Written by Mercy Edejeghwro
Growing up as a young child in the southern part of Nigeria, I occasionally saw a particular group of people whose source of livelihood was cattle rearing. Their form of cattle rearing entails moving the cattle from one place to another in search of grasses to graze on in bushes and farmlands. As time went by, I realized that they are pastoralists. They are particularly distinctive in my locality because of their unique culture, type of business, and their nomadic lifestyle. However, my memory of them is mostly that of trepidation. This is especially true when I meet them on farmlands. The cause of this fear is not far-fetched as stories of farmers’ -Herders clashes were quite popular. Consequently, I saw the pastoralist as villains and the farmers as victims. Little did I know that these categories of people were riddled with their own peculiar challenges they grapple with day after day, by virtue of the lifestyle they have chosen for themselves.
My interest in the activities and lifestyle of pastoralists was ignited by the SPARC (Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises) project titled “Advancing Gender Equality in fragile food systems in the Sahel”. Now, I have realized that pastoralists are also victims of circumstances in so many areas. One of such challenge is food insecurity.
A typical pastoralist household consists of a man, a woman, or in most cases women as well as children. The main income-generating activity of the family is the rearing of livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats as well as poultry. The man is responsible for the rearing of livestock along with the older sons and during the period of the dry season when grasses become scarce, the man engages in nomadic farming, trekking to areas where grasses are present. The woman on the other hand is responsible for indirect pastoral activities such as milking, processing of dairy products such as cheese as well as the sale of dairy products. The woman is also responsible for home management and caring for the children. The pastoralists, therefore, enhance and contribute to food security through the provision of milk, beef, yogurts, cheese, and eggs.
Pastoralists usually augment their livelihoods with subsistence farming. The crops are grown during the planting season and the grains harvested are kept to be feed on until the next season of harvest. However, these grains are barely enough to sustain the family till the next season. Most times, when the food reserve becomes depleted especially during the dry season when the men migrate with the livestock, priority is given to the men to take the bulk of the food along and even return to restock if the need arises as it is believed that they need the food more since they are leaving home. In such cases, the women and children who are left behind at home have little to feed on. Again, the woman prefers to feed her children with the little available and go hungry. Another contributory factor to the food insecurity experienced by pastoralist is the fact that they often reside in marginal communities that are worst hit by climate change. This situation is truly ironic because the pastoralists are active contributors to food security but barely have food to survive on.
How can this narrative be changed for the benefit of pastoralist, especially women, girls and children who bear the brunt of this ironic occurrence?The Centre for Population and Environmental Development (CPED) with funding support from SPARC and IDRC is currently exploring different options to empower pastoralist women in the Sahel region of Nigeria to respond to this need through a project titled “Empowerment of Women in Pastoralism and Agriculture in Nigeria’s Sahel region. This project aims to contribute to socially equitable Agro-pastoral/pastoral development and gender equality in Nigeria’s Sahel region’
As pointed out at the beginning of this blog, the pastoralists have other challenges that needs to be addressed. The next blog in this series will be focused on the challenges that pastoralist women face as well as how to address some of these challenges.