Drought relief

Selling off livestock enables African pastoralists to survive hardship

Pastoralist communities in arid areas of Africa rely on livestock for food and income, so it follows that droughts jeopardize their livelihoods.

Managing herd sizes during times of drought has allowed African pastoralists to sustain their livelihoods. © TOM STODDART/GETTY IMAGES

Researchers at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts, in partnership with several humanitarian agencies, devised an intervention plan that enabled African pastoralists to reduce the numbers of livestock they maintain during a drought, while simultaneously feeding their families, supporting their communities and sustaining their livelihoods.

“While food aid helps keep people alive, other relief interventions cannot only save lives but also be effective in preventing the loss of livestock and allowing pastoralists to protect their main resources and way of life,” said Andrew Catley, research director at the Feinstein Center and the lead editor of the report on the intervention.

The plan, which was tested during the 2005-06 droughts in southern Ethiopia, involved selling off livestock to reduce their numbers and using the cash to buy food, maintain a core herd and pay for services, including veterinary care, livestock feed and transportation.

“Within the aid community, there is a reluctance to support drought interventions which provide cash to communities,” Catley said. “There seems to be a perception that poor or vulnerable people will not use cash effectively compared to say, food aid. This is a perception we’ve been questioning for some time.” He noted that testing the relief plan in the field added to a growing body of evidence that shows that people use cash in reasonable ways.

“Households were able to meet their immediate food and health-care needs, while also protecting core livestock assets through buying feed, moving animals to better grazing areas and providing veterinary care,” Catley said. Selling livestock assets also supported the local community and economy because the food and services for families and animals were purchased mostly at local markets and from local businesses.

“At the policy level, we need to view drought as a normal and often-predictable event in dry land areas of Africa and plan accordingly,” Catley said. “It makes far more sense to support a manageable core herd of animals during drought, than allow all the animals to die and have to replace them through expensive restocking programs.”

To read the full report on the drought-intervention program, “Impact Assessments of Livelihoods-based Drought Interventions in Moyale and Dire Woredas,” go to http://fic.tufts.edu/downloads/ImpactAssessmentsofLivelihoods-basedDroughtInterventionsinMoyaleandDireWoredas.pdf.

This story appeared in the July issue of the Tufts Journal.