Overcoming threats to pastoral livelihoods in Somali Region

Since 1999, two droughts in Somali Region, southeastern Ethiopia, have killed many people and displaced entire pastoral communities. People in this volatile region also suffer violent conflict, and a weak regional government provides only limited support.

Research with pastoralists, commissioned by the Pastoralist Communication Initiative and undertaken by the Institute of Development Studies, UK, examines livelihood vulnerability in Somali Region. The region’s economy is based on four closely inter-connected ways of life: pastoralists focus on rearing livestock; agro-pastoralists mix livestock with crop farming; farmers live in settled communities and grow crops for food and income; urban residents earn their living from formal or informal employment.

These livelihoods are often unreliable, however. More than one quarter of the region’s population has needed food aid every year since 2000. Many experts consider drought to be the main risk, but pastoralists have actually become relatively wealthy compared to others, by adapting to erratic weather conditions. They move with their animals across vast distances, negotiate land access with neighbours and have long established trade relations with other states.

The underlying causes of economic vulnerability in Somali Region are social and political, rather than natural. For example, a ban on Somali livestock imports by Saudi Arabia blocked flows of cash and commodities with this vital market. Emergency food aid, though often inappropriate, is the only formal social protection. Health services are limited, and education services reach few children, especially girls. The sustainability of each livelihood depends critically on an individual’s relationships with others, as well as his or her assets and income.

The research found that:

The government of Ethiopia is developing new approaches to overcome vulnerability, but the problems are extremely complex. Solutions will not come from individual projects, but in policies that respond to the different ways people choose to earn a living. The report identifies several priority areas for policy intervention, including:

‘Vulnerable Livelihoods in Somali Region, Ethiopia’, Research Report 57, Institute of Development Studies, by Stephen Devereux, 2006 Full document.

Funded by: UK Department for International Development

id21 Research Highlight: 8 December 2006

Further Information:
Stephen Devereux
Institute of Development Studies
University of Sussex
Brighton, BN1 9RE

Tel: +44 (0) 1273 678773
Fax: +44 (0) 1273 621202
Contact the contributor: S.Devereux@ids.ac.uk

Institute of Development Studies, UK

Pastoralists Communication Initiative

Other related links:
'The impact of conflict on pastoral economies in eastern Africa'

'Is education compatible with pastoralism?'

'Privatising common land in Botswana'

See id21's links for agriculture

Eldis Pastoralism Resource Guide

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