The rural economies of the Sudano-Sahel are experiencing a dramatic upheaval, and the development and governance of rural rangelands are often a source of tension between pastoral groups and state governments. Many policymakers have viewed pastoralism as incompatible with a modern economy and a practice that should be phased out in favor of other forms of production. This attitude has further pushed pastoral voices to the margins (see Module – Governance and Rule of Law). Critics of pastoralism have cited overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification as inevitable conclusions of pastoral practices, influenced by the prevailing narrative of the “Tragedy of the Commons.” Though these arguments have been widely challenged by many policymakers and scientists, they continue to inform development policies.
Formalized codes governing land ownership from the colonial-era onward did not recognize customary rights to access pasture or water, as many countries saw the expansion of large-scale agriculture as the key to growth and a settled population as an essential source of tax revenue. Development investments have focused on intensifying food production. This can be seen in the shift from smallholder farms to large private conglomerates, and the development of a market for animal genetic material and feed from foreign markets to increase the size and output of Sahelian cattle.
These changes often appear to benefit investors and economies overseas at the expense of local producers, and have increased competition between pastoralists, local farmers, and private investors for land. Loss of land means loss of subsistence for rural communities, yet such policies are imposed from above without due consideration of their consequences. The assumption is often made that privatization (or, in some cases, conservation and tourism) will generate employment for local pastoralists and farmers, creating a “win-win” for all parties. The results have been mixed.
In much of the rural Sudano-Sahel, pastoralists depend on land and resources that are controlled by the State, even if these lands have historically been governed by customary leaders. Customary rights to land are not legally binding and may be upended by state institutions or companies when land is traded or loaned for private use. Legal reforms to land tenure laws can be one method for replacing zero-sum competition over land between farmers and pastoralists with equitable and easily understood regulatory frameworks. External interveners are frequently involved in providing technical assistance to these reform processes. When done well, interventions can reduce tension over land use by facilitating consultation with local communities, identifying points of conflict between state law and customary practice, and putting pressure on national or state governments to institute reforms that align with accepted principles for governance (see the African Union’s Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa or the FAO’s Improving Governance of Pastoral Lands).
Interventions reconcile legal frameworks with customary practices.
Interveners should recognize the legitimacy of both customary and statutory systems and avoid superimposing one over the other. In practice, many pastoralists and farmers alike will continue to adhere to customary practices, which can result in parallel and conflicting systems. Legal reforms in Niger, for example, legitimized customary practices by affording Nigerien pastoralists the right to have primary access to communal land and water in their home areas – although this policy most directly benefits the pastoralists who reside in Niger rather than those from outside.
Policy reforms protect access to public land or water resources.
Pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel has historically enjoyed an abundance of communally accessible grazing land, space for migration routes, and water access points. When access to such resources are cut off by private land sales or development schemes, there is a risk that pastoralists will feel dispossessed. Intensive, good-faith listening and negotiation with pastoralist groups prior to any major transformation of common-use resources in transhumance areas should be a standard practice.
Policies are made accessible and socialized.
Formalized policies on land tenure are rarely well-socialized among the communities who are expected to follow them. Policymakers tend to invest significant attention to the legal reform process but do little to communicate these changes through media or other channels that will actually reach nomadic or illiterate populations. Pastoralists, who often have limited access to formal education and speak local dialects, are poorly placed to master their legal rights. They are generally more familiar with the customary rights and practices that govern their everyday lives and will often follow those practices even if they differ from the state laws. Without an understanding of their legal rights, pastoralists can be vulnerable to being dispossessed by the private land sales and commercial development. Land tenure rights and policies need to be made accessible by diffusing the knowledge through radio programs in local languages, communicating with pastoralist organizations or mobile paralegals, or outreach through field schools (see Service Provision for Mobile Populations).
Legal reforms don’t translate into practical change.
Over the past decades, numerous policy frameworks offering broad guidelines are written into law but not set in motion. Mali’s 2001 Charte Pastorale, for example, outlines the value of pastoralism to the Malian economy and calls for consultations between pastoralist and sedentary communities and the state, but does not provide the details of how this system will be implemented and enforced. Such ambiguity may be intentional, as it gives authorities flexibility in implementing the law who do not want to provoke latent tensions in customary and statutory law.
Women are excluded under customary laws.
Interventions that strengthen customary institutions or align formal policy with customary law may reinforce women’s and other marginalized groups’ exclusion. In Niger, for example, women’s rights to buy and sell land is protected under law but often disallowed under customary rules. Efforts to expand women’s rights through land tenure reform have prompted backlash from traditional authorities in places like Mali.
Tenure reforms disproportionately benefit elites.
The private registration and sale of rangelands typically benefit economic and political elites who are not dependent on communal lands or access to public resources. Officials may feel more accountable to investors rather than the smallholder farmers or pastoralists who get displaced. Elite acquisition or appropriation leaves poorer farmers to compete over reduced resources. Similarly, the demarcation of grazing reserves or pastoral corridors may appear to local farmers as a move to push them from land in favor of pastoralists, who are often seen as wealthy because of the value of their livestock. Tenure reforms should be sensitive to implicit power differentials that privilege state and economic interests over those of the citizen occupants.
The State lacks the capacity to implement tenure reforms in ungoverned land.
Implementing new laws or systems requires that the State has the capacity to exercise authority over lands, while it may have limited resources to do so or must compete with NSAGs for authority. In these circumstances, the laws on paper may be far less important than decisions of community leaders or the NSAGs who control the territory.
In 1993, the Government of Niger instituted a new Rural Code to improve management practices for rural lands and replace an informal system in which land rights were largely controlled by traditional chiefs. The Rural Code was not intended to wholly subvert customary practices; it recognized property rights that were acquired by customary law. This included recognizing that pastoralists have priority access rights to land and water in their home areas (i.e., the territory that they live in for most of the year between migrations). The 2010 Water Code further expanded access rights for pastoralists by making public water access points accessible to all, even pastoralists from other countries. These public water points are supposed to be governed by a Management Committee, though the pastoralists who do not stay close to these water points year-round are often underrepresented in these governing bodies.
Photo: Well in the Dosso district of Niger. Credit: Nasque, CC-BY-SA 4.0
Risks of conflict between pastoralists and local communities need to be considered in long-term local, national, and regional plans for development. The interventions outlined in this Toolkit will have limited impact unless they are reinforced by supportive institutions, funding, and political buy-in. Pastoralists depend on access to common resources, particularly water, during their migrations. Historically, watering and grazing sites are demarcated and maintained per local custom. Yet the traditional practices for negotiating access to public or shared resources have been strained by expanding livestock production, agriculture, and private rangeland development. Improved physical infrastructure – such as markers for migration corridors or grazing reserves, public wells or other water access points, and checkpoints where herders can access veterinary care – can help prevent transhumance from becoming a source of confrontation and conflict.
Policymakers and development actors prioritize the process as much as the result.
Investments in infrastructure or clever development planning alone will not prevent competition over resources. If a State builds fencing along a migration corridor, for example, there is still a risk that local farmers or pastoralists will ignore that fencing if the communities themselves are not consulted during the process and recognize the demarcation. In Nigeria, experts and policymakers saw the establishment of a series of communal grazing reserves as a way to keep pastoralists from incurring into farmland, but these reserves were met with stiff resistance from farming communities that saw the investment as a land giveaway to herding communities. Development actors need to have an intentional plan to engage pastoralist communities, because they often are not consistently present to participate in consultative processes in the same way as sedentary communities. Consultations with pastoralists may require outreach to communities based in another country or coordination with pastoral trade associations that can represent their interests (see Module – Governance and Rule of Law).
Programs and infrastructure are adequately resourced, maintained, and protected over time.
Grazing reserves need to be properly cultivated, checkpoints need staffing and resupply, fencing needs maintenance. If the infrastructure is dysfunctional or does not support local livelihoods, then pastoralists and farmers are unlikely to keep their activities within designated areas. Development investments need to adopt a long-term view, rather than treating fencing, wells, or grazing reserves as a “quick fix.”
Policymakers align agricultural and livestock development planning.
In many regions, agricultural policy tends to dominate rangeland policy. Crop production is an essential priority for addressing widespread food insecurity, as farms feed more people than livestock. Farming revenues can improve more household incomes per capita than pastoralism, as livestock are too expensive for many of the poorest. However, both farming and livestock production are part of an interconnected value chain. Both crop and livestock production depend on a finite amount of public land or water, and planning for expanding agriculture will naturally have a direct impact on pastoral livelihoods (and vice versa). For the same reason, it is also essential to consider other investments in rural development (building roads for transportation of livestock by truck, strengthening the electrical grid to support cold storage facilities) as part of a holistic vision. All rural producers (including both farmers and pastoralists) need to be consulted as stakeholders as part of holistic development planning.
Programs and development investments encourage integrated economic activities and social services.
Pastoralists and farmers have effectively managed competing interests for so long in part because their economic and social lives were productively interdependent. Investments in rural infrastructure can catalyze cooperation among communities sharing landscapes who are otherwise separated by identity-based tension or geographic distance. In the contested region of Abyei in Sudan, local markets provide much-needed space for trade and storage and increase everyday interaction between pastoralist groups and local communities who would otherwise not interact (see Module – Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism ). New connections may be made through investments in animal health or water infrastructure that have multiple beneficiaries.
Development plans are thrown off by a changing landscape.
Pastoralism is a dynamic practice to subsist in fragile ecosystems, where herders move their livestock in sync with seasonal changes. Yet erratic rainfall and severe weather can interrupt resource availability and access, often temporarily but sometimes permanently. Gradual changes in the climate in CAR over recent decades, for example, has created an abundance of grazing resources, attracting more livestock producers and increasing the need to establish or revitalize migration corridors or livestock markets. Planned investments in development need to be suited to a dynamic climate and should be flexible enough to adapt to shifting migration routes, or seasonal rainfall accumulation.
Infrastructure investments privilege one community to the detriment of others.
Decisions about where and how to invest in grazing reserves, water access infrastructure, or other rural development projects need to be informed by local socio-political dynamics. Establishing a new water point along a particular migration route may directly benefit one pastoralist group, but offer no benefit to nearby groups, who may see such investments as demonstrating partiality. When pastoralists or farmers see prevailing arrangements as unfair, even well-intentioned interventions can trigger hostilities. This risk can be mitigated when development schemes integrate conflict-sensitivity and political economy assessments account for pastoralist perspectives (see Conflict Sensitivity Assessments).
In 1965, Nigeria’s northern regional government developed the Northern Region Grazing Reserves Law, which created corridors for the passage of migrating livestock and 415 grazing reserves throughout the country. The reserves were envisioned to section off large swathes of land to be exclusively used by herders to graze their livestock. While initially considered a solution to the increasing conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, population growth, urbanization, and migration encroached on these designated areas, reducing herders’ access to and usage of the reserves. Pastoralists were often unable to find sufficient pasture and water within the reserves due to irregular rainfall and little maintenance by state and federal governments. Maintaining their livestock in one place also increased herd vulnerability to disease and banditry, which drove some to move beyond the boundaries of the reserves.
Photo: An aerial view of a Fulani village in the Kachia Grazing Reserve in Nigeria. Credit: Florian Plaucheur/AFP via Getty Images.
In shared landscapes, proactive and participatory management of land and water resources is essential to preventing conflict. Instituting grazing agreements or demarcating transhumance corridors, for example, can help set boundaries between farmland and pastoral land. For these practices to be effective, they need to balance the interests of all stakeholders, including both community leaders and state authorities. Even well-designed management schemes can break down when they are not adhered to or when they disenfranchise one group (as has often happened with pastoralists). External interveners can play a crucial role in promoting participatory management by facilitating consultations with representatives of pastoralist and farming communities or providing technical training to local councils or customary leaders.
Programs help community leaders establish protocols for enforcement and accountability.
Traditional land tenure and resource access rights are subject to received traditions that often lack formal definition or objective means of application. Who is formally mandated to stop an intruder from settling their cattle on local grazing reserves? What about preventing artisanal miners from excavating around watering holes and blocking access for cattle? Some communities have well-established procedures to handle such eventualities, including redress in the form of compensation or mediation by tribal leaders. Where such procedures are absent, external interventions can support local capacity for mediation and oversight.
External interveners support impartial management practices that include all stakeholders.
Managing shared rangeland resources requires leaders to administer fairly and in the public interest. However, the credibility and influence of certain traditional leaders and state authorities has been compromised by partisanship, rent-seeking behaviors, or co-option by national elites. Trust and buy-in is essential for enforcing rules about access to resources – particularly among nomadic populations who can evade accountability to settled authorities. External interventions should prioritize impartiality and support management systems that give space for input from all stakeholders, including traditional leaders, representatives of nomadic communities, and state authorities.
Programs increase inclusivity in decision-making structures.
Participation in resource management is closed to many women, youth, or minority groups, particularly where lines of authority are rooted in custom, family lineage, and local culture. Opening closed doors protected by patriarchy and tradition may require creating parallel channels for marginalized groups to provide input. In Sudan, for example, youth who were given a chance to form their own resource management committee helped introduce new dispute-resolution practices; recommending that pastoralists and farmers keep a mobile phone on their person as they tended to their livestock or crops so that they can contact tribal leaders to quickly intervene in the case of conflict.
Experts provide technical training and resources on land-use planning where necessary.
Informed land management practices can maximize the use of limited resources and prevent scarcity from becoming a source of conflict. Organizing when and where cattle graze in communal areas, for example, can help mitigate the degradation of certain areas and allow pasture to regrow. Negotiating land use in shared territory can carry a high degree of complexity and local administrative entities and customary leaders may lack the expertise. Local leaders and decision-making bodies may require specialized technical training or access to technological resources (such as GPS data on the available biomass or water resources).
Programs reinforce existing forms of exclusion.
Existing customary or state institutions are not necessarily representative of the various peoples who use the resources. When engaging with pastoral populations, it is important for external interveners to remember that pastoralist communities are not homogenous. Wealthy owners of large herds may have very different interests and more social or political capital than smallholder pastoralists. Pastoralists who live in nearby settlements and take their livestock on seasonal migrations may have different interests than pastoralists who pass through from other countries. Women or youth in pastoralist communities will have few opportunities to participate in formal governing bodies than traditional leaders in their community. Programs that provide opportunity for input from a limited number of pastoralist voices risk further excluding marginal voices.
Informal agreements are not respected in practice.
Informal agreements about the use of public or communal resources rely heavily on voluntary compliance and social enforcement. Upcoming generations of pastoralists and farmers may respect the established migration corridors or grazing agreements or break with them out of self-interest or financial desperation. In rural areas outside of the reach of state authorities, it can be difficult to hold farmers accountable for settling down in migration corridors or hold herders accountable for allowing their livestock to overgraze. For this reason, interventions to promote participatory resource management need to prioritize cultivating community buy-in and outline clear protocols for enforcing the rules that can be administered by local leaders.
Even though pastoral livestock often migrate along consistent routes, these corridors may lack formal recognition and protection, leaving open the risk for that land to be appropriated for cultivation or other purposes. In North and South Kordofan, Sudan, SOS Sahel engaged leaders of farming and pastoralist communities to conduct a participatory identification and demarcation of these corridors to distinguish them from farmland. Demarcation through community consultation was the first step in a longer effort aimed at social cohesion and collaborative rangeland management. When these corridors threatened to disrupt water access, communities worked to rehabilitate water ponds (haffirs) using sand dams. For long-term maintenance, SOS Sahel supported joint committees charged with the upkeep of these corridors and addressing any related disputes.
Along the Nigeria-Niger border, the Programme d’Appui au Secteur de l’Elevage (PASEL), supported by Veterinaires Sans Frontieres, led a similar effort to secure transhumance corridors. PASEL established a series of Technical Corridors of Passage Committees (CTCP) led by sub-prefecture officials and traditional chiefs. They identified corridors and rest stops in consultation with local farming and pastoralist communities. Once demarcated, the corridors were overseen by monitoring committees composed of village chiefs, farmers and herders. Monitoring committees were tasked to ensure that corridor lanes were respected, and that any related livestock disputes were addressed.
Photo: Local stakeholders discuss a map of transhumance routes in Mali. Credit: Leif Brottem
Mobile pastoralist communities often lack access to basic social services – education, medical care, job training – that are typically provided in urban centers. The lack of access can create a society set apart, limiting opportunities for youth (or others) to pursue other livelihoods or move into new social systems. Targeted mobile service delivery programs, like the use of “field schools,” can connect remote and mobile populations with social services and even socialize good practices for cooperation with sedentary communities. In addition to the delivery of social services, there is also value in expanding access to financial services, which are an essential resource for transforming pastoral livelihoods and lifestyles that are generally inaccessible for nomadic populations.
Programs engage with pastoralists where they congregate or reside.
Most pastoralists are not permanent nomads, and still maintain a home base or and set up settlements in the areas where they take their livestock. These locations can range from permanent villages to congregating areas around cattle market towns. In Sudan and South Sudan, pastoralists bring their livestock together in “cattle camps,” where they set up shelter and a community life. These locations are ideal focal points for mobile services.
Service delivery programs support social cohesion.
Service providers, like educators in field schools or cattle vaccinators, can be leveraged as strategic partners in bridging divides and fostering cohesion. In Abyei, for example, the UN FAO trained animal health workers from Dinka Ngok communities to participate in vaccination campaigns for cattle from the Misseriya community, people with whom they had been in active conflict. Although humanitarian service delivery and conflict transformation are often siloed, there are many untapped opportunities collaboration.
Programs support skill-building for pastoralist youth.
The next generation of pastoralists will struggle to catch up to a rapidly changing world. These youth lack the same resources and opportunities as their settled counterparts, making it more difficult to make their way in an evolving economy. The lack of opportunities can make them more susceptible to recruitment by criminal networks or NSAGs that can offer economic opportunities or social status. Field schools or other training initiatives that can lead to basic service roles, such as veterinary aids or rangeland liaison officers, can increase the range of available opportunities.
Programs raise and frustrate expectations.
Service delivery to remote and/or mobile populations can be costly or logistically difficult to maintain and may be disrupted amidst conflict as the presence of NSAGs limits humanitarian access to rangelands and borderlands. This can result in frustration from beneficiaries who already have an experience of being poorly served by public institutions. Skill-building training for youth, for example, with no segue to viable entrepreneurship risks driving them to the NSAGs or illicit networks that are destabilizing their homelands.
Lack of access to the education services available in major population centers limits pastoralists’ ability to learn and adopt new techniques to deal with increasing pressures from climate change or changing land tenure systems. This can leave pastoralists vulnerable to environmental shocks, zoonotic (animal-based) diseases, and displacement by commercial development, and leave them with limited economic alternatives outside of illicit activities. Pastoralist field schools – a model originally applied in Kenya but since adopted elsewhere – has been one solution to fill this gap. Pastoralist field schools typically consist of a small group of pastoralists who meet regularly with an experienced facilitator and talk through good practices or innovative solutions to improve their livestock production or adapt to stressors like climate change. Rather than imposing external reforms to pastoral livelihoods, this is meant to be a process of capturing and building upon local knowledge and supporting pastoralists as they adapt to the emerging challenges in their ecosystem.
Field schools can also be used to provide more basic education services – such as literacy programs – to the children who aren’t able to attend fixed schools. The federal government of Nigeria, for example, has formalized these education services through the National Commission of Nomadic Education. Their efforts can range from the setting up temporary huts or structures along nomadic routes to the use of interactive radio instruction to broadcast lessons on numeracy, literacy, and basic life skills to nomadic adults and children as a way to supplement the limited time for in-person instruction.
Photo: Children of pastoralists learn attend school under a tree in Somaliland. Credit: In Pictures Ltd./ Corbis via Getty Images
Development initiatives aimed at helping rural communities and pastoralists modernize their practices will inadvertently alter relationships between pastoralists and other communities sharing the landscape. Traditional assessments are often not suited to account for nomadic populations, as they tend to prioritize the permanent residents of a community who are more visible. Evaluating the socio-political, economic or environmental repercussions of any development effort, no matter its size or scale, is essential to any program design phase. This may require tapping the specialized expertise of anthropologists, political economy experts, or others who understand the nuances of engaging with pastoralist populations.
Assessments are conducted and updated regularly, even where violent conflict is absent.
Numerous development projects have eroded relations between mobile pastoralists and farmers, but donors rarely hear of them. The risk of conflict escalation is ever present when working with communities whose survival depends on scarce resources in landscapes under threat of collapse. Risk assessments should focus on potential conflict triggers – natural or man-made – as a standard practice in programs dealing with livestock or crop production in rangelands.
Tools and resources are tailored to local pastoralist realities.
Discussions of agricultural development are frequently kept separate from discussions of pastoralism even though any changes in rural livelihoods or resource management will affect all communities sharing the landscape. Specialists in agriculture, aquaculture, or water management may not be experienced in analyzing sectoral overlap and how this can trigger or appease conflict. Furthermore, pastoralists are often less visible than other communities due to their mobile lifestyle and assessing their needs and interests may require additional resources or time for outreach and consultations. Hence, the importance of specialized guidance on pastoralism, including conflict sensitivity training and political economy analysis (PEA) for staff working with pastoralists.
Assessments consider the potential impacts for the entire population, not just the target demographic.
Much of this Toolkit focuses on pastoralists, but the impacts on other rangeland residents are equally important. Local sedentary groups may feel disenfranchised by large, visible interventions dedicated to pastoralists, or may feel threatened by programs that encourage pastoralists to settle down and compete for limited resources. Similarly, there are distinct and differing interests and needs among pastoralist groups that are often overlooked – women, youth, minority ethnic groups, or poorer herders may all have fewer opportunities to voice their perspectives and contribute to conflict assessments.
In 2015, the World Bank launched two major development initiatives focused on support for pastoralism and agro-pastoralism: the Projet Régional d’Appui au Pastoralisme au Sahel (PRAPS) in six Sahelian countries, and the Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project (RPLRP) in three East African countries. Both initiatives sought a substantial investment in local infrastructure and resource management practices in contexts where resource access was a flashpoint for conflict between pastoralist and farming communities. Recognizing the need to prevent these investments from triggering further hostilities, the Bank developed a specialized set of tools to train and sensitize implementers on the relationship between conflict and pastoral development. Under the Pastoralism and Stability in the Sahel and Horn of Africa (PASSHA) program, the Bank embedded dedicated conflict experts with the implementing organizations for both PRAPS and RPLRP who could train project staff on how to identify potential risks of conflict and including in the use of a Practical Guide on Conflict Sensitivity and Prevention for Livestock Sector Development Projects in Sub-Saharan Pastoral Areas and a Field Level Project Appraisal Checklist.
Photo: Man with a rifle walks among cattle in Udier, South Sudan. Credit: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images