Public Release: 

Livestock interventions can protect lives, livelihoods

Tufts University

Boston -- Pastoralist communities in dryland areas of Africa are reliant on livestock as sources of food, income and social support. However drought is common in sub-Saharan Africa, making these communities vulnerable to loss of livestock when rains fail. The Feinstein International Center (FIC), part of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in partnership with United States Agency for International Development Ethiopia (USAID Ethiopia), CARE, and Save the Children USA, describes non-traditional drought-relief interventions involving livestock in Ethiopia in a report entitled "Impact Assessments of Livelihoods-based Drought Interventions in Moyale and Dire Woredas." Seemingly counterintuitive, these interventions enabled families to reduce livestock assets during droughts, but ultimately helped feed families, support communities, and sustain pastoralist livelihoods.

"Recurring drought contributes to the vulnerability of pastoralists in Ethiopia," says Andrew Catley, PhD, a research director at the FIC and lead editor of the report, "as drought kills livestock, creates hardship for pastoralist communities, and leads to repeated need for humanitarian assistance. While food aid helps keep people alive, other relief interventions can not only save lives but also, importantly, be effective in preventing the loss of livestock and allowing pastoralists to protect their main resources and way of life."

To test these livelihoods-based relief interventions, during the 2005-2006 droughts in southern Ethiopia, researchers worked with the Pastoralist Livelihoods Initiative (PLI), a program based on the creation of a national Livestock Policy Forum by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and facilitated by the FIC. The two-year program, funded by USAID Ethiopia, allowed FIC, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government to test field level interventions and feed results into national guidelines for livelihoods-based livestock relief.

The livelihoods-based relief interventions took place in the Moyale and Dire districts, or woredas, as they are called in southern Ethiopia. Interventions in both woredas involved de-stocking - selling livestock to reduce numbers - in exchange for cash to buy food, maintain a core herd, and access private services like veterinary care, livestock feed and transportation.

"Within the aid community, there is a reluctance to support drought interventions which provide cash to communities, either directly or indirectly. There seems to be a perception that poor or vulnerable people will not use cash effectively compared to say, food aid - this is a perception we've been questioning for some time. These case studies add to a growing body of evidence which shows that people use cash, in this case from de-stocking livestock, in rational ways. Households were able to meet their immediate food and health care needs, while also protecting core livestock assets through buying feed, moving animals to better grazing areas, and providing veterinary care," says Catley. Selling livestock assets also supported the local community and economy, as the food and services for families and animals were purchased mostly at local markets and from local businesses.

"At the policy level, we need to view drought as a normal and often predictable event in dryland areas of Africa, and plan accordingly," says Catley. "This means that long-term development programs need to have built-in contingency plans for drought and other crises, and clearly defined triggers which allow these plans to be activated. These ideas are not new, but aid agencies -- both donors and NGOs -- struggle with this approach. We also need to continue strengthening the local services which pastoralists need and, in particular, support far greater private sector involvement in livestock marketing and veterinary services. More timely and large-scale livelihoods-based drought interventions make sense both for the affected communities and for donors as the de-stocking in Ethiopia had a benefit-cost ratio of around 41:1. It makes far more sense to support a manageable core herd of animals during drought, than allow all the animals to die and have to replace them through expensive restocking programs."


Abebe D, Admassu, B, Aklilu Y, Catley A, Cullis A, Demeke F, Gebrechirstos Y, Mekonnen G. 2007 (March). "Impact Assessments of Livelihoods-based Drought Interventions in Moyale and Dire Woredas." Feinstein International Center, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University. []

If you are a member of the media interested in learning more about this topic, or speaking with a faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, or another Tufts health sciences researcher, please contact Siobhan Gallagher at 617-636-6586 or Christine Fennelly at 617-636-3707.

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.

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