Should Pastoralists be sedentarized?

The main objective of the study will be to examine the extent to which sedentarization of pastoralists has a significant impact on the livelihood and food security of the sedentarizers.


Pastoralism and agro-pastoralism as a means of livelihood have been supporting 12-13% of the Ethiopian population. They comprise 62% of the country’s land area and 25-30% of the livestock population comes from these areas (Beruk, 2005). The livestock sector contributes 18.8% to the total GDP and more than 47% to the agricultural GDP (Behnke and Metaferia, 2010). Recently, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, pastoralists have been facing serious livelihood challenges. They have been facing the natural covariant risk of drought; the idiosyncratic risks of human illness and livestock diseases, which can turn into a covariant risk in case of an epidemic; the social risk of violent conflict over increasingly scarce resources, which can turn into the risk of civil strife. That means pastoralists have been facing both political risk of marginalization and the environmental risk of pasture degradation. These lead to declining livestock production and productivity which is the main livelihood of these communities. Due to these reasons, the government of Ethiopia designed strategies that enable pastoralists to voluntarily sedentarize. Government reports and other studies show that pastoralists started diversifying into crop production, petty trades, wage, remittance, firewood and charcoal production, and incense collection. Government reports also show that the livelihoods of those who diversified their income have improved. 

Even though of sedentarizing pastoralists by the government has long history (E.g., 1925-1941 in Iran) in an attempt to alleviate problems of food insecurity, service delivery, and national integration it usually ended up with limited success. Sedentarization of pastoralists has also been occurring rapidly throughout East Africa (FAO, 2001). According to the same source, worldwide, although the majority of pastoralists in many areas remain committed to a nomadic way of life, considerable number of pastoralists have settled near towns or on farms to pursue alternate livelihoods that include cultivation, agro-pastoralism, trade or wage labor.

There are opposing views on whether pastoralists should be sedentarized or not. Those who are proponents of sedentarization argue that pastoralists should sedentarize for a variety of reasons, both in response to 'pushes' away from the pastoral economy and to 'pulls' of urban or agricultural life. For example, the Kereyu tribe in the central rift valley of Ethiopia has lost grazing lands due to the growth of agricultural and pastoral populations, privatization of land for commercial farms and ranches, and the expansion of national wildlife parks and hence was forced to sedentarize. In the more arid and sparsely populated south and northeast of Ethiopia, many pastoralist families have sedentarized in response to the environmental stress of drought and famine combined with the political violence of livestock raiding and ethnic conflict (Catley and Eyasu, 2010).

According to FAO (2001), whatever the future of pastoralism, its present shape has evolved under pressure from very distinctive twentieth-century influences, making it impossible to return to the golden era. These factors include: modern veterinary medicine, modern weapons enclaving, international pressure for hygiene in slaughtering and dairying, declining prestige of dairy products, world market in livestock products, ideological interference by the State, alternative calls on pastoral labour, modern transportation infrastructure, introduction of high-input, high-output, emergency relief, restocking and rehabilitation programmes, conservation lobby and encroachment on rangeland.

There are studies which found out that sedentarization of pastoralists has negative consequences too. For example, a study by Fratkin et al. (2006) found that while sedentarizing provides access to a wider economic resource base that may mitigate the consequence of food insecurity and offer access to alternative livelihoods, it has not been demonstrated that abandoning the pastoral way of life has been beneficial to the health and well-being of pastoral populations. Their study on the effect of settlement on children’s nutrition, growth, and health revealed large differences in the growth patterns and morbidity of nomadic vs. settlers’ children. In particular, age-specific height and weight measurements for the nomadic pastoral community are significantly higher than same-aged measurements of children from the settled villages. Furthermore, women and especially pregnant women showed higher levels of malnutrition in the settled communities. Both women and children showed higher rates of respiratory and diarrheal morbidity in settled versus nomadic communities, although malaria rates were uniformly higher in nomadic communities than the settled ones.

Moreover, a study by Kejela et al. (2006) found that agro-pastoralists are poorer than the pure pastoral communities may be because farming was adopted to cope with food insecurity caused by declining herd size. In addition, a study by Boku and Gufu (2010) also found little evidence that Borana communities have become self-sufficient in grain production. As to the factors motivating herders to cultivate crops, they showed that it is not only poverty but shortage of labor, lack of sufficient traction animals, and unreliable rainfall are also the driving forces.

Abebech (2011) argues that pastoral livestock-keeping depends on the availability of water and grazing land and protecting the environment constitutes an important component of their indigenous knowledge system and traditional system of governance. She further argues that adopting a policy to 'modernize' and 'develop' pastoral regions had failed by the previous two regimes with mega projects financed by the World Bank to 'develop' and 'modernize' the pastoral regions of Ogaden, the adjacent areas of Afar and Borana. They failed mainly because they were launched to 'develop and modernize' and 'change' the pastoral livelihood system, because these projects were all planned with the exclusion of the subject, the pastoral community.

Moreover, some argue that pastoral development must and should start with little support rendered to pastoralists such as setting up market mechanisms, introduce mobile schools and clinics. An attempt of pushing pastoralists to sedentarize first before providing them any service is a futile exercise.

Abebech (2011) argue that given that Ethiopia stood second in Africa by livestock population, but not known by grain production, why do government force pastoralists to move to the unproductive sector rather than supporting them? Is it not good to start the whole process of capital accumulation with the asset that we have, livestock? A study by the WISP (2007) in five African countries reached the conclusion that pastoral livestock production system can greatly contribute to national economies. One of the most likely ways that pastoral development can contribute to the national economy is that it creates space for other potential industries related to livestock production such as meat-processing plants, packing and processing dairy products, tanneries and even exporting live animals. Both the government and the private sector could bank on these economic activities if pastoral development is given the chance to emerge with the adoption of the right policy.

This has also been reflected on the 7th international DCG networking seminar held from October 11-16, 2010 in Addis Ababa. There was a strong debate among the participants of this workshop as to whether pastoralism is a viable means given the enhanced desertification due to global climate change and manmade disasters. The debate was as to whether pastoralism is a viable livelihood means or they have to diversify their portfolio to meet the challenges that have been induced due to natural and manmade calamities. The proponents of pastoralism argue that pastoralism is a viable livelihood means if managed appropriately. They further argue that even if the need be, it should be left to the pastoralists themselves. Others argue that given the current scenarios in these areas: erratic rainfall, enhanced desertification, forest and land degradation and limited pastures they emphasize the importance of sedentarization of pastoralists. It was found difficult for the workshop participants to reach a consensus on the issue. The main reason for the disagreement is absence of an empirical study which supports either of the two groups. Hence, both groups agreed on the need for further empirical study on whether sedentarization is the best livelihood strategy for pastoralists or not. This study is initiated to fill in this research gap.


The main objective of the study will be to examine the extent to which sedentarization of pastoralists has a significant impact on the livelihood and food security of the sedentarizers.

The specific objectives of the study are to:

1. Describe the socio-economic and institutional characteristics of the treated and control households;

2. Compare treatment and control groups in terms of different socio-economic, demographic and institutional variables;

3. Identify factors affecting sedentarization and outcome variables (consumption expenditure, nutritional status, expenditures on health and education and job burden of women);

4. Measure the impact of sedentarization on the livelihood and food security of the treatment households;

5. Investigate whether sedentarization has had disincentive effects, measured in terms of reduced participation in livestock management or grazing lands; and

6. Suggest sustainable measures that could harmonize livelihood strategies and natural resource management, while taking poverty reduction strategies on board.

Expected Results

The expected results of this study are the following:

  • Basic sources of sedentarization and their management practices from other countries demonstrated;
  • The major socio-economic and demographic factors causing sedentarization in the country are identified;
  • Gender disaggregated sedentarization impacts tested;
  • Mechanisms for collaborative community and state efforts to improve the impact of sedentarization tested;
  • Information management and monitoring system with relevant data on sedentarization established;
  • Possibilities of establishment of national processes and institutional mechanisms to strategically plan and manage sedentarization in an integrated and efficient manner explored;
  • Policy issues supported by sound empirical evidences are produced and advocated for proper implementation;
  • Future research issues in the area are suggested.