Friday, October 12, 2018

Senegal's Pastoralists

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that an increase in global warming will adversely affect livestock and crop production, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. But herders like Saidou have already seen increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, drought, floods, and land degradation threaten their way of life.
Six million people in the Sahel faced severe food shortages in a prolonged lean season between January and August this year; Senegal was one of the three worst affected countries in the region. It may get worse yet, as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 2.5 million livestock herders, or “pastoralists,” and those who raise both livestock and crops in the Sahel risk losing their income.
As soon as the rainy season ended last September, it became clear that erratic rainfall had led to diminished pasture across the Sahel. “If there was good rain, all of our problems would be solved,” says Saidou. This isn’t looking likely: in the Sahel, the gaps between the hardship years are getting smaller and weather conditions are becoming more extreme.
Seasonal migration - which helps over-grazed regions recover by temporarily shifting the burden to areas with more pasture - is the common way of life for the Fulani, one of the Sahel’s largest ethnic groups. But as the length of the migration period and the distance herders are forced to travel to find food and water for their livestock increases, their economic well-being and very way of life are at risk.
Life in pastoral communities revolves around their main source of financial capital: the herd. So when animals are placed under stress, the social fabric also suffers. “Food security is above all assured by the security of the herd,” says Aliou Samba Ba, president of the Senegalese branch of the Réseau Billital Maroobé (RBM), a network of pastoralist associations in West Africa.
On the road, children accompanying their herder parents miss school, while animals die because of the rise in diseases. At home, people are hungry and increasingly worried about the waning value of the little that they own.
Thousands of herders and their livestock spend the dry season in Ranerou every year. But this time was different. Saidou had to station the animals 10 kilometres out of town, where a meagre supply of grass could be found. But with the route between their camp and the town barren and devoid of vegetation, they could only make the journey to Ranerou’s borehole to drink every few days. The animals stopped producing milk, a key nutritional staple for the family.
In the last five years, some areas in Senegal have reported decreases of between 50 and 100 percent in crops and grazing areas. This led to a spike in the demand for manufactured animal feed this year, which sent prices skyrocketing. A 40 kg sack of feed that cost around 7,000 CFA ($12) in October 2017 had risen to 13,000 CFA ($23) by March. Herders had to sell off animals to buy feed to sustain the rest of their herds, leaving a severe dent in their wealth.
Meanwhile, a government fund set up in 2012 to subsidise animal feed was not sufficiently replenished. The last cash injection was in 2015, and since herders tapped the fund in 2016 and 2017, subsidies weren’t available at the same level this year. “The state did not have the means to put in place a livestock safeguarding operation,” says Abba Leye Sall, the head of Animal Sectors at the Ministry of Livestock.
In addition, livestock prices plummeted due to desperate herders bringing large numbers of animals to market. Cattle, sheep, and goats fetched half the price they had four months earlier; by March in Ranerou, a sack of feed cost more than a sheep.
It’s difficult to predict the conditions of the season ahead, and with donkey-drawn carts as the primary means of transport, carrying large stocks of feed presents logistical difficulties.
As the year went on, herds intermingled around scarce water supplies and the incidence of disease rose. Foot-and-mouth disease killed young animals and slowed the pace of already weak herds forced to hobble long distances in search of sustenance.
Children were among the first to suffer. Many accompanied their parents on the journey south to help with the herd or because no one was left at home to care for them. For those who ordinarily attended school, this meant missing an academic year. Healthcare was non-existent when they became ill camping under tarpaulin sheets. “Social services are not adapted to mobility,” observes Noël Marie Zagré, regional nutrition adviser at UNICEF, the UN’s agency for children.
Full report here

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