The University of the Bush is a new initiative that brings together leading pastoralist thinkers from across Ethiopia and Kenya to interact with leading academics on issues with pertinence to pastoralism.
The first two seminars were hosted in Ethiopia by the Oromia Pastoralists Association and were attended by around 50 pastoralists from different pastoralist communities of Kenya and Ethiopia. They took place in the Gujji rangeland of Borana Zone, Ethiopia.
Professor Katherine Homewood led the first seminar on mobility and land tenure systems. She discussed the ways Western scientists and observers understand what pastoralists do and how this has changed over the past 50 years. The seminar also discussed the importance of pastoralist mobility and how land tenure is changing and affecting people’s ability to move with their herds.
Pastoralists at the meeting wondered how new understandings on pastoralism as a range management system can be better understood by their governments. As one pastoralist from Ethiopia’s Afar region asked, “If the [western] scientists have understood the way of movement and mobility of pastoralists, it is good for them. But why can’t the African governments listen to their information? Why are they still rigid on the policies of settlement? Is it that they do not want to hear or is that they haven’t received the information?”
Pastoralists discussed different reasons for mobility in detail and how their herds are able to communicate where pasture and water that is good for them can be found. Borana, Gabra and Gujji pastoralists explained the concept of Fin, “Sometimes you have plenty of everything – plenty of pasture, plenty of water, but the condition of the livestock does not improve. We attribute this to a lack of something, and this something is called fin. Conversely, in absence of these essential resources the condition of livestock may still be very good, [the animals are] very healthy, very fat and they provide enough milk. This is called fin. The animal could be in a good physical condition and yet if they lack the fin, it means a lack of productivity. Movement is decided on the basis of fin.“
Saverio Kratli of the UK Institute for Development studies discussed animal learned-behaviour giving examples from the Woodaabe of Niger and American ranchers. He told a story of cattle that had been kept indoors for many years and fed artificial and dried fodder in the US. When the farmer several years later decided to try them on grass again, he turned them onto the pasture, but the cattle had no idea what to do, since they had not learnt to eat grass. Animals learn to “select what species of grass or plants they eat … and which part of the plant to eat”. A Kenyan pastoralist backed him up saying, “Animals will feed on what you teach them to. Camel calves for example are fed at home before they are released into the larger herd. When they are first released they will go for the food you taught them while they were in the enclosure.”
Professor Ian Scoones of IDS led the second seminar which focussed on pastoralist innovation – How things change, how people confront problems and get access to different types of knowledge to address these problems, how pastoralists can make best use of science and technology and link with scientists to work better together.
They debated the way in which science and technology is used in development and the obstacles to innovation made in laboratories and universities reaching pastoralists and vice versa. For example, one pastoralist from Bubisa in Chalbi, Kenya commented of the Kenyan Agriculture Research Institute, “They have an office in Marsabit, but we have never seen them doing anything tangible. One day I saw them going around and telling us where they would go for a field trip. If they offer services, I am not aware of that.”
Ian Scoones talked of the old assumption that innovation can only happen amongst scientists and those who have knowledge and equipment. He then described some new initiatives where scientists work together with ordinary people on innovation. “The honeybee network started in India. The idea is that people with practical problems come up with practical solutions. These solutions may be the result of local knowledge or the result of scientific knowledge, or a combination of the two. Somebody in one part of a country can make a discovery. He writes it down or takes a video of the practice and shares it with the network. The idea is transmitted through TV and radio and provides information to different people. The ideas are heard, adapted to another problem and this happens over and over again, developing a process where new things happen”.
Pastoralists also shared examples of their own innovations which included special birthing kits for women, new ways of storing and catching water, gathering together different pastoralist communities to share ideas together which initiates innovation, building new organisations to act as a conduit between pastoralists in the bush and organisations and government departments in the city.
The Chairman, Nura Dida, summed up the seminar saying, “Let us all think about how pastoralists can strengthen their voice and strengthen their resources. How can the future be better? What are we going to strengthen? What are our knowledge and skills that we are going to strengthen in order to strengthen pastoralism?
“There are many ways pastoralists used to meet without external support, let us also use our traditional system. Let’s use our money and contribute, meet and network. Let’s struggle, don’t just stand there and wait for external support.
“There are those who get support from the government, like the farmers. If we hang on to our traditional ways, we will have ways to protect ourselves. Other than external support, solutions should come from within, like drilling boreholes. Every solution is in our hands. We cannot prosper when we are depending on external sources. Please pastoralists, stand up and stand up for your rights and make sure you are the answer to your own problems.”
These first seminars were hosted by the Oromia Pastoralists Association (OPA). OPA also facilitated Ethiopian delegates to attend the seminars while the Pastoralist Shade Initiative facilitated Kenyan pastoralists to attend. The seminars were supported by the UK DFID DGPP project in collaboration with the Future Agricultures Consortium. It is hoped that the seminars will be held quarterly and cover a broad range topics, identified and of interest to pastoralists.