Unlocking the Potential of Pastoralism: Insights from the IGAD Regional Pastoralism Expo

February 12, 2024

The UNDP’s Africa Borderlands Center (ABC) has been at the forefront generating knowledge and advocating for the implementation of evidence-based development programs for borderland communities in Africa. The continent’s borderlands are home to more than 270 million people, more than the national population of any given country in Africa. Unfortunately, these regions are marginalized, underdeveloped and under-resourced and mainly arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL). Most of the borderland communities are pastoralists, and engage in livestock keeping – cattle, camels, sheep and goats - as their major livelihood. The African Union estimates the there are 250 million pastoralists in Africa[1]. Studies also indicate there more than 50 million people in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa who depend on pastoralism as their source of livelihood.[2] In the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region, the pastoral communities occupy 70% of the region’s ASAL areas. 


Challenges affecting pastoralism in the IGAD region

The IGAD region hosts the largest population of pastoralists in Africa, which are transhumant as they move seasonally from one area to another in search of pasture, water, markets and social support. As a livelihood, pastoralism, however, is increasingly coming under threat due to combined factors including, insecurity and conflicts, restriction of pastoralists’ mobility, inadequate grazing land, pastoral land alienation for other economic activities and adverse climate change and variability. Resilient as they are, pastoral communities face a myriad of challenges that include persistent droughts, occasional floods, and the looming specter of climate change cast shadows on their traditional way of life. Land degradation, driven by climate variability, poses a serious threat to both production and economic growth, often fueling conflicts. Pastoralists find themselves at the crossroads of adapting to an evolving environment and preserving their centuries-old heritage.


Inaugural Regional Pastoralism Day and Expo


Considering the challenges facing pastoral communities and the need to explore how best to adapt and transform pastoralism in the region, UNDP supported IGAD to organize the inaugural Regional Pastoralism Expo in collaboration with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Irrigation and Lowlands. The groundbreaking event brought together pastoralists, pastoralist civil society organizations, private sector, academia, policy makers, development partners and other stakeholders. From January 26 – February 1, 2024, participants exchanged ideas and shared lessons as they sought to address challenges affecting pastoralism and explore opportunities to transform this sector and support pastoral communities in the borderland areas of IGAD region. Participants and delegates participated in panel discussions and toured exhibition booths where they had a taste of the rich cultural heritage among pastoral communities in the region. They also immersed themselves as they experienced the rich cultural diversity through crafts, customs and cuisines of the pastoral communities. 

Amidst the challenges, the Expo showcased untapped opportunities that could breathe new life into pastoral communities. The vast ASALs of the IGAD region hold the key to unlocking economic and livelihood potentials by implementing the following key recommendations:

  1. Climate resilience: Develop and implement climate-resilient strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change on pastoral livelihoods

  2. Modernize pastoralism: Embrace innovative technologies to modernize pastoralism and build capacities, especially among the youth 

  3. Policy development and harmonization: Advocate for the development of pastoralism-friendly policies, and harmonize policies across IGAD member states with a focus on the ratification and domestication of the Transhumance Protocol to ensure safe, free and orderly movement of pastoralists and their livestock across national borders.

  4. Diversification: Collaborate with the private sector and other stakeholders to explore and invest in alternative livelihoods for pastoral communities, such as tourism and sustainable initiatives, including water and irrigation infrastructure and rangeland management.

  5. Cross-border cooperation: Facilitate cross-border collaboration, knowledge sharing and interaction among pastoral communities to foster unity and mutual support

  6. Youth and women inclusion: Integrate youth and women into pastoral development initiatives, including land governance ensuring their active participation in decision-making processes.


Advocacy: Amplifying Pastoral Communities’ Voices through Policies

The Expo provided a platform for leaders in pastoralists communities, legislators and policy makers to interact with pastoralists and organizations supporting pastoral communities for allowing them to listen from their concerns. The Expo became a rallying point for advocates like Hon. Christine Nakimwero, Women MP & Shadow Minister for Water & Environment in Uganda and who serves in the Environment and Natural Resource, and Climate Change committees of Parliament, and Hon. Daniel Nanok, MP from Turkana West who is a member of the Pastoralists Parliamentary Group, a caucus of MPs from pastoral counties in the Kenyan Parliament.

Delegates noted that in all IGAD countries, only Ethiopia has developed the Pastoral Development Policy and Strategy. Considering the many areas that pastoralism touches, different ministries or departments have some elements of pastoral issues at different stages. “I have got insights to share with other members of parliament on how to improve the performance of pastoralists especially in the rangelands and to awaken sleeping policies at cabinet and ministerial levels to help us rejuvenate the debate in as far as pastoralism is concerned,” said Hon. Nakimwero as she also called for IGAD to audit all existing pastoral frameworks in the region, reflecting the urgency to address pastoralism's challenges. 


Her sentiments were echoed by Hon. Nanok. “Our work is to make laws,” he said, “our coming here has helped us to understand what issues we need to legislate. This information and lessons from this Expo will help us know how to lobby and advocate for pastoralism to be considered as a critical sector in the central government’s planning system.” Pastoral communities are not merely cultural entities but contributors to national and regional economies. The leaders’ commitment to advocacy is a testament to the need for supportive policies that recognize and nurture pastoral communities’ unique way of life.

Unity Across Region’s Borderlands

The expo also emphasized the unity among pastoralists across borders who share languages and cultures. “As pastoralists, we want to move together because we are one people,” said Lomoe Simon Peter Lokure from Karamoja Cluster in Uganda. Lokure is also the Executive Director, Dynamic Agropastoralist Development Organization (DADO) and Chairperson of Coalition of Civil Society Organizations working with Pastoralists in Uganda. “We want to be supported to move together, interact and learn from each other and support each other across borders.” Lokure shared insights on the shared language and practices among pastoralists in Karamoja, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Kenya. He underscored the commonality among pastoralists, transcending artificially imposed borders, reinforcing the call for regional collaborative efforts to have joint border markets, harmonized cross-border policies, and regional cooperation.

The Way Forward: Paving a Resilient Path

The culmination of the IGAD Regional Pastoralism Expo marked a pivotal moment, with key stakeholders, such as relevant ministries from IGAD member states, pledging concerted efforts to revolutionize pastoralism within their borders, and especially at the borderlands. This united front aims to establish a coordinated regional approach, bolstering the resilience of pastoral systems. The collaborative spirit, reflected in regional policies and the dynamic learning showcased during the Expo, charts a course for pastoral communities. Together, they envision a future where resilience, culture, and economies harmonize with the unfolding global challenges.

IGAD, in response to the Expo's outcomes, commits to harnessing the insights gained to shape forthcoming policies, strategies, and programs in the region. This commitment extends to actively supporting member states in crafting national initiatives that uplift the lives and livelihoods of pastoral communities. The journey forward is guided by a shared vision, one that envisions pastoralism not merely as a tradition but as a dynamic force shaping the destiny of the IGAD borderlands.

In essence, the IGAD Regional Pastoralism Expo has acted as a catalyst for transformative change, fostering collaboration, advocating for policies, and illuminating the richness inherent in pastoral life. Insights from diverse participants, ranging from legislators to pastoralists, underscore the urgency of regional backing for this distinctive way of life, ensuring its resilience amid challenges like climate change. The Expo, far from a singular event, establishes a foundation for ongoing dialogue and actionable measures, propelling resilience and prosperity for pastoral communities across the IGAD region.



[1] African Union. “Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture Policy Framework for Pastoralism in Africa: Securing,

Protecting and Improving the Lives, Livelihoods and Rights of Pastoralist Communities,” 2010. https://au.int/sites/default/files/


[2] Krätli, Saverio, Christian Huelsebusch, Sally Brooks, and Brigitte Kaufmann. “Pastoralism: A Critical Asset for Food Security under

Global Climate Change.” Animal Frontiers 3, no. 1 (January 1, 2013): 42–50. https://doi.org/10.2527/af.2013-0007