Why Have Pastoralists Been Left Out of Ethiopia’s Growth Narrative?

Ethiopia has Africa’s largest livestock population. The pastoralist way of life is one of the oldest socio-economic systems in Ethiopia. Pastoralism is an economic activity practiced among twenty-nine different ethnic groups in the country, constitutes about 12Pct of the total population of Ethiopia and covers 40Pct of Ethiopian land.Two consecutive studies on the contribution of pastoralism to the Ethiopian economy by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the former Ethiopian Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) reveal that in 2009 agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) calculations underestimated the contribution of livestock and readjusted the figures upwards by 47Pct. These studies tried to identify and incorporate the value of the economic benefits from the livestock sector but are routinely not included in agricultural GDP estimates. It is known that livestock serves as a power for farming and transport in general and to the agriculture sector in particular.
According to international conventions, most of the value of these services is not separately itemised in national accounts and therefore cannot be identified as part of the economic benefits that livestock provide. The value of these services is nonetheless considerable – in 2009-2010, about double the official value of livestock’s contribution to agricultural GDP.
As it is the case in other parts of Africa, the reading into pastoralism unequivocally attests to the marginal place pastoralists have long occupied in the country. The marginalisation of pastoralists in Ethiopia has been pronounced by its derogatory moniker zelan, a person jumping from one place to the other. This is perhaps due to the fact that pastoralists come from politically marginalised areas, including the Somali, Afar, Southern and Gambella regions.
In order to better address this reality, policy studies should be conducted to probe the extent to which this marginalisation is compromising the pastoralists’ economic contribution to the GDP.
It’s important to note that the government has started giving more attention to the sector. The Constitution, Article 40 (5), stipulates, “Ethiopian pastoralists have a right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own land.” Ethiopia has also developed a Pastoralist Development Policy. Other encouraging steps in the right direction include the establishment of a Pastoral Affairs Standing Committee within the House of People’s Representatives of the Ethiopian Parliament; the annual celebration of Pastoralists’ Day; and the establishment of a federal-level pastoral concern institution.
Despite such encouraging developments, Ethiopia’s policy towards pastoralism aims at introducing a sedentary way of life to these communities in the coming decades by stating that ‘all pastoralists will be settled.’
From the perspective of the government, a sedentary way of life is regarded as a path to modernisation and development. The Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Development Programme gives more emphasis to agriculture than pastoralism. Similarly, the Agricultural and Rural Development Strategy clearly states that voluntary resettlement will be one of the ways to ensure food security, bring about development; create a conducive environment for technological transfer; and assist the establishment of socio-economic institutions that ensure sustained and enduring economic development, facilitate the improvement of good governance and foster the process of democratisation. These policies, however, fail to recognise pastoralism as a viable way of life and discourages innovations introduced by pastoral communities to adapt to changing economic and political conditions in ways that advance their interests.
The agrarian discourse in Ethiopia has been mainly advocating for peasant land rights. Even prominent land tenure experts in the field have not given adequate attention to the land rights of pastoral communities. The land tenure system in Ethiopia has always been pro-farmers. Since the 1960s successive governments have tried to change pastoral land into farmland, as grazing land is usually considered empty and vacant. As a result, around 1.9 million hectares of rangelands have been changed to cropland.
Ethiopian pastoralists are incontrovertibly a ‘peripheral’ group in relation to the farmer-centric ‘core’. Whenever there is a conflict and competition between the pastoral land and farm land, the land legislation by default favours agriculturalists or land investors. This is perhaps because highland communities, which have dominated most of the policy-making and implementation organs, have traditionally been engaged in crop farming. Thus, support for agriculturalist over pastoralist is the result of this dynamic. Similarly, research by IGAD and MoFED indicates that there is extensive policy bias against pastoralism, livestock production and marketing and that the creation of an enabling environment.
This is mainly due to a lack of awareness and oversimplification of the pastoral sector’s contribution to the national GDP and foreign exchange. Ethiopia’s pastoral communities’ livestock production comprises more than 20Pct of Ethiopia’s total GDP, probably much more if other intermediate values of livestock are properly calculated. For example, the leather industry is Ethiopia’s second largest source of foreign exchange after coffee.
It is also argued that pastoralism has been the most effective and economically rational way to utilise and manage the dry lands throughout the country. They contribute to the national economy both directly and indirectly. For instance, in 2010 the pastoralism sector’s direct contribution to the GDP was 9Pct and it contributed 35Pct to the agricultural GDP indirectly.
In spite of this tremendous contribution, there is a development stereotype that equates pastoralism with poverty, thereby empowering outside interests to transform rather than strengthen pastoral livelihoods. The pastoral sector continues to be misperceived as one of economic irrationality, low economic performance, reluctance to engage in markets and unsustainable natural resource management.
Experts like Yacob Aklilu and Andy Catley from the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University, argue that pastoralist areas are mistakenly characterised as universally poor. This is incorrect and arises due to a reliance on poverty indicators from non-pastoral settings, such as household income. For pastoralists, they assert, “livestock are the main form of financial and social asset, and an important, direct source of food. Therefore, livestock holdings are a more useful measure of poverty than household income. A simplistic description of pastoral areas as ‘poor’ can lead to broad-brush development strategies and misguided assumptions that any benefits from such strategies will be equally distributed.”
Considering the tremendous contribution of the pastoral sector to the national economy, the government of Ethiopia needs to encourage the private sector to invest in animal agriculture or livestock and feed production. In most pastoral areas there is no other food for livestock except natural grasses, which are highly susceptible to drought and other weather conditions. Hence, there is a dire need for other supplemental foods.
The government, therefore, needs to attract and provide incentives for private investors to invest in animal resources and also forage crop cultivation for the cattle. This will address a central problem facing pastoralists – a shortage of feed. Providing private sector incentives will also increase the pastoral sector’s contribution to the national economy.
A 2009 agricultural potential report prepared by the former Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development stated that there is a potential for investment in fodder production. Similarly, the first phase of the Growth and Transformational Plan (GTP I), also stated that “it will focus on livestock development; water for people and livestock; forage development.” In spite of the government’s plans, the livestock sector has not been adequately exploited and there is less interest to invest in this sector.
The GTP II states that “the productivity of the livestock sub-sector has been at its low during the implementation of the first GTP.” In the coming years, according to the GTP II, “special emphasis will be given to the livestock sub-sector with the objective of adequately exploiting its potential for growth, export earnings and job creation.”
The government has the right intentions, but it needs to do more to ensure its able to meet the development goals it has set for pastoralists and, by extension, the agriculture sector in general.


4th Year • June 16 2016 – July 15 2016 • No. 40

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