Participation and indigenous knowledge in development for African pastoralists

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Virginia Tech

Rural development in Africa’s arid rangelands has been exceptionally difficult. Conventional approaches to range and livestock development have consistently failed to meet desired goals, including increased productivity and improved living standards for pastoralists. Perspectives on constraints to successful development can be divided into two major viewpoints.

The dominant view, which has guided these failed attempts, blames pastoralist for traditionalism and clinging to economically irrational and environmentally destructive herding strategies. From this conventional perspective, project planners have sought radical changes from current indigenous practice towards "modern" beef ranching and sedentary agriculture.

The other major perspective views pastoral systems as basically economically and environmentally sound, though they are increasingly becoming less so due largely to pressures for such modernization. From this view, development projects should instead include the participation of herder populations and be based upon indigenous livestock and range management practices. Thus far there have been few projects which encourage herders to build upon elements of traditional pastoralism, though such an approach is seen as having a better chance for success than the conventional approach.

Several examples of failed projects are presented. Two of these failed partly because they denied genuine herder participation and were based on an inadequate understanding of indigenous pastoral systems. A third project faltered due to the unwillingness of the government in question to follow through on its appropriate, herder-oriented design. Two successful, NGO-sponsored projects are offered as evidence that the participatory/indigenous knowledge approach can serve as a viable strategy in donor-sponsored projects.