both scientific evidence for sustainable pastoralism and local peoples’ strategies and institutions. IIED and partners’ training helps policymakers understand drylands, and pastoralists get their voices heard.

Pastoralists pull water from a well near Denan in the Somali Region of Ethiopia for their camels.

Pastoralists are one of the most researched, yet least understood, groups in the world. Policy consistently ignores both scientific evidence for sustainable pastoralism and the strategies and institutions local people use to turn drylands’ diversity and unpredictability to their advantage.

Tackling this requires a dual track approach to:

  • help decision-makers and planners understand the scientific rationale underpinning sustainable pastoralism, while simultaneously
  • strengthening the skills of pastoralists and their advocates to articulate the economic, ecological and social benefits of their livelihood systems and argue for their inclusion in national policy.

Training in pastoral dynamics, options and advocacy

IIED and multiple partners in East Africa, Ethiopia, the Sahel and Sudan have developed a training programme in sustainable pastoralism to meet these two needs. The training uses scientific evidence and case studies that demonstrate how pastoralism, and its complex social, political and economic organisation, exploits the highly variable and unpredictable conditions of drylands, while coping with drought.

It also shows how pastoralism, far from being outmoded and uneconomic, is highly dynamic and intricately linked into the modern world (for example see the book Modern and Mobile), contributing significantly to national, regional and international markets in Africa, the Middle East and beyond. The training clearly shows how supporting pastoralism in Africa requires fresh thinking and clear understanding, not huge resources.

The training, with regional modifications, broadly consists of three modules:

  1. The dynamics of pastoral systems. This module explains the dynamics and internal logic of different pastoral and agro-pastoral systems. It demonstrates how dryland pastoralism is a well adapted ‘system’, regulated both by ecology and by complex modes of social, political and economic organisation with livelihood and risk-spreading strategies. It challenges outsiders’ many negative assumptions about pastoralism with hard evidence.
  2. The policy challenges and options for pastoralism. Successive policies since colonial times have sought to either modernise or change pastoral systems, nearly all with disastrous effects. The module looks at past policy and current reforms, and their drivers (e.g. wildlife, water, range management), and examines the larger contexts, including national poverty reduction strategies, decentralisation and increasing privatisation and foreign investment in land and natural resources. The constraints and opportunities these present for pastoral communities are discussed. By the end of the module, participants should be able: to identify and analyse the key premises underpinning dryland policies, to generate arguments and alternative policy options based on what they have learnt in Module 1, and to make informed and positive contributions to policy dialogues.
  3. Advocating for change. This module covers the key actors, their roles, the policymaking cycle and crucial issues when advocating for change. It shows how policy advocacy is ‘messy’ and doesn't necessarily follow clear, linear processes and procedures. Rather, it is highly dynamic, often responding to changing politics and power relations from both within and outside the country.

The training was initially designed for the Sahel in 1998/9, where it is still used by Associates in Research and Education for Development, and other organisations including Sahel-Eco in Mali, and the CARE-Denmark programme in Niger. It has now spread to East Africa, Ethiopia and most recently Sudan. 

The Feinstein International Centre of Tufts University, with IIED support, has adapted the training and has developed a pool of national trainers in Ethiopia. The training is now becoming a mainstream part of graduate and post-graduate courses in the universities of Haramaya, Jigjiga, Mekelle, and Hawassa as well as in government agricultural vocation colleges (see our Pastoral Voices project below). In Sudan, the Tufts Centre is working with IIED, the Nomadic Development Council, SOS Sahel Sudan and the United Nations Environment Programme to adapt the training. An Arabic version of the training will launch by August 2013.

The MS-Training Centre for Development Cooperation has offered the training course in East Africa since 2007 on a cost recovery basis. Over 200 participants from across the region have attended two week courses. In Kenya and Tanzania, the training supports local government climate resilient development planning in the drylands.

In Tanzania, the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum uses a Kiswahili version of the training to build capacity among pastoral civil society organisations to advocate for a supportive policy environment at national level, and to encourage appropriate planning and investment at local government level. See Strengthening Voices: how pastoralist communities and local government are shaping strategies for adaptive environmental management and poverty reduction in Tanzania’s drylands.

For more information contact:
Dr Berhanu Admassu ( (Ethiopia)
Helen Young ( (Sudan)
Ced Hesse (ced.hesse@iied.orgat IIED.

Pastoral voices: putting people at the centre of drylands governance in Ethiopia

The African Union has a policy framework for pastoralism that offers a real opportunity to make pastoralism a mainstream part of national and regional policies. But for this to happen, governments need to be convinced, and pastoralists and their advocates need to do the convincing.

They need strong empirical evidence of pastoralism’s benefits. And once good policies are passed, resources will be needed to implement them. To tackle these needs, IIED and partners are developing an 18-month action-research and capacity building project (September 2012 to March 2014) in Ethiopia that builds on several previous initiatives. The partners are the Feinstein International Centre of Tufts University and Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia, and the work is funded by CORDAID.

The project has two components:

  • The total economic value (TEV) of pastoralism. This collaborative research will examine the total economic value of pastoralism in Afar, Somali and Oromia regions. It will involve the Pastoral Councils, regional government Commissions and Bureau Heads, and each region’s corresponding university (universities of Mekelle, Hawassa, Jigjiga and Haramaya). Findings will be widely disseminated and will be integrated into the Ethiopian training course on pastoralism. There, they will facilitate debate at regional and national levels on the future of pastoralism in Ethiopia.
  • Ensuring that training on pastoralism is a mainstream part of graduate and post-graduate curricula for range ecology and management, animal science and livestock production, rural sociology, and conflict and peace building at Mekelle, Hawassa, Jigjiga and Haramaya universities.

For more information contact:
Dr Berhanu Admassu (
Ced Hesse (