Cattle and Cribs: Grain storage and Production amongst Pastoralists in Ethiopia and Nigeria

Research reports and studies
December 1994
Mick Blowfield and Tim Donaldson

Grain consumption is a fact of life for many African pastoralists. This is not an original insight, but it is an increasingly important one as we become more aware of the interaction between pastoralism and cultivation throughout Africa. This awareness has partly resulted from seeing the strategies adopted by pastoralists during times of drought. Drought reduces milk yields, causes the quality of cattle to decline and leads to low cattle prices as pastoralists sell off cattle to meet basic needs. If no other options are open, this can lead to asset stripping with herds being reduced to unsustainable levels.

Cereal banks have been tried in several areas in response to market failures that cause inadequate food security for herders (Fowler and Moorehead 1992). Whether such interventions are ultimately sustainable or more effective than current systems involving cereal traders is open to question (Berg and Kent 1991).

For some pastoral communities cultivation of cereals and other crops offers a valve to release the pressure of environmental stress, provided that harvests can be stored effectively. Appropriate local storage facilities are therefore an important component of food security policy amongst pastoralists. While there are descriptions of pastoralists engaged in cultivation, post-harvest aspects have largely been over-looked.

To illustrate the importance of grain storage amongst some pastoralist groups examples from the Borana in Ethiopia and the FulBe in Nigeria are outlined. These examples exhibit the importance of storage systems to pastoralists in different circumstances but also highlight the view that there are no fixed solutions appropriate for all cases.

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