Pastoral migration routes traverse national borders and administrative divisions, building regional networks for rural food production and trade. The basic reason for practicing pastoralism is that grazing resources in the Sudano-Sahel vary significantly throughout the year. The distances between available resources at different times in the year means that transhumance is necessarily cross-border, a fully regional subsistence practice. Numerous regional agreements exist to promote increased economic integration, but each requires application by national government and provincial administrations.
The movement of livestock from grazing lands to urban markets creates value chains that connect producers, herders, buyers and sellers along the way, across borders and between states. Pastoralists benefit by accompanying their livestock directly to regional markets, eliminating transport costs and heavy logistics. Along the way, small-scale trade with local farmers and their communities adds to the regional value chain. Such exchanges may involve the sale of crops or animal products, livestock feeding on crop residuals, or the fertilizing of local crops with manure. Heavy livestock losses due to disease, theft or violence can mean disrupted meat supplies to major capitals, or trade delays in neighboring countries.
The flow of people and livestock across porous borders, however, also has implications for regional security. Border regions across the Sudano-Sahel have become focal points for criminal and insurgent activity. The productive connections made by livestock are disrupted by border closures or other measures aimed at countering transnational armed conflict, terrorism and smuggling networks. While some pastoralists have been implicated in cross-border crime, closing borders to transhumance has a wide-ranging impact, including on local farmers or traders whose prosperity depends indirectly on the circulation of livestock. The economic consequences of border closures are as devastating as terrorism or COVID-19, according to some researchers.
The long-term viability of cross-border pastoralism as a production system depends on the application of a consistent framework across the wider region. One country’s decision to restrict mobility can impact the economic welfare of its neighbors. For this reason, various regional bodies have proposed and developed multilateral agreements to support and regulate transhumance. These frameworks aim to smooth border crossings by replacing ad hoc regulations with consistent policies that are easily followed and implemented at all border posts among participating member states. However, in practice, these frameworks frequently fall short of effective implementation.
Programs facilitate the local and national application of agreements designed at the regional level.
Transhumance frameworks can provide a common set of guidelines and shared assumptions between member states, but still need to be put into practice through legislation and funding. The ECOWAS Transhumance Protocol and Regulation, for example, requires each Member State to define measures such as when and where livestock are allowed to travel and how many livestock are allowed in a region at a given time. Provisions need to be made for taxation, access to any vaccinations that are required when crossing borders, and registration and identification of animals. These regulations then must be enforced by local authorities who will need to have the capacity to monitor the flow of thousands, if not millions, of animals. This should be a process driven by the State but can be supported by external interventions that provide technical training for officials on how to encourage compliance among pastoralist populations, identify stolen cattle being trafficked across borders, or address other gaps in capacity.
Rules and regulations are tailored to pastoral populations.
Transhumance frameworks usually require that pastoralists voluntarily comply with some level of official regulations, such as passing through approved checkpoints, maintaining identification, or verifying livestock health. When these requirements are onerous or inaccessible, pastoralists may simply double down on existing habits and avoid state authorities. Any new requirements need to be accessible and manageable for pastoral populations. If, for example, pastoralists are required to present national ID for customs clearance, border authorities should anticipate simplified procedures to obtain required documentation that are accessible to transient or illiterate populations.
Programs communicate the benefits of adherence to pastoralist populations.
Regulations that are not seen as an advantage to both pastoralists and local authorities will not be respected, no matter how diligent their dissemination, education, and application. Regional agreements that guarantee the free movement of livestock, when well socialized among local populations, provide pastoralists with legal protections so that their livelihoods are less subject to arbitrary border closures or extortion from local officials. Registration of livestock and strong relationships between customs and local herders can also enable law enforcement to more effectively respond to livestock theft (see Module – Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism). The value of participation needs to be clearly communicated, whether through trade associations or other mobile service delivery programs (see Module – Rural Development ).
Pastoralists are disincentivized from using official checkpoints.
Transhumance agreements generally require that pastoralists abide by officially demarcated routes and border crossings. Even when border crossings are clearly marked and known, pastoralists may be disincentivized from using these crossings for a variety of reasons. Border checkpoints may be few and far between and require that pastoralists go far out of their way to cross. Checkpoints may be ideal targets for criminal syndicates looking to target herds. State officials may impose additional fees for crossing, even if free passage is guaranteed under the regional agreements. These concerns can be mitigated if regional agreements are designed and implemented with consistent input from pastoralist populations.
Officials lack the capacity to monitor adherence.
Regulating the flow of livestock requires dedicated human resources in border regions that are often remote. There need to be accessible veterinary services to certify animal health, enough staff at border checkpoints to inspect passing herds, and strong enough border controls to prevent unregulated crossing. Maintaining the staff and infrastructure needed for this work can be challenging, particularly in regions where NSAGs exercise de facto control and borders are porous.
Regional agreements are contradicted by national legislation or local custom.
As noted throughout this Toolkit, pastoral activities are often governed by competing authorities. The rules set out through a regional or bilateral agreement may be superseded by national or local policies or even by influential traditional leaders. Togo and Benin, for example, limit the number of animals that may enter each year and have established fees for entry, despite the fact that both countries are party to the ECOWAS Transhumance Protocol that stipulates that cross-border mobility is to be free. Similarly, local leaders across the ECOWAS region have been known to impose their own fees for passage.
Regional agreements do not address movement of livestock between economic zones.
To date, most transhumance agreements are either bilateral or limited to the Member States in a given economic zone (ECOWAS, IGAD, CEMAC). However, livestock migration patterns are not necessarily self-contained within each economic zone. Livestock move regularly between economic zones around the Lake Chad Basin or between Sudan and Central African Republic. There will continue to be a need for consensus-building and a shared set of rules and practices governing cross-border pastoralism that extends across the jurisdictions of these regional bodies.
The social and economic value of pastoralism as a regional linkage is enshrined in numerous multilateral agreements, declarations, and policy frameworks.
- The ECOWAS Transhumance Protocol (1998) and the Regulation (2003) on its implementation, has been a guiding model for the regulation of transhumance in the region. The Protocol and the Regulation guarantee the free movement of livestock between Member states and outline regulatory practices governing travel itineraries, registration of herds, animal health requirements, and the resolution of conflicts.
- The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Protocol on Transhumance (2020) similarly enshrines the free movement of livestock within the IGAD region and calls upon Member States to set in place provisions to regulate herd movement and support and protect pastoral livelihoods.
- The African Union Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa (2010) is the first continent-wide agreement to call for protecting the rights and livelihoods of pastoralists and emphasizes that transnational character of pastoralist systems requires harmonized, regional approaches.
- The Declaration of N’Djaména (2013), produced as the outcome of a convening of Sahelian states, issued a call for improved international cooperation in support of cross-border transhumance. This was followed up by the Declaration of Nouakchott (2013), a commitment by six Sahelian states (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Senegal, Chad) to increase pastoral production, including strengthening regional cooperation and cross-border transhumance.
- Various bilateral agreements also set out provisions for cross-border transhumance between states. Mali has negotiated such agreements with four of its neighboring countries, and in 2003 the governments of Niger and Burkina Faso signed a memorandum of understanding that implements the provisions of the ECOWAS Protocol. In Sudan, the protection of livestock corridors and cross-border mobility is specifically referenced in the Darfur Peace Agreement (2006) and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).
In 1998, ECOWAS was the first regional organization in Africa to adopt legislation governing the passage of livestock between member states. This Transhumance Protocol guaranteed the right to free passage of all animals (cattle, goats, camels, horses) across the borders of Member States. This right, however, was conditioned on adherence to a new regulatory framework – pastoralists were required to obtain an International Transhumance Certificate (ITC)*, enter and exit only through approved border checkpoints, and adhere to the restrictions on the timing and location of migration implemented by each Member State. The implementation of the Protocol has varied between Member States, as some have integrated its provisions into national policies (e.g., Niger) while others have not (e.g., Nigeria). Pastoralists and border agents alike are often unfamiliar with provisions of the Protocol. Even those who are willing to participate may face obstacles to obtaining an ITC, as many border regions do not have veterinary services or border outposts that are set up to issue or update the ITC.
*The ITC is a kind of passport that outlines the composition of a given herd, their itinerary, whether they’ve been vaccinated, and other details.
Photo: Pastoral livestock at a market in the Sahel. Credit: Shidiki Abubakar Ali
Pastoralists’ migration routes have long taken them across political borders, but these movements have become delicate affairs as states increasingly regulate migration for security or political reasons. Movement across contested borders can be a trigger in wider inter-state conflict, particularly when cattle are escorted by armed guards. Community leaders have played an essential role in ensuring that regular cross-border migrations can happen peacefully by negotiating agreements or open channels of communication between migrant and host groups. Tensions over the Sudan-South Sudan border provide a perfect example. Arab pastoralists from Western Kordofan, the Misseriya, have historically grazed their cattle in Bahr al Ghazal, a border state in South Sudan. Hostilities and bloodshed with resident Ngok Dinka forced the border to be closed until 2014, when both parties met to find agreement on transit routes and compensation for violence. External interventions can play a role in facilitating peaceful cross-border migration by creating space for communities to meet and negotiate.
Agreements clarify explicitly how conflicts will be addressed.
While some communities have developed compensation protocols for livestock, crop damage, and agreed migration corridors, these systems are rarely codified and interpretations may differ between pastoralists and local populations. In the absence of universally agreed-upon rules, parties in a conflict may engage in “forum shopping,” seeking favor from one or another of the various authorities who may have jurisdiction. Cross-border migration policies and authorities can thus benefit from clear, practical guidance on settling disputes and averting escalation. This may include adjudication by traditional leadership or local peace committees.
Programs allow agreements to be revisited and reaffirmed annually.
Pastoral migration is not mechanical. The timing and direction of travel changes with climate fluctuations, market dates and prices, or other factors. Effective agreements are living and flexible, as they reflect a dynamic relationship between nomadic and host communities.
External interveners encourage proactive, clear communication.
The physical distance between pastoralists and farming communities can spark suspicion and fear. Ensuring open lines of communication between respective camps can bring predictability to cross-border movements and provide insights into the motives of all parties. A pastoralist leader may alert a distant village chief of approaching cattle using a foot messenger, text, or radio. Some pastoralist groups in South Sudan, for example, will send messengers several days in advance to assess available pasture lands and plan a route that minimizes confrontation with host communities.
Interventions that are resource-intensive cannot be easily replicated.
Large-scale dialogues or workshops may prove critical in times of crisis – a border misunderstanding or following reprisal violence – but may not be exercises that local leaders maintain as a permanent practice given the cost and logistical demands. Convening pastoralist leadership can be particularly cost-intensive, given the need for travel to remote or inaccessible areas. Discussions of cross-border migration should be a long-term practice that is “right-sized” to match local capacity. When large-scale dialogues are organized, participants can use the occasion to agree on future communication modalities that are flexible and adapted to weak infrastructure.
The stakeholders involved are not in alignment.
Negotiating cross-border movement is both a domestic and transnational issue. Community leaders in border regions have a direct interest in who crosses at which border post, and how disputes with migrating groups will be addressed. National governments and the armed forces have a shared stake in tracking livestock movements not only from a national security perspective, but also for the purposes of obtaining revenue through taxes. Agreements will break down if state officials and local communities are not adhering to the same set of rules and expectations.
The 2011 establishment of an international border between Sudan and South Sudan raised new challenges for the pastoralist and sedentary communities who had long been neighbors but had become polarized during the civil war. The border cut across traditional cattle migration routes, creating a new legal and political barrier for northern pastoralists and cutting off southern communities from their usual sources of meat and milk. In response, traditional leaders formed Joint Border Committees that could adjudicate issues relating to seasonal migration (cattle theft, crop damage, killing). In addition to the work of these Committees, a series of pre- and post-migration conferences were organized in various states along the border. These conferences provided an opportunity for community leaders from local tribes, government officials, the Joint Border Committees, and women and youth associations to discuss the logistics of the seasonal migration (timing, routes, grazing areas) and address lingering grievances or concerns.
Photo: Cattle walk along a dirt road in contested Abyei region. Credit: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images
Many of the borderland regions that have long been pathways for pastoral livestock have become a key nexus for transnational crime and insurgency. Regional counterterrorism frameworks, such as the G-5 Sahel, multi-state administrative entities, such as the Liptako Gourma Authority, have responded to the need for a coordinated approach to security. Yet such coordination is often limited to armed forces and state governments, when it could be extended to civilian actors who support regional security. Facilitating the safe and legal movement of livestock requires a regional security architecture that engages the community leaders who have long played a leading role in negotiating livestock migrations, mediating conflicts, and protecting livestock against theft (see Module – Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism).
Programs facilitate direct coordination between border communities.
Conflicts involving cross-border pastoralism may be highly local but carry regional consequences. Coordination is critical among national governments and security forces, but local stakeholders within border communities require similar agreements and lines of communication. Border closures due to terrorism or pandemics increase the urgency of such channels. Interventions can link traditional leaders, pastoralist or farming associations, or peace communities on both sides of a border to share data on conflict trends, resolve low-level conflicts, and coordinate with security forces in their respective localities.
Programs support data analysis and collection at the local level.
Compiling accurate information on violence in the remote rangelands and borderlands where pastoralists are active is essential to making informed decisions about regional or national security. However, these regions may not be accessible to state officials. Effective data collection often depends on local civil society leaders, who are best positions to monitor the events and risks in their own community. Channels for capturing this information and feeding it up to national decision-makers have been established both among ECOWAS (through the ECOWARN system) and IGAD (through the CEWARN system) Member States. In both cases, though, effective data collection depends on a strong network of civil society monitors, and external interveners can play a crucial role in building the capacity of these data collectors at a local level.
Security forces coordinate with civilian humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts.
There are a wide array of security forces and civil society actors who have a stake in monitoring or safeguarding cross-border transhumance, such as border patrols, militaries, UN peacekeeping missions, traditional leaders, and trade associations. Despite the shared interest in maintaining a safe environment where regional commerce can thrive, these actors can end up working at cross-purposes. Shutting down cross-border movement for security purposes, as in the case of the CAR-Chad border, can encourage pastoralists to adopt new routes to cross the border outside official checkpoints and bring them into conflict with farmers in the borderlands. Interventions can establish lines of communication between the multiplicity of local and regional security forces and civil society leaders who all have a stake in preserving peaceful livestock migration.
Regional initiatives are not supported by local authorities or civil society leaders.
Regional coordination requires close linkages with both local leaders and rule of law institutions mandated to contain local disturbances. Even where opportunities arise for regional coordination, it is the responsibility of national or local actors to drive the response. A regional early warning system may signal an alert for violence in a border town, but intervention requires a directive from law enforcement authorities at the central level. External interventions can encourage national authorities to foster direct linkages between local actors and regional security initiatives.
Lack of coordination among security actors.
Along insecure border regions, there are often a number of security forces on both sides – rangers, border patrol agencies, police, militaries, peacekeeping missions, and counterterrorism forces are all responsible in some way for securing borders during transhumance. The challenge of coordinating between these various actors is compounded by the fact that they are often under-resourced and operate in some of the deadliest regions in the world, leading to turf battles and confusion – as, for example, military forces adopt border security into their mandate.
Diplomatic relations between states are disrupted by conflicts over cross-border transhumance.
Violence at the borders can force borders to close, disrupt trade, and muddy inter-state relations. Herd movements were a point of contention throughout the political negotiations and the peace process accompanying the establishment of the Sudan-South Sudan border, which transected established migration routes. Accusations that pastoralist groups were mobilizing as proxy militias for various political interests escalated cross-border movement from a common practice to an urgent security matter.
Pastoralism-related conflicts have been a key focus for the conflict monitoring systems embedded within regional multilateral institutions in West and East Africa. ECOWAS’ Early Warning and Response Network (ECOWARN) and IGAD’s Conflict Early Warning and Response Network (CEWARN) were both established to provide analysis for Member States on security concerns that fall outside of the jurisdiction of any one state. Monitoring cross-border pastoralism-related events was the primary mandate for CEWARN during its first decade (2003-2012). Both systems rely on a network of local monitoring units who report identified risks of conflict back to a central hub, where that data is used to inform relevant authorities in Member States. The success and effectiveness of these mechanisms depends substantially on the capacity and interest of these local units. Since many of the remote borderlands that are monitored by these systems are beyond the reach of the central authorities of the Member States, local units and partnering civil society organizations are critical to implementing effective responses.
Pastoralism’s contributions to rural economies are poorly documented and understood. For centuries, transhumance has linked multiple nodes of regional commerce across the Sudano-Sahel. Livestock raised in the drylands of Niger or Mali are moved south to access wetlands or markets in coastal states like Nigeria and Benin and as they travel they generate revenue and value through payment for veterinary services, trade with local farmers, or providing fertilizer for crops. This intra-continental trade is essential for satisfying the increasing demand from urban centers for meat products and adds value to agricultural production that would not come from ranching or other modes of production. The total value add of this economic activity is often difficult to quantify, as informal contributions such as manure can be substantial but not readily reflected in existing data. Producing and disseminating accurate information about the role of pastoralism in regional value chains is essential for policymakers and investors to make informed decisions about how they can support the livestock sector.
Information is made public and accessible to funding agencies and investors.
The productive interdependence between pastoralists and rural farmers has persevered despite resource scarcity, armed violence and illicit smuggling in many parts of the region. As economic data is continually refreshed and new trends emerge, these added data points should be shared with decision-makers and the private sector who have a direct hand in creating either a supportive or hostile atmosphere for pastoral trade. In particular, highlighting declared revenues as livestock cross borders can help reframe views that pastoralism is obsolete in a modern economy.
Research programs highlight the economic and social costs of conflict and insecurity.
The economic impact of conflict and instability is substantial but poorly quantified. Escalating cattle raids during the civil war led to substantial losses in herd populations in South Sudan. The presence of Boko Haram and predatory criminal syndicates in northwestern Nigeria have forced pastoralists to change their routes and seek out new markets. Conflict has also displaced pastoralist communities across borders, as in the case of Mbororo pastoralist communities who have been displaced by instability in Sudan and CAR into northern DRC. These are important costs that are understudied, and better data will provide donors and decision-makers with a more complete picture as they consider their investments in conflict management.
The latest research does not translate into policy decision-making or private sector investment.
Popular perceptions of the economic value of pastoralism have formed over generations, influenced by the popularized belief in the “tragedy of the commons” and heavily weight new innovations in intensifying meat production. While the scientific consensus on pastoralism has evolved substantially over recent decades and there is no longer the same skepticism about the value of pastoral practices, many of these views are still influential and are not quickly reframed by emerging research. Even when pastoralism is recognized for its contributions to regional value chains, many policymakers and investors do not see pastoralism as the main engine to increase the supply of beef and milk in the region.
Some researchers have begun to capture the economic contributions of pastoralism that are not easily quantified due to the challenges of collecting data on informal economic activities. In 2015, for example, the International Institute for Environment and Development supported a series of nine studies conducted by Kenyan and Ethiopian university students to employ different approaches to measuring the “total economic value” of pastoral production in the Horn of Africa. Their findings shed light on the ways in which pastoralist activity supports other traders and livelihoods and contributes to public revenues.
Photo: Milk from pastoral livestock is essential for meeting rising regional demand while also supporting local livelihoods. Shown here Malian pastoral woman milking a goat. Credit: Leif Brottem