Pastoralism finds a new equilibrium
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Bille, Jean-Claude. 1997. Pastoralism finds a new equilibrium. Spore 68. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Jean-Claude Bille is on agricultural scientist with ORSTOM and a specialist in pastoralism. During his career he has worked in Central Africa, Senegal, Kenya and Ethiopia. Now approaching retirement after twenty years of experience in Africa, he has...
Jean-Claude Bille is on agricultural scientist with ORSTOM and a specialist in pastoralism. During his career he has worked in Central Africa, Senegal, Kenya and Ethiopia. Now approaching retirement after twenty years of experience in Africa, he has published a book of memoirs and comment for the general public, Réparateur de pâturages. Conflicts of interest between farmers and herders ore common in Africa and, because they have little representation in modern politics, herders are generally the losers. Furthermore, changes in their pastoral practices are upsetting the ecological balance and it seems inevitable that nomadic pastoralism will decline. It is only by adapting their practices and their traditional rules for managing the land that nomadic pastoralists will be able to find a new harmonious balance within their environment. Pastoralists must move from place to place in order to find food for their animals. If they stayed permanently in one area the vegetation would deteriorate and pests would build up. Livestock owners recognize by their animals' behaviour when they have exhausted the available pasture and know that they must be moved elsewhere. To forcibly restrict these movements without adequate compensation, would be dangerous. Attempts in Central Africa to avoid the need for transhumance by bringing in fodder have not proved very popular. It is the best land which is at stake in the conflict between farmers and herders, especially at the end of the dry season. Periods of antagonism are interspersed with periods of goodwill which are marked by commercial exchanges - manure, for example, in exchange for gleaning millet or sorghum after harvest. Clashes and local difficulties become much more serious when they are replicated throughout the country. It is a combination of circumstances, in particular economic and political circumstances, which leads to the marginalization of one or other of the two groups. In West and Central Africa it is the farmers who generally win the day whereas in some countries, notably Somalia, Botswana and Rwanda livestock owners have the greater power. in the past, herders were nearly always the more powerful group. Coming from the east, the separate groups of Peul-speaking people traversed the Continent as far as Senegal. Throughout the route they suppressed the agriculturalists by force of arms. When the colonists arrived they imposed a sort of pax romana to avoid internal struggles. Nowadays it is the farmers who tend to win the day. They are settled and stable, whereas the herders are a less coherent and a less disciplined group with a lesser sense of nationhood because they move across national borders. Pastoralists do not always recognize the right of the State to be concerned with their affairs and they usually have their own traditional form of social organization which allows them to regulate internal problems, without outside intervention. Furthermore, most countries have an administration made up of people from a settled background whether agricultural, commercial or from some other walk of life. One could, of course, advocate a complementary farming system of both crops and livestock, but this remains marginal in Africa. Herders seem, almost inevitably, to be in competition with farmers and those agreements which did exist between them depended upon the submission of the farmers to the herders. The herders would then exploit the farmers in many ways, giving in exchange only protection against other invaders, whether other herders or other farmers. If the nomadic way of life disappears so, too, does a part of our heritage. It is a great shame and I feel sympathy for livestock herders throughout the world. Such people live within the rhythm of the seasons. They have a strong feeling for nature but, unlike farmers, they do not try to transform it. A herder is able to make use of marginal land that is unsuited to any purpose other than for pasture. Pastoralists also have a remarkable understanding of ecology in the scientific sense of the word, in other words the relationship between the environment and the flora and fauna within it. A decline in traditional livestock practices also means the loss of many skilled livestock specialists. Most will change their ways just as the sheepherding pastoralists of Europe had to. The Afars have already started to do so and are becoming traders or managers of irrigated land. They have employees, just like any other manager, but they are nevertheless farming, even though they themselves never handle a hoe. Herders increasingly complain about the lack of respect for traditional methods of land management. Elders are critical of younger herders who, they say, 'prefer an easy life and make no effort to learn about and understand nature'. These young people, who no longer want to hear about ancient laws and traditions, are, in effect, sealing the decline of pastoralism. When customary laws are lost so, too, are the rigorous practices that make it possible to raise livestock in the savanna. In the south of Ethiopia, land management is based on the use of wells from which water is raised by hand. The wells are spaced out in such a way that the land can support only the number of animals that can be watered by what may appear to be a rather rudimentary and archaic method. It would be perfectly possible to install pumps at each well in order to replace the half dozen or so youngsters who haul the water up by hand. But the elders refuse to allow any change to the method of extracting water. By limiting the amount of water withdrawn each day the system automatically limits the number of animals, and therefore also the number of people, who can live in the area. Nostalgia alone does not justify continuing practices which, in the past, created a balance between the needs of the herders and the natural environment. However, these practices ought to be at least partially conserved in any model for the future. Education will be essential. What is certain is that the situation cannot continue as it is and people will have to change their ways. It is not a question of building walls and setting up zoos for herders but, if it is going to be possible to keep some form of livestock pastoralism, the formula will have to establish a harmonious relationship between ancient traditions and the environment. The view expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.
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