The comparative advantage of pastoralism as a production method relies on the capacity of animals to move. This allows to take advantage of the productivity peaks caused by local rains, differences in terrain or across the seasons. Mobility allows also to share common land pools that spreads the risk in case of climatic hazards - it is less likely to experience a total lack of grazing resources if the area where livestock can access is greater. This is the reason why land tenure is usually communal in pastoralist systems, while the ownership of the animals is usually private.
It has been shown that mobile livestock systems are consistently more profitable than extensive systems where land ownership is private, with a benefit about five times higher. Additionally, in Eastern Africa the location next to the Equator creates conditions for two wet seasons and two dry seasons in a single year, causing milk to be much more relevant in pastoralist economies because lactating animals do not completely dry up. Worldwide, livestock tends to calf in the pastures that have their productivity restricted to few months in a year but whose nutritional content is more nutritious, pretty much alike to the strategy followed by wild herbivores and adjusted through millions of years of evolution in dryland settings.
While traditional pastoralist systems rely fundamentally on mobility, colonial powers and later national governments have mostly disrupting mobile practices because of perceiving them as outdated and improductive. This has caused different food security crises, particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. A more consolidated scientific understanding on the advantages of mobile livestock, consolidated during the last 25 years, should drive a change in the policies in the region. The African Union Pastoralist Policy Framework in 2010 is a first and powerful step for a real change in the constraints for mobility that Eastern and Southern African pastoralists face. Given that it has been endorsed by countries that are member of the African Union, the civil society has the elements to reclaim an incorporation of its principles into the national legislation and policy. Such principles have already been incorporated into the legislative framework of countries in other continents, such as Europe, West Africa or Latin America.
Image: @Rayofungi 2015 May 02 (Twitter)