Uganda, like Tanzania and Kenya, has a rich history of pastoralism. For centuries, nomadic herders have bred and raised cattle to withstand the region’s high temperatures and low rainfall. But because of expanding wildlife areas and national parks for wildlife conservation and tourism, and an effort to “modernize,” pastoralists—and the indigenous breeds of cattle they raise—are in danger of going extinct.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that almost one breed of cattle goes extinct every month. In Uganda, the population of Ankole cattle—which is resistant to disease and can withstand high temperatures—is declining rapidly as livestock keepers switch to more exotic breeds.
But the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA) is trying to “bridge the gap between policy-makers and pastoralists,” says Elizabeth Katushabe, a program officer with PENHA. She says that often the government has been “biased” against nomadic pastoralists. Although many political leaders come from pastoralist communities, many are supporting policies that drive herders and livestock keepers off the land. But Ms. Katushabe says by holding meetings and workshops with Parliamentary leaders and pastoralists, PENHA is “trying to put it into their [policy makers] hearts to protect pastoralists.” And their efforts are paying off.
Although the government has encouraged livestock keepers to raise Freesian cattle because they produce more milk, they’ve also worked with the Ankole Cow Conservation Association, through the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, to allow some herders to bring Ankole cattle into national parks to graze, helping conserve and protect the cattle as well as the livestock keepers’ way of life.
But it’s not only government leaders that PENHA has to convince. They also have to persuade poverty-stricken herding communities that herding can be profitable. Ms. Katushabe says “poverty is PENHA’s biggest challenge.” These communities think that the only way to make money is to adopt exotic breeds of cattle, but PENHA is helping to change that attitude by building a market for indigenous breeds. PENHA is hoping to start radio programs that will educate herders and consumers alike about the nutritional qualities of the meat and milk from indigenous breeds, including leaner meat and milk with higher butter content.
In addition, PENHA emphasizes the role herders can play in protecting the environment—their rotational grazing practices can help protect wildlife, sequester carbon in soils, and preserve biodiversity.
PENHA is also working to mobilize women’s groups. Most women aren’t allowed to own their own livestock, but PENHA is training women to raise goats, which men don’t think are important. The goats provide not only food and milk, but an important source of income and empowerment to women.
By giving livestock keepers a voice, PENHA is helping ensure that indigenous breeds of cattle and the pastoralist way of life don’t go extinct.
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