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Viewpoint: Orphaned Pastoralists in Ethiopia demand socio-economic inclusion

Ethiopia: Girl with sheep and goats, Somali Region, Ethiopia – Edwina Stevens/UNDP

By Mohamed-Taqwim Badel Ali @taqwiim99

Addis Abeba, February 05/2021 – Pastoralism is often defined as a culture and way of life where more than fifty percent of the livelihoods are dependent on livestock. Ethiopian pastoralists are an estimated 15% of the country’s population and occupy 62% of Ethiopia’s landmass. Of these 55% of them live in the Somali region. 

Pastoralists contribute 45% of the country’s agricultural gross domestic product, 21% of the country’s total GDP, and 10 percent of the country’s total exports (mainly exporting live animals). According to the FAO 2019 estimates, the national herd comprises 57 million cattle, 5 million camel, 30 million sheep and 23 million goats, and 57 million chicken, as well as equines and a small number of pigs.

Nevertheless, pastoralists have never been a meaningful part of the country’s economic and political essentials and foundations. Rather, they stand on the periphery.

For the Somali people in particular, livestock is everything. Food, means of transport, money and pride. They consume the products as a stable food, use as transport, buy/sell for exchange of other necessary items, pay as compensation (Dia) and dowry during the marriage, and enjoy a pride among the community.

… pastoralists have never been a meaningful part of the country’s economic and political essentials and foundations. Rather, they stand on the periphery.

 The importance of the livestock is best described by Somali poet (Abdi Gahayr) saying “Aakhiro nimaan geel lahayn, lama amaanaynin” loosely translated as: “Even in the Hereafter, men without camels will not be praised”.

Livestock is so important to the lives of tens of millions of Ethiopians, yet it has not been given to a greater attention. When you look at the government’s spending, development projects and the country level development policies, you can easily observe how the sector and it is people were marginalized. 

Successive Ethiopian governments have not seen pastoralism as a viable way of life that deserves to be developed. Rather, they saw it as a backward and ungovernable system that had to be changed.

Different Plans have been made to resettle pastoralists, reduce livestock numbers and convert them to farmers. And none of the efforts have been successful.

The FDRE 1995 constitution gives pastoral communities the right to free land grazing, fair use of natural resources, have market access and receive fair price, and not displaced from their own lands. Some Pastoral development projects were also implemented across the country; however, these efforts were not materialized into a meaningful outcome and positively affected the pastoralists

The current situation of pastoralists

The country’s pastoralists live in a state of hope and despair. When you look at how pastoralists are striving for the health of their animals, raising different types of livestock, world-class marketing, the increased international and domestic demands of livestock products as well as the urbanization of pastoralism mainly selling their products in major cities like Addis Abeba, Diredawa, Jigjiga, Godey, Dhagahbur, and Kebridahar among other cities, it will give you a hope that pastoralism will last forever and have a brighter future.

Also, if pastoralism is commercialized and modernized livestock husbandry practices are in place, food, hard currency, clothes and even shoes will be available to every pastoralist.  And that is the essential need of a human being.

On the other hand, if you look the negative effects of climate change, the lack of clear government policy towards pastoral development and it is implementing institutions, and how they are not essentials or even influential of the national governance and economics system, you wonder how long pastoralism can last as way of life and means of livelihoods?

 The way forward

  • The most important thing that needs to be done as of now is to develop, approve and implement harmonized pastoralists owned and initiated pastoral development policy.
  • Federal government’s recognition of pastoralism as a way of life that can be developed and adaptable to the today’s modern world is crucial.
  • Implementation of mega infrastructural projects mainly (roads, electricity, communication and livestock products processing industries) in the pastoral areas.
  • Establishment of a federal level government institution that is responsible for policies and strategies development and implementation, as well coordination of pastoral related development efforts which is led by the pastoralists, but, not guided by the mindset and vision of agrarians.

In a nutshell, if pastoralism is given the attention it deserve, I hope the country’s pastoralists will be prosperous, have a great impact on the national economy, and positively contribute the global food security.

Pastoralists are an integral part of Ethiopia’s socio-economic system, and developing them is a nation’s development while ignoring the pastoralists is ignoring the whole nation.

And finally, anything about pastoralists, without pastoralists, is against pastoralists! Let the pastoralists prevail! AS


Editor’s note: Mohamed-Taqwim Badel Ali is Lecturer at Jigjiga University, Institute of Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Development Studies. He can be reached at:

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