Pastoralism and policy training: addressing misconceptions and improving knowledge

1998 to June 2019

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 the diversity and unpredictability of the drylands to their advantage. 

Pastoralists pull water from a well near Denan in the Somali Region of Ethiopia for their camels. (Photo: Andrew Heavens, Creative Commons via Flickr)

With our partners, we have developed and deliver training to help policymakers understand drylands and enable pastoralists to get their voices heard.

We adopted this dual approach to address the knowledge gap and help decision makers and planners understand the scientific rationale that underpins 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.

Pastoralism and policy training

IIED has worked with multiple partners in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Sahel and Sudan to develop a training programme in sustainable pastoralism to meet these needs. The training does not prescribe solutions or promote specific policy options. Rather, it uses scientific evidence and case studies to demonstrate how pastoralism and its complex social, political and economic organisation exploit 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, 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 by ecology and complex modes of social, political and economic organisation with livelihood and risk-spreading strategies. It challenges outsiders’ negative assumptions about pastoralism with hard evidence.

2. The policy challenges and options for pastoralism: Successive policies since colonial times have sought to modernise or change pastoral systems, nearly all with disastrous effects. The module looks at past policy and current reforms and their drivers, such as wildlife, water and range management. It examines the larger contexts, including national poverty reduction strategies, decentralisation and the increasing privatisation of – and foreign investment in – land and natural resources, discussing the constraints and opportunities these present for pastoral communities.

By the end of the module, participants should be able to identify and analyse the key premises underpinning dryland policies, generate arguments and alternative policy options based on what they learnt in module 1, and 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 that policy advocacy does not follow clear, linear processes and procedures; rather, it is highly dynamic, often responding to changing politics and power relations from within and outside a country. 

What IIED is doing

We are currently working with the Feinstein International Centre of Tufts University to adapt the training to the Uganda context to target policymakers and practitioners and mainstream a pastoralism common course into the teaching curriculums of Makerere University and Gulu University.

We are working with the Centre for Basic Research to enable them to deliver training to high-level policymakers and the Karamoja Development Forum to develop local language versions to reach district-level planners and community-based organisations. We will also train a pool of accredited trainers to ensure maximum spread of the training.

How the training developed

Between 1998 and 2002, we worked with partner Associates in Research and Education for Development (Ared) to develop a pastoralism and policy training course for the Sahel, producing French language and Pulaar versions in 1998/99. A number of organisations delivered this training in the Sahel until 2002 and Ared continues to deliver it today. 

Inspired by the Sahel training, we supported partners to adapt it to the East African context, developing and using the Pastoralism and Policy in East Africa training course between 2001 and 2006. Since 2006, we have worked with partners in different countries to successfully adapt it to their context. 

We developed the training for use Kenya and Tanzania between 2007 and 2009, producing a Kiswahili version. The MS-Training Centre for Development Cooperation offered the course from 2007 and 2010 and a small group of trainers continues to offer the training in English and Kiswahili on a demand basis. The training supports local government climate-resilient development planning in the drylands

With IIED support, the Feinstein International Centre of Tufts University adapted the training to the Ethiopian context from 2006-08, developing a pool of national trainers. The training has become a mainstream part of graduate and post-graduate courses in the universities of Jigjiga, Bule Hora and Samara, using the first text book on pastoralism for a university curriculum: 'Pastoralism and pastoral policy in Ethiopia: text book for common course 2015', which we produced with these three universities.

Between 2011 and 2013, the Feinstein International Centre of Tufts University worked with IIED, the Nomadic Development Council, SOS Sahel Sudan and the United Nations Environment Programme to adapt the training for the Sudan, producing English and Arabic versions of the modules and training manuals.

This video tells the story of the first workshops of the process of adapting the training course to the Sudan context.

For more information

There is a pool of trainers who can offer the training on a demand basis. To find out what is available, please contact the relevant person from the list below:


Strengthening voices: how pastoralist communities and local government are shaping strategies for adaptive environmental management and poverty reduction in Tanzania’s drylands, Helen de Jode and Ced Hesse (2011) IIED

Modern and mobile: the future of livestock production in Africa's drylands, Helen de Jode (2009), IIED and SOS Sahel UK | en français

Le pastoralisme au Sahel: module d'animation et de formation de l'IIED-ARED, IIED and ARED (2007) Briefing

Pastoralism and pastoral policy in Ethiopia: text book for common course 2015, Lecturers from Jigjiga, Samara and Bule Hora Universities (2015) IIED and Tufts University