periodically on Indigenous Knowledge (IK) initiatives in Sub-Saharan
Africa and occasionally on such initiatives outsider the Region.
It is published by the Africa Region’s Knowledge and Learning
Center as part of an evolving IK partnership between the World Bank,
communities, NGOs, development institutions and multilateral organizations.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and
should not be attributed to the World Bank Group or its partners
in this initiative. A webpage on IK is available at http//www.worldbank.org/afr/ik/
the indigenous knowledge of Borana pastoralists into
rangeland management strategies in southern Ethiopia
Sabine Homann and Barbara Rischkowsky
management in Borana: past and present
Pastoralists’ indigenous knowledge (IK) about
ecology and social organisation led to rangeland-management strategies
appropriate to deal with the erratic rainfall in African drylands.
Herd mobility was traditionally practised as the key strategy to
make use of the scattered rangeland resources on a large scale.
Communal resource-tenure regimes were designed for extended user
groups to coordinate access to shared grazing resources in normal
years and to allow for negotiations over use of key resources during
times of scarcity. The Borana pastoralists in southern Ethiopia
and northern Kenya developed an exceptionally efficient system of
managing natural resources. The supply of permanent water was limited
to clusters of deep wells in a central area. Access to water determined
the utilisation of the surrounding pastures. Herds were moved between
dry- and wet-season pastures. Social organisation coordinated and
enforced decisions in rangeland management among multiple resource
users. Specialised in cattle husbandry, the Borana reached an outstanding
level of productivity in terms of livestock and rangeland resources.
However, research and development interventions
ignored the Borana knowledge and skills in rangeland management.
Interventions aimed at increasing rangeland production started in
the 1970s. Construction of watering ponds in wet-season grazing
areas was intended to release grazing pressure from the dry-season
pastures. Instead, it opened the wet-season area up for year-round
grazing and attracted uncontrolled settlement. This led to reduced
mobility of the herds, causing overgrazing in the formerly seasonally
used pastures. At the same time, imposition of a top-down formal
administration undermined the indigenous institutions of pasture
management. Another destabilising factor was the political decision
of the government to hand over about one third of the Borana rangelands
and two important well clusters to the neighbouring Somali Administrative
Region. This effectively denied the Borana access to the most fertile
pastures, destroyed reciprocal arrangements between Borana and Somali
pastoral communities and fuelled ethnic conflict. The extension
services favoured cultivation within valuable grazing areas and
blocked herd movements. The official ban on rangeland burning and
the establishment of private commercial ranches exacerbated the
disruption of the Borana’s traditional resource-use system.
The experience in Borana show very clearly that ignoring pastoralists’
IK contributes to progressive degradation of rangelands, erosion
of important social structures and poverty among the pastoral population.
for future pastoral development planning is to design practical
concepts for revitalising pastoralists’ IK. The solution is
not to romanticise this, but rather to support the proven practices
and to redirect external interventions in order to support pastoralists’
strategies in securing their livelihoods. Innovative approaches
are needed to integrate indigenous and external knowledge in development
planning and decision making. Lessons can be drawn from research
that explored possibilities of IK-based pastoral development in
the Borana rangelands of southern Ethiopia. A stepwise approach
generated specific knowledge on pastoralists’ rangeland-management
strategies and helped to understand the current constraints to applying
in exploring IK-based rangeland management
IK in rangeland management
Two locations in Borana were compared. These differed in terms of
functions within the traditional grazing system and the extent of
external interference. Web is a traditional dry-season grazing area
with one of the oldest clusters of deep wells. Dida Hara is a former
wet-season grazing area where the construction of watering ponds
induced year-round grazing and uncontrolled settlement. On the basis
of pastoralists’ rangeland classification, seasonal land-use
patterns were identified. Participatory land-use mapping was combined
with GPS measurements of land-use categories and with herd mobility
Herd movements have reduced considerably over time:
30 years ago, Borana rangeland management was organised over large
areas.. The permanent encampments were clustered near the traditional
deep wells, the only permanent source of water. During rainy seasons,
the pastoralists led the herds to very distant pastures. This dispersed
the grazing pressure. During dry seasons, the lack of surface water
forced the herds back to the pastures around the wells. The milking
herds were grazed in the inner circle around the wells, and the
other animals were kept in the outer circle. The herders –
being in close contact with their herds, the natural environment
and other herders – knew exactly where to move their animals
in order to find available forage and water resources.
Development interference restricted herd mobility,
and differences emerged between the two locations. One year after
the last drought in southern Ethiopia, there were scarcely any herd
movements in Dida Hara, the location where water-development interventions
had been made, but mobility was still pronounced in Web. Settlements
in Dida Hara had expanded rapidly, as long-distance wet-season movements
were no longer needed. A few wealthy Borana established very large
herds, whereas most households barely sustained their livelihoods
from livestock. Households cooperated much less in herding, their
animals were more likely to die during droughts, and the formerly
abundant pastures degraded rapidly. The herders from Web had no
wet-season grazing areas for their mobile herds and became confined
to areas closer to the deep wells. Within this group of pastoralists,
the gap in wealth remained less and most households continued to
cooperate in managing very small herds.
shows that possibilities for herd movement have been drastically
reduced. Availability of water lost its function of regulating the
spatial organisation of grazing. The Borana have almost ceased to
distinguish between pastures for milking herds and pastures for
more mobile herds. Separate grazing systems evolved in Dida Hara
and Web, reinforced by different socio-economic trends. Analysing
pastoralists’ IK thus revealed the rationale of local rangeland-management
strategies and the negative effects of interventions in the name
of pastoral “development”.
changes in indigenous institutions
Changes in Borana institutions regulating natural resource management
were analysed through participatory community meetings. Following
the traditional rules, the elders in Dida Hara and Web were invited
to delegate participants to the meetings, held at the traditional
meeting places. The pastoralists were split into two groups and
drew Venn diagrams to show all institutions relevant for natural
resource use – one group depicting the current institutions
and the other depicting the situation before the development interventions.
The groups jointly presented the completed Venn diagrams and discussed
The comparison showed how the organised access to
natural resources had been disturbed. Traditionally, large-scale
land-use planning was coordinated by complex institutional networks.
The right of free access to water and pastures for all Borana was
regulated by trusteeships for each well held by a specific clan.
Appointed supervisors handled the daily administration of the wells.
Water management at clan level was supported by institutions determined
by grazing locality. Elders’ committees coordinated the access
of livestock to each well with the use of nearby pasture. Further
committees were responsible for the shared grazing areas. The responsibility
for local land-use planning was conferred to sub-committees in the
settlement clusters, neighbourhoods and single villages. Social
security, including the peaceful resolution of conflicts over resource
use, was assured by local clan representatives. Directives for good
governance for the entire Borana society were supported by a complex
administrative system including a legislative assembly that reviewed
existing prerogatives and obligations. Special counsellors were
appointed as mediators within the institutional network.
The governmental introduction of local administrative
units – “Peasant Associations” (PAs) – undermined
the flexible control through experienced elders. Younger community
members, inexperienced in pasture management, were appointed and
given powers of decision-making at local level. The additional transfer
of authority for formal education, relief and extension to the PAs
further undermined the authority of the traditional institutions.
Today, the elders’ committees are no longer able to apply
their knowledge. This has caused conflicts between generations and
within the communities. The committees for the large-scale coordination
of herd movements have almost lost their function. Instead, immediate-response
reactions are made by the village heads and formal administration.
The multiple cross-linkages of the indigenous institutions for land-use
planning to the indigenous institutions for social security have
been almost completely destroyed. Mediation by the traditional governance
body is now minimal.
Nevertheless, the Venn diagrams show that –
despite the erosion of most indigenous institutions – those
concerned with administration of water (such as the deep wells in
Web) have retained their importance. The essential principles of
water management have been transferred to the newly constructed
ponds in Dida Hara. To regain control over rangeland management,
elders at both locations started to negotiate with the PA Committees
to re-implement traditional directives for restricted settlement
and thereby stop the over-utilisation of the rangelands.
the existing pastoral institutions involved in controlling mobility
revealed weaknesses in power structures and related conflicts. Enforcement
of decisions for using, maintaining and rehabilitating rangeland
resources has been severely weakened. Shortage of pasture and water,
as well as inter-ethnic conflicts, led to disregard of directives.
The deteriorating procedures for negotiation weakened the information
and communication structures needed to coordinate herd movements
in time and space. However, the diagrams also revealed the Borana’s
organisational expertise and still viable social structures. The
current initiatives of the elders show that pastoralists can be
innovative in adapting their strategies to changing conditions.
socio-economic profiles of pastoral households
An in-depth survey was made of 60 households in Dida Hara and Web
to determine socio-economic features favouring herd mobility during
and after the last drought. During the drought, mobility was similar
in Dida Hara and Web, as herd movements were driven by the crisis.
The only clear trend was that households selling their animals at
export markets were those which were most mobile. In the year after
the drought, mobility was higher in Web than in Dida Hara. Mobility
of households increased when they were part of larger herding groups
and was higher for households with enough animals to live solely
off the livestock. Households with camels (an innovation in herd
composition made by the Borana in response to changing rangeland
conditions) were more mobile than others. More households in Web
kept camels than in Dida Hara.
was linked to larger herd size and/or capability of organising cooperative
networks. As herds are becoming smaller and family members forced
to engage in other activities, cooperation is essential to support
mobility. Therefore, it is anticipated that the ongoing socio-economic
differentiation and the loss of negotiating networks and information
flow will lead to further reduction in mobility.
and encouraging multi-stakeholder platforms
Representatives from the local communities, research, development
and the government were invited to multi-stakeholder workshops at
the end of the field research. The objectives were to give feedback
to those involved in the study and to discuss the implications for
sustainable rangeland management. The workshops also provided platforms
for joint reflection to support ongoing efforts in participatory
The participants affirmed that pastoral IK was under-utilised.
Their statements matched with the study recommendation to focus
on herd mobility in order to generate concrete options for improved
rangeland management. This helps to define institutional responsibilities
such as land-use planning at the level of local encampment clusters,
grazing reserves controlled by committees of mobile herders, participatory
monitoring and evaluation by genuine organs within the traditional
system, and mediation among the stakeholders by sensitised pastoral
representatives. The role of government is to facilitate enforcement
of the decisions.
The Borana’s IK has been exposed to external
and internal disturbances, but persists in some applied rangeland-management
strategies and negotiation networks. External support is justified
to facilitate structures for continuous pastoral experimentation
and negotiation. Multi-stakeholder platforms can provide a framework
for participatory exploration of the potentials and constraints
of IK-based development. The preceding steps allow an informed debate
mediated by development agents. These agents should also support
pastoral communities in redefining their objectives and further
developing their innovations. A fundamental challenge is the implementation
of a favourable pastoral policy. This depends on the willingness
to learn from pastoral IK, to ensure a transparent information exchange
and to agree on concerted development actions.
mobile rangeland management will not turn back the clock or overcome
the fact that many Borana households depend on additional sources
of income and can no longer survive on pastoralism. Population growth,
recurrent droughts, lack of investment opportunities, and political
and economic marginalisation hinder progress. However, exploring
ways to support mobility and the pastoral control of resource use
makes development efforts more tangible and target-oriented. Backstopping
mobile pastoralists for political organisation and the constructive
use of networks can help keep IK alive and constructive..
was written by Sabine Homann and Barbara Rischkowsky, Department
of Livestock Ecology, Giessen University (contact email@example.com).
It is based on Sabine Homann’s PhD research conducted in southern
Ethiopia in 2000–2002 with financial and logistical support
from the Tropical Ecological Support Programme (TOEB/GTZ), Germany,
and the Borana Lowlands Pastoral Development Programme (BLPDP/GTZ),