Pastoralism in Africa: A land-based livelihood practice analogous to swimming against the tide

Peer Reviewed
10 January 2024

Pastoralism which is a land-based livelihood strategy that involves keeping livestock through opportunistic utilisation of rangeland resources through cyclic movement of herds on communally owned land has been practiced for thousands of years in Africa. In spite of growing literature showing that this practice suits the socio-ecological realities of the rangelands in Africa, it continues to be discouraged and vilified by mainstream range ecologists, political leaders, conservation organisations and bureaucrats. It is perceived as archaic, inefficient and unsustainable. This notion has been challenged by non-equilibrium theorists who argue that pastoralism reduces exposure, sensitivity and enhances adaptive capacity of pastoralists. Pastoralism enables optimisation of the use of the range, facilitates access to seasonally available resources and enables evasion of disease-prone areas thus sustaining livestock production under all circumstances. It promotes ecological health of rangelands by maintaining plant diversity through the historical plant-herbivore interaction. It enhances social capital, mutual assistance networks and community cohesion. In spite of all the aforementioned benefits, governments in Africa are using discursive and governmentality means of exercising power to limit pastoralism. This has negatively affected the socio-ecological resilience of areas occupied by pastoralists. There is need to integrate pastoralists’ knowledge in land use and pastoral development policies to ensure that they are responsive to the socio-ecological realities.

Patrick Byakagaba


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Sustainable Development Goals
Publication reference
Byakagaba, P. (2020). Pastoralism in Africa: A land-based livelihood practice analogous to swimming against the tide. South Central Review, 37(2–3), 71–78.
Publication | 10 January 2024