Summer 2017

When the Old Way is Best

Insights into the wisdom of traditional herding in Uganda.

By Julie Flaherty

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In Uganda, livestock herding can be a hedge against economic hardship. Photo: Kimberly Howe

For more than a decade, the Ugandan government has tried to steer people in the impoverished northeast away from traditional livestock herding and toward farming. Yet researchers at Tufts’ Feinstein International Center have found that seminomadic herding—known as pastoralism, or agro-pastoralism when it’s combined with farming—may actually be a better fit for the Karamoja region, which has been repeatedly buffeted by drought and armed conflict.

Many households in Karamoja, the researchers found, make a living by doing a little of everything, including livestock herding, growing crops, collecting firewood and making bricks. If any of those strategies fails in a given year—the crops die from poor weather, for example—livestock is food to fall back on. Keeping the family fed during the “hunger gap” before harvest is much easier, the authors write in a report, when households have “the ability to sell a few chickens or a goat to manage hardship.” And properly moving cattle, goats or sheep to new pastures can also prevent overgrazing and erosion.

Elizabeth Stites, the primary investigator, said she hopes the research will encourage Ugandan lawmakers to recognize the value in the old ways, and promote policies to support them.

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