Edna Wangui on East Africa’s Changing PastoralistsNovember 20, 2012 By Carolyn Lamere
The fault line between nomadic pastoralists and sedentary agriculturalists in sub-Saharan Africa has emerged as one of the most dominant stories of climate-related conflict. But according to Edna Wangui, a professor at Ohio University who studies communities in Kenya and Tanzania, pastoralism is different from many people’s perceptions.
“A lot of the time you hear about conflicts existing between pastoralists and farmers, between herders and farmers, and we lose sight of fact that it’s actually the same person,” Wangui said. “Sometimes we need to understand the conflict is between pastoralism and crop farming and not necessarily between herders and farmers because sometimes they are one and the same.”
Wangui found that pastoralists often practice crop farming in addition to raising livestock, a fact which discussions of conflict sometimes miss. “Pastoralism is really changing,” she said.
Part of this overlap is a desire for greater reliability in agriculture. Communities which traditionally lived in the highlands “are beginning to recognize that they need to diversify the way they practice agriculture” and are moving to the lowlands where irrigation is more commonly practiced instead of relying on rainfall, said Wangui. Lowland communities are responding to the loss of land, both from the influx of new farmers and because of other driving factors, by seeking grazing land elsewhere.
Technology has helped with this shift, especially for wealthy farmers, by allowing them to scout out land by bus, keep in contact with cell phones, and transport cattle by truck. Poorer farmers are also able to use technology to work new land, trucking in water to places that were previously too arid to use.
Wangui also discussed the change in the gender balance of labor duties in East Africa.
“We normally have this image of the pastoralist as male, but when you actually look at where the labor to practice pastoralism is coming from, it is very, very heavily supported by women,” she said. She found that in some communities, “women were doing more of the livestock-related activities than men,” and men were concentrating on crop farming.
This is a key insight for development agencies, Wangui sad. “Any kind of intervention that is going to rely on labor, and all kinds of interventions do, you need to be aware of whose labor you need and is it available or not.”
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.