23 October 2020 Afar Region, Ethiopia

East Africa: Increase Pastoralists’ Income by Strengthening Quality & Safe Livestock & Meat Export

By Ricarda Mondry*

ADDIS ABABA – East Africa’s immense livestock resources make crucial, but often undervalued, contributions to national and regional economies, to gross domestic products and foreign currency earnings.

Eighty percent of rural households in the region depend on livestock for food, income, and employment. Livestock provides economic stability to households, acting as a cash buffer and as capital reserve, and livestock products strengthen food security, counteracting stunting and micro-nutrient deficiency especially in populations with limited access to balanced diets including a variety of foods.

Additional income, which is often not included when calculating the sector’s economic share, is obtained from traction, fertilizer, processing and marketing. More than half of the region’s lands are Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) that are mostly unsuitable for sustainable agriculture. And yet it is ASALs where over 30% of the population lives raising more than 70% of the livestock, mainly in transhumant pastoralist systems.

Strategically located near the livestock markets of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the East Africa region is Africa’s largest exporter of live animals, generating income for producers, traders, and governments. This cross-border trade is one of the oldest and most vibrant livestock trading systems in the world and contributes significantly to the region’s food security and economic growth. The income from export sales represents around 80% of the annual income of many pastoralists in the region, with the seasonal hajj export sales alone bringing in around 40 percent of the annual income.

However, whenever this trade is stopped, the impacts on national economies and households are severe. These impacts were felt especially in 1998 and 2016 due to Rift Valley Fever, and 2006 due to FMD disease, when importing countries implemented long and severe import bans. In 2020 the export trade was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and related cross border movement restrictions.

The overall impacts of the pandemic have far-reaching effects on poverty with the threshold of poverty estimated to increase from 570 million 631 million by 2030 in Africa, and especially in Eastern Africa which had previously experienced drought, followed by floods and desert locust outbreaks. In 2020 livestock sales had fallen by 80% due to Covid-19. Especially hard hit were pastoralists as well as livestock trade auxiliary traders, often poor youth and women with limited alternative forms of employment. In addition, there are medium term impacts of large livestock herds, such as shortages of pasture and water and resulting deteriorating rangeland conditions.

Population growth and consequent increased use of pastoralist land for agriculture, even in places where yields are minimal, as well as increasing severe and recurrent droughts due to climate change, have made pastoralist systems fragile. Nevertheless, it is now recognized that pastoralism ensures food security of millions of people and delivers multi-functional nature-based services, as it secures connectivity between ecosystems and biodiversity preservation.

Studies show that in the long term for dry lands, traditional pastoral livestock systems are more productive and more sustainable than the mixed agricultural systems encroaching on pastoral lands. A characteristic of pastoral systems is that they work with nature, using flexible strategies such as livestock mobility and herd composition to adapt to temporal and spatial variability of land and water resources. Provided that access to traditional core dry season grazing reserves and main transhumance routes with strategic water sources is preserved, and regular off-take such as export sales exists to avoid overgrazing, pastoral systems are sustainable.

MENA countries also import live animals and meat from countries in Latin America, Australia and Asia despite their distance. Their export performance and competitiveness is linked to better compliance with Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, to better economies of scale and to more informed and capacitated value chain actors compared to those in the traditional exporting countries of the Horn of Africa. However, due to concerns about serious animal welfare issues related to long-distance transport and export of livestock, import from closer Eastern Africa would be preferable, as well as furthermore replacing transport of live animals with transport of carcasses from Eastern Africa. An additional advantage of this would be added value and job creation in the region, as well as allowing for better management of natural resources in years of drought.

To grow such trade for the benefit of both MENA and Eastern Africa, the FAO Sub-regional office for Eastern Africa and IGAD have helped identify the main livestock trade routes, sites of strategic livestock water sources, good practices on fodder production and commercialization, and rehabilitation of natural rangelands in production areas and along livestock export trade routes, and have supported training as well as water source rehabilitation.

To reduce the impact of animal diseases, vaccination and improvement of national veterinary services overall are essential. Efficient veterinary services keep livestock healthy and ensure higher prices for pastoralists. At the same time controlling trade-relevant transboundary animal diseases (TADs) such as RVF and FMD averts livestock export bans that reduce household income and result in high livestock population beyond the carrying capacity of the rangelands.

As coordination between countries is important to control TADs in the Eastern African ecosystem to improve overall productivity as well as avoid international trade interruptions, regular exchange between national veterinary services is important. This has been facilitated through several Memoranda of Understanding between neighboring countries to strengthen coordination for prevention and control of TADs and sanitary measures. Regular meetings form important platforms for exchange of information, experiences made, expertise and data on trade relevant issues to address, and guide countries on how to progress in a harmonized way. Such meetings include the Inter-Regional joint technical meeting of exporting and importing countries to review collaboration for enhanced livestock trade, the Eastern Africa Regional Animal Health Network meetings, the Regional PPR Control and Eradication Coordination Committees meetings, the Regional Livestock Identification and Traceability (LITS) and Animal Health Certification Coordination Meeting, and meetings to assess key gaps of trading agents, and to promote livestock related standards.

Furthermore, countries have been supported to implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure (VGGT) technical guide on improving governance of pastoral lands and develop national action plans. Land tenure security for pastoralists and good land-use planning will lead to more investment in improving rangeland management.

Further advocacy and resource mobilization to support all these network activities, as well as harmonized implementation on country level, is needed. Increased capacity building for risk assessment along regional livestock value chains, more training on SPS in all countries, as well as larger roll-out of the above mentioned trainings in all countries is needed to support trade and food safety. Being the dominant livelihood, and potentially a profitable one given growing demand for livestock products, pastoralism needs to be an important component of local and regional development strategies. The goal of livestock investments should be to transform the pastoralist sector into a more profitable, more integrated, and more resilient economic system, in a manner that is compatible with existing pastoralist livelihoods.

Effective TAD management and efficient veterinary services to enhance the sector’s productivity and export levels are possible, but highly dependent on national governance and political support. In the Eastern African region, the economic benefit from investment into the livestock sector and especially into strengthening export should be self-evident.


Ricarda Mondry* is Livestock Officer for the Food and Agriculture office for the United Nations ‘ Sub-regional Office for Eastern Africa.

[Featured Photo FAO] 


Editor’s note: The article reflects the authors’ opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial view of EM News.