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The Future of Pastoral Development in Ethiopia: Directions and Policy Options
April 3, 2017

FSS holds dialogue on: The Future of Pastoral Development in Ethiopia: Directions and Policy Options

ADDIS ABABA-Forum for Social Studies (FSS) held a public policy dialogue on The Future of Pastoral Development in Ethiopia on Friday 24th of March 2017, as part of the dialogue series being organized under the theme of Discourse on Ethiopian Development: Challenges and Prospects.

As the usual practice, a discussion paper was presented by an expert in pastoralist issues in Ethiopia to help in making the debate and discussion evidence based. To that effect, Dr. Taffese Mesfin, an expert with extensive knowledge and experience in the areas of Pastoralism and Food Security, among others,  and who is the founder of the Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia (PFE), presented a discussion paper tiled: The Future of Pastoral Development: Policy Directions and Options.

Dr. Taffese started his presentation on the initial confusions surrounding the Amharic term ‘arbeto ader’ (literally livestock herder) which some argue that the term does not describe the dynamic, mobile and complex nature of pastoralists in Ethiopia and their way of living. Dr Tafesse however said, now that the pastoralists in Ethiopia are being encouraged to settle, and their movements are being thwarted, I believe the term can ‘arbeto ader’ be used because it “signifies a settled and livestock-based livelihood system”.

Dr. Taffese then described pastoralists in Ethiopia as strong people who managed to make their livelihood possible through adaptation to a marginal and unpredictable environment, and who developed extensive traditional knowledge about their environment and have evolved strategies that allow them to survive and indeed thrive in arid lands.

He said the livestock production and trade (pastoralism) has been a viable mode of livelihood since the time of immemorial for a significant part of Ethiopia’s population residing in the low land part of the country. Dr Tafesse stressed that mobility from and to different places, and employing coping strategies such as keeping or possessing large herds of livestock; herd diversification and splitting; and focused mutual assistance systems describe the Ethiopian pastoralist community.

Dr. Taffese also said the Federal Government of Ethiopia, including some Regional Governments have shown their political will to develop pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, and the major policy steps taken so far include recognition of constitutional rights of pastoralists not to be displaced from their own lands and rights to fair price to their products, and right for participation.

He said, in addition, the Federal Government has recognized the Ethiopian Pastoralist Day (EPD) as a national day, and included the chapter on Pastoralism in the PASDEP. He said however that the above mentioned important provisions are not translated in to laws so as to protect and secure communal grazing lands.

Dr. Tafesse noted that even though The Ethiopian pastoralist system is highly dynamic, complex and adaptive to social, economic and environmental changes, this has been less understood by policy makers and development actors, who think of them (Pastoralists) as backward and resistant to change,” the research indicated.

Moreover, he said not being cognizant or overlooking the vulnerability factors such as land use change and other pressures in pastoralist areas, Policy makers blame the system as inefficient.

Nonetheless, he said his research indicated that pastoralists employ a number of coping mechanisms like shifting species from grazer to browser, so as to adapt to climate change and bush encroachment problems.

He added that they have an iincreasing demand for education and have well benefited from Improved communication technology such as mobile phone to monitor their livestock mobility, exchange market information and monitor risks such as conflict and drought; utilizing opportunities from growing domestic and foreign trade, supply to market their livestock and livestock product to both foreign and domestic market, and are utilizing opportunities of growing urban centres.

Finally, Dr Tafessse recommended drought cycle management, community driven development, livelihood diversification, documenting knowledge and best practices for future use, land use policy, and addressing cross-cutting issue such as gender, environment and climate change, among others, to tackle the problems with the pastoralist system in Ethiopia.

Following the presentation, Ato Tezera Getahun, an expert with extensive knowledge and experience in the field, and who is currently the Executive Director of the Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia (PFE), forwarded comments to enrich and strengthen the discussion paper. His comments focused on the policy and strategy aspects of the future direction of Pastoralism in Ethiopia and he put forward some ideas at to the future direction of the development of pastoralism in Ethiopia. He started out by saying that there were some issues that have to be clear as to the government’s position on and future direction of pastoralism in Ethiopia. 

He said the widely held belief among development practitioners, the discourse and scholarship that the Ethiopian Government was pursuing a policy of converting pastoralists into farmers was wrong. He said even the media was heard reporting the conversion of pastoralists into farmers as an achievement of the developmental state. It was indicated that this was not always the case.  Ato Tezera said the government was committed to deliver socio-economic services and infrastructure and not to change their livelihoods system.

At Tezera also noted that the pastoralist sector should not be treated like an island, but it does need to be integrated and interconnected with the rest of the economy and society.  It also offers opportunities for a regional integration of member states of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD). 

Ato Tezera concluded by saying that with almost 50% of the country’s land covered by pastoralist areas,  the Ethiopian pastoralist sector- a source of livelihoods for about 12 million people- is a sector which can greatly contribute to the national economy and can be a viable mode of life.

In the discussion session that ensued, participants shared their views and forwarded comments to enrich the discussion paper, to which Dr. Tafesse responded and promised to consider whicle completing the research paper.

The dialogue forms part of the public dialogue series under the main theme titled: Discourse on Ethiopian Development:  Challenges and Prospects that FSS is currently implementing with the financial assistance from DFID through the British Embassy in Ethiopia. The dialogues aimed at more inclusive and more participatory policy making and thereby widening its influence and impact.

Around 40 stakeholders drawn from various sectors including Government Ministry Offices, Civil Society Organization (CSOs), Researchers and the media attended the public dialogue.