Academic journal article Human Organization

Sustainability and Pastoral Livelihoods: Lessons from East African Maasai and Mongolia

Academic journal article Human Organization

Sustainability and Pastoral Livelihoods: Lessons from East African Maasai and Mongolia

Article excerpt

"Sustainable development" currently has a firm grip on the lexicon of development agencies from the World Bank to small nongovernmental organizations, but it offers little practical guidance for tackling diverse problems in specific places. The concept is of particular importance to pastoral populations throughout the world-those people dependent on livestock raising in arid or semiarid lands whose survival depends on their ability physically and politically to maintain access to their pastures. This paper compares two pastoralist populations-East African Maasai and pastoralists of Mongolia-to discuss recent changes in the pastoral way of life and to describe what sustainability has meant in the past and what sustainability needs to mean in the future for pastoralist populations.

Key words: pastoralism, risk management, commons, Kenya, Tanzania, Inner Asia, Khalkh

Pastoralist populations are facing more pressures to their way of life than ever before. Population growth; loss of pastureland to private farms, ranches, game parks, and urban areas; increased commoditization and rising inequality within the livestock economy; out-migration of poor pastoralists; and periodic dislocations brought about by drought, famine, and civil war are collectively threatening a way of life that has proved in the past to be a highly adaptive food production system in arid lands. Although the driving forces vary widely from region to region, virtually all of these trends result in declining mobility of livestock, which places in jeopardy the sustainability of both rangeland resources and pastoral livelihoods.

"Sustainable development" now has a firm grip on the lexicon of development agencies from the World Bank to small nongovernmental organizations, but it offers little practical guidance for tackling diverse problems in specific places. Local economies and livelihood systems throughout the world arc coming under severe stress, particularly where agricultural yields have failed to keep pace with increasing demand. Until quite recently, Africa could feed itself, but today the majority of African countries import food from abroad (FAO 1994). Civil strife has led to profound disruption, death, and migration; there are more than enough examples from Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan, to name a few. The situation is not much better in Asia or Latin America, particularly where highly inequitable patterns of control over land and other key resources in export-driven economies have forced poor farmers to relocate to less productive regions or give way to urban and industrial growth.

This paper draws from our experiences in East Africa and Mongolia to discuss recent changes in the pastoral way of life, what sustainability has meant for these pastoral populations, and what sustainability needs to mean in the future. Pastoralists are people whose livelihood depends mainly on the raising of domestic animals-including cattle, camels, goats, sheep, yaks, horses, and donkeys-for milk, meat, wool, hides, transport, and trade.

Pastoralists occupy savannas, arid deserts, and high plateaus where rain-fed agriculture is precarious. They include well-known populations such as Tuareg, Fulani (or Fulbe, Peul), Somali, and Maasai in Africa; Bedouin, Baluch, Basseri, and Turkmen in the Middle East; and Kazakh, Mongols, and Tibetan Drokba in Asia (Barfield 1993). Pastoralists typically occupy large tracts of communally shared land and utilize kinship ties for mutual herding and defense. Their herds are often large, in poor condition, but hardy enough to survive periodic drought and sparse vegetation. Many pastoralists practice some agriculture; they may also supplement their pastoral diets with wild plants, game, fish, grains, and other food commodities purchased by the sale or trade of livestock, milk products, wool and other fibers, and hides. Some pastoral societies engage in long-distance trade, such as the Tuareg of the western Sahara, while others, such as the Maasai, practice localized livestock keeping in semipermanent settlements. …

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