Snapshots of Sahelian Pastoralism Under Strain

Across the Sahel, pastoralists face threats and disruptions due to jihadists, cattle rustling, COVID-19, and other forces. Here are several key pieces that have appeared in recent months:

Loïc Bisson, in a paper for the Clngendal Institute (10 July), analyzes how all these problems intersect with long-term vulnerabilities in the sector. Here is the abstract:

In the Sahel, market closures, border closures and movement restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted the structurally weak pastoral sector, already made vulnerable by conflict. There are several signs of the negative impacts of COVID-19, such as difficulties in moving food and people, poor access to markets, rising food prices and loss of livelihoods. In Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, the pandemic adds to ongoing problems of conflict and political instability. The threat to pastoralists is to lose their herds through overgrazing, zoo-sanitary diseases or lack of income to feed the animals. If pastoralists go bankrupt, they could be forced to sell their livestock at devastatingly low prices to large landholders or wealthy neo-pastoralists. This scenario would aggravate an already-growing trend in the region – escalating economic inequality and the consolidation of wealth among an elite. This risks fuelling inequality and deepening existing fault lines. The priority for Sahelian governments should be clear: keep food coming and people moving, and develop a post-COVID-19 strategy to tackle the vulnerabilities revealed by the pandemic.

Le Monde (French, 31 May), in an article titled “Livestock Thefts, a Collateral Effect of Terrorism, Destabilize Central Mali,” discusses how such thefts sometimes run to hundreds of cattle or sheep in a single incident. The article notes how livestock theft helps to fuel a grim cycle – jihadists and bandits steal animals and sell them at reduced prices in unofficial markets, financing crime; the losses of animals spell economic difficulty or doom for many families; tensions between communities rise; and displacement increases. One thing I learned from the article is that livestock is Mali’s third most important export after gold and cotton.

Financial Afrik (French, 6 July) discusses rising prices for animals in Burkina Faso.

The International Organization for Migration comments on COVID-19 and the transhumance corridors between Mauritania and Mali (14 July):

As a result of border closures decreed by Governments across West and Central Africa to limit the spread of COVID-19, herders and cattle who took to the corridor between Mauritania and Mali during the lean season now are stranded in border areas without resources to feed their livestock.

“Herders can no longer travel to Mali. They are stranded at the border and feel deprived. A large concentration of herders and their herds has been reported in the commune of Adel Bagrou, on the border with Mali,” explained Aliou Hamadi Kane, coordinator of the Groupement National des Associations Pastorales (GNAP), a Mauritanian herders association.

To monitor the situation and better address the needs of stranded herders, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) conducted a flow monitoring survey between May and June 2020. IOM learned a sizeable minority of herders – 16 per cent – were unaware of preventive measures to ward off the disease.

An article in The Guardian (10 July), based on satellite imagery collected by the World Food Program, focuses on how insecurity is affecting farmers in central Mali, but also has a few comments on the situation of pastoralists.

Finally, you’d be crazy not to follow Alex Orenstein on Twitter for regular, as he calls them, #cowfacts.

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