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Boosting Capacities to Improve Governance of Pastoral Lands in Eastern Africa

Despite providing 90% of the meat consumed in East Africa and contributing greatly to local, national and global economies, pastoralism faces several challenges that hinder the realization of its full potential, one of these being land tenure. To address this challenge, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) jointly held a regional workshop on implementing the VGGT (Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security) technical guide on improving governance of pastoral lands. The capacity building meeting which was held in Addis Ababa.

Representing the Director of the IGAD Centre for Pastoral Areas and Livestock Development, Adan Bika, the Head of Dry Land Development and Climate Change Adaptation, in an opening statement stressed the importance of governments and civil society working together in securing pastoral lands, as migration in search of pastures and water is paramount to the survival of transhumant pastoralist communities. “However, since pastoralist land use is seasonal, in their absence their land is often considered as empty, and in times where new resources are discovered, pressure on land is increasing.” he said.

On his part, Chimimba David Phiri, FAO subregional coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to the African Union Commission and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, highlighted the huge contribution of pastoralism to food security, as well as regional and national economies. It is therefore important to secure pastoral land tenure in order to protect the pastoralist production system. Phiri added, “food and agricultural systems must move from energy-intensive production methods to climate risk-sensitive and nutrition-focused systems that work with nature, not against it.” He also reminded that pastoralism directly supports an estimated 20 million people and produces 80% of the total annual milk supply in Ethiopia, provides 90% of the meat consumed in East Africa, and contributes 13% of GDP of Kenya and 8% of Uganda.

It is often stated that livestock production overall claims excessive shares of land and crops, including crops that could be eaten directly by human populations. Pastoralism preserves soils capable of sequestering carbon, regenerates natural vegetation, and prevents natural hazards such as fires. Grazing animals return nutrients to soils and disperse seeds through their dung. Furthermore, it has to be recognized, that the meat of grazing animals is generally leaner, and their milk often more nutritious – e.g. richer in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants if grasslands, forage areas, and animal health are properly managed. In industrialized countries, farmers have carved out niches selling often specially labelled products like artisanal cheeses and high quality bio-certified meats, and they might receive payments for ecosystem services. In these countries, zero grazing is referred to as conventional farming, as opposed to modern biological and sustainable farming.

After analysing current legislation and practices concerning pastoral land tenure in each country, participants, consisting of ministries in charge of land tenure and livestock, land commissions, pastoralist organizations, and partner agencies elaborated recommendations, including national action plans, on how to secure pastoral land rights and the pastoralist production systems. A key recommendation made was the critical role of enhanced technical and financial support to countries, together with the need to create a participatory multi actor committee and working groups to develop accountable decision-making and effective representation in each country.

Capacity building interventions such as this workshop, where government officials and pastoralists work together in a participatory way, help interpret the Voluntary Guidelines as an international mechanism to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and communities to accessing and managing lands through customary governance system. Collaborative efforts also lead to the transformation of policies and laws that support the interests of pastoralist communities and the pastoralist production system.


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