Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Economic Contribution of Pastoralism: Case Studies from the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Economic Contribution of Pastoralism: Case Studies from the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa

Article excerpt


This paper reviews the literature on the economic contribution of pastoralism to the national economies of seven countries, two in the Horn of Africa and five in southern Africa. For all the countries covered here, it is difficult to disaggregate at the national level the economic outputs of pastoral livestock from livestock more generally. Research studies have nonetheless identified the distinctive contributions of pastoralism and occasionally quantified these contributions for selected localities and regions. This work demonstrates that the economic role of pastoralism can be quite different even for national economies in the same region. There also exist broad regional differences between the Horn, where pastoralists are heavily involved in producing live animals for export, and southern Africa, where smaller herds are kept primarily for purposes other than commercial sales. At least three methodological shortcomings limit our ability to quantify the contributions made by pastoralists to national economies: aggregated national statistics, the selective recording of data on pastoral production, and analytical confusion about how to impute realistic cash values to the products that herders obtain from their own herds for their own consumption.

Keywords: Pastoralism, Horn of Africa, southern Africa, livestock economics


This review takes the proverbial trip from the Cape to Cairo, pastoral style. For pastoral purposes we begin the journey in Somalia and finish in the Republic of South Africa. The object of our journey is to establish the contribution of pastoralism to national economies in the Horn and southern Africa. Along the way we encounter both conceptual forests and conceptual trees.

The trees that might prevent us from seeing the forest are represented by individual African countries. With respect to livestock marketing and pastoral commercial involvement, each of the countries reviewed in this study is remarkably distinct, a fact that is emphasized in the following national case studies.

But there is also a forest to report on, in the form of a single, overall pattern that emerges from the subcontinental breadth of this review. In terms of variations in the level and kind of pastoral commercial involvement, there is a clear regional difference between the Horn and southern Africa.

The economies of Ethiopia and Somalia are poor, technologically underdeveloped, but integrated nonetheless into global capitalism. In terms of livestock exports, these countries produce relatively unprocessed raw commodities--hides, skins and live animals--for regional markets. Weak, non-existent or (from the perspective of livestock producers and traders) parasitic national governments do little to promote their livestock industries. Despite these constraints, pastoral households in Ethiopia and Somalia are increasingly involved in commercial livestock production for sale, with results that in the aggregate are impressive both in terms of the volume and value of international trade and foreign exchange earnings. In return, these pastoral households receive marketed commodities such as grain and clothing that are essential for their survival. Despite their remoteness and their participation in weak national economies, these are pastoral production systems oriented to commercial international exports.

The situation is different in southern Africa, where strong and occasionally benign national governments support and may subsidize their livestock producers. The export product range includes both processed commodities (such as chilled, boneless beef from Botswana) and sophisticated goods for international niche markets (such as Karakul lamb pelts from Namibia for the fashion industry, or branded 'free range' meat from South Africa). The export trade is officially regulated, treaty-bound, technically advanced, and diverse in the geographical spread of its markets. …

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