Pastoralist livelihoods are complex systems where the natural resource base is exploited according to sustainability rules that also imply social and economic rules. They have evolved along millenia in the African continent, adjusting to the local availability of water, grass and other fodder resources, as well as complementary livelihood sources ranging from honey to salt or charcoal. Such livelihoods have been adopted by different ethnic groups in successive human colonization waves - including all four major ethnic clusters in the region (Khoi-San, Cushites, Bantu and Nilots). They provide livelihood to an estimated 100 million people in the continent, and they show some variation in the Eastern and Southern African region depending on the constrains they are subjected to.
The African country is overwhelmingly dry (up to 75% of Eastern Africa according to Aboud et al 2012), giving adapted livelihoods such as pastoralism and their complementary options an overwhelming importance. They therefore represent an immense population distributed across an enormous geographical scale, and they should be taken into account in any policy development in the region. Their involvement should not be passive but rather active, making use of the immense repository of indigenous knowledge they represent. Experience shows that the disruption of pastoralist livelihoods through inadequate investment, conflict or marginalization has overall bad consequences not only for the pastoralist populations, but for the society at large.
Pastoralist livelihoods have important values in terms of environmental services provided, of which the rich environmental setting of Eastern and Southern Africa is witness - tourists from all over the world make their way to the region to visit the extraordinary scenarios where pastoralists have conserved the most impressive fauna in the planet. But they are also a very important opportunity for development, an element that is often disregarded both by local or national governments, and by international development partners. Pastoralists produce high-quality products and are the base for high-value activities in areas that are very hostile for any other livelihood. Their role must be recognized in order to provide sound bases for the upcoming development in Eastern and Southern Africa.