Understanding the needs of pastoralists

Owing to climate change, pastoralists – livestock keepers of the Sahel, who commonly practise transhumance – increasingly struggle finding water and pasture land for their cattle. Such lack of resources jeopardises their herds and leads to conflicts between livestock keepers and farmers.

In the Sahel, where arable land is in short supply, livestock keepers are forced at certain times of the year to move around to search for food for their animals or to protect them against the elements, conflicts or sickness. Such journeys or transhumance are part of their way of life, a traditional strategy that has enhanced resilience, particularly in the face of climate variations.

To roll out the ‘Digital information system for transhumance relief in the central Sahel region‘ (SIT Sahel LAFIA) Belgium’s Vétérinaires Sans Frontières teamed up with Spain’s Action against Hunger. This project (LAFIA meaning peace in the local languages) covers parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and will support some 500,000 pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.

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Every year, the pastoralists move their herds following well-defined itineraries; meanwhile, they interact and engage in trade with local communities. Pasture land and in a broader sense, the environment, benefit from transhumance. The animals’ manure fertilises the land and thus fosters plant growth. The herds’ movements also contribute to the dissemination of seeds in the areas travelled, while the pastoralists keep a check on plant growth by pruning trees and bushes to feed their herds. Correct pruning is actually among the good practices which SIT Sahel LAFIA aims to vulgarise with local communities.

The initiative, which is financed through the Wehubit programme of Enabel, the Belgian development agency, aims to improve access to information helping pastoralists to map transhumance itineraries, to find water and pasture for their herds and to improve mobility by means of  New Information and Communication Technologies.

Information is disseminated via community radios and a voice server (a digital solution). The latter is an interactive voice response platform with which livestock keepers can interact via their mobile phones with a voice menu in different local languages. For instance, to access information on the state of pasture, the user presses 1; to find water, she presses 2…). The information is updated on the server every two weeks. The collected data also benefit political decision makers, who have easy access to information with a view of preventing and/or responding to conflicts over access and control of natural resources.

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One of the first steps of the project consists of identifying training needs with the representatives of the livestock keepers. Below, two community leaders explain the daily challenges that they face and how they could address them in future. 55-year-old Bandé Amidou is a livestock keeper and father of four. He is the leader of the livestock keepers in his community of Rugga, in the Fada N’Gourma district. The other leader, from the Yamba district, is Diallo Bilgui. He is 58 years of age and has 6 children.

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What does your leadership function consist of in your community of livestock keepers?

‘We listen to the livestock keepers in the community, particularly with regards to their needs. We make sure that day-to-day issues of livestock keepers are addressed. And the needs are many! We also advocate joint land management and management of pastoral land in particular with the local authorities.’

Which difficulties do the livestock keepers of your region currently encounter?

‘There are many issues such as the illegal occupation of pastoral land and transhumance corridors, conflicts in hosting countries, conflicts between livestock keepers and farmers, illegal taxes, general insecurity, etc.’

What do the livestock keepers need to keep their herds in good health?

‘Livestock keepers like us need information to better organise but we have no access to such information. We sometimes spend much money on obtaining such information to properly prepare for transhumance. ‘

In what respect do you believe will this initiative provide solutions?

‘We have always had to face difficulties, but there are more and more issues to address. Farmers have colonised all remaining space and we, livestock keepers, cannot access pasture land anymore. The insecurity situation further complicates access to pasture land. All corridors are obstructed and the journey becomes harder with every transhumance. With the information that is made available to us we can now avoid certain of these issues. ‘

What is your dream as a pastoralist?

‘We dream of pasture land and corridors that are arranged well, secure and in particular respected by all and that the pastoral infrastructure is also available to us. We also aspire at being recognised as an actor of development throughout transhumance and also across borders and to be received well and protected by the local authorities. We want to conclude and emphasise that pastoralism contributes to the local economy as well as to natural environmental regeneration. ‘