Livestock Research for Rural Development 19 (12) 2007 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Livestock production in pastoral and agro-pastoral production systems of southern Ethiopia

Adugna Tolera and Aster Abebe

Department of Animal and Range Sciences, College of Agriculture, Hawassa University, P O Box 5, Awassa, Ethiopia


Livestock production situation and feed resources availability in pastoral and agro-pastoral production system of southern Ethiopia were assessed based on field visits and interview of selected households as well as group discussions with the pastoralists.  A semi-structured questionnaire was used for interviewing 60 randomly selected pastoralists. Informal discussions were also held with a group of pastoralists in each of the areas assessed as well as with the development agents working in the localities. The collected data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. 


The survey showed that numerically cattle are the most important species followed by goats, camels and sheep. The main feed resources of the area are natural pastures (herbaceous vegetation composed mainly of grasses and forbs and browses such as shrubs, tree leaves and pods), which show marked seasonal variation in availability and quality based on variability of rainfall distribution. Productivity of animals in terms of milk production, growth rate and reproductive performance is generally low. Crop production is increasingly practiced as a means of economic diversification although crop failure is a common feature because of unreliable rainfall and frequent drought. Thus, livestock production remains to be the main means of livelihood. Hence, more emphasis should be given to improving livestock productivity and proper management of the rangelands. Efforts to reverse or at least halt the advancement of bush encroachment should be encouraged and strengthened.

Keywords: Borana, bush encroachment, cropping, feed resources, rangelands


The suitability of an area for either animal or crop production, and the type of animal or crop to be produced in the area depends on the agro-ecological conditions of the area. The feasibility of cropping and the type of crops to be produced depend on climatic, edaphic and biotic factors. The extent of cropping and the type of crop, in turn, determine the quantity, quality and distribution of animal feed resources throughout the year. On the other hand, the feed resource base and disease challenge determine the animal production system of the area.


The arid and semi-arid lowlands are characterized by high spatial and temporal variability in rainfall distribution and pattern. Although there are general rainy and dry seasons, the rains may start at different times in different years, increasing irregularity and distorting the normal pattern. Chances for prolonged dry spells at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season are very high. In such conditions meaningful crop production cannot be attained in rain-fed agriculture and extensive livestock production appears to be a better means of exploiting the grazing and browse resources in the arid and semi-arid lowlands. The semi-arid southern rangelands of Ethiopia support the livestock that are highly valuable to the nation as direct sources of consumption for the pastoral and agro-pastoral population, as sources of cash income and foreign currency for the nation and for provision of draught power for small-holders in the highlands (McCarthy et al 2002). However, extended dry season and drought very often result in critical decline in quantity and quality of feed and shortage of water leading to decreased productivity and increased mortality of animals. During severe drought the whole herd may be decimated.


In some rangeland areas, opportunistic crop production is introduced as a means of diversification of means of livelihood. This is supported with extension programs of governmental and non-governmental development organizations. Pastoralists who lost their herd in severe droughts also resort to this way of life when they fail to rebuild their herd. This trend is currently observed in the southern rangelands of Ethiopia. Cropping is expanding into the rangelands with concomitant decline in the grazing areas. Thus, this study was carried out to assess feed resources availability and livestock production situation in pastoral and agro-pastoral production system of southern Ethiopia.


Materials and methods


General characteristics of the study area


This study was carried out in Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone in Oromia Regional State and in Moyale district of Liben zone in Somali Regional State in southern Ethiopia bordering Kenya. The area is characterized by semi-arid lowlands with some mid-altitude areas. The semi-arid lowlands are predominantly occupied by pastoral and agro-pastoral population whose livelihood is mainly dependent on range livestock production. The population is mainly composed of the Borana Oromo in Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone and the Garri Somali ethnic group in the Liben zone.


The area receives bimodal rainfall distribution. The main rainy season (Ganna) extends from March to May whereas the short rainy season (Hagaya) lasts from October to November (Cossins and Upton 1987) followed by the long dry season (Bonaa). However, the actual length of the rainy season is getting shorter and shorter through time and the area is prone to more frequent drought. The sort hagaya rains are unreliable. Variable rainfall results in greater variability in forage productivity. Seasonal distribution of rainfall is more important than the annual total rainfall in influencing forage production from rangelands. Years of high rainfall produce surplus forage, whereas below average years result in deficits. Livestock losses are expected during years of below average rainfall when forage productivity declines (Cossins and Upton 1988).


The predominant soil types of the area include red soil (wayama), black soil (koticha), white or gray soil (biyye adii) and sandy soil (mansa). In most cases, the soil is well-drained red sandy loam type. In valley bottoms with impeded drainage, cracking black clay soils and volcanic light coloured silty clays predominate, with relatively higher fertility (higher content of nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter) and higher water holding capacity than the upland soils. The upland soils are shallower, well-drained red sandy soils that are widespread on flat lands and hills with relatively lower fertility and lower ability to retain water and nutrients as compared with the Vertisols in the bottomlands (Coppock 1994).


Survey methodology


The assessment was carried out in July 2003 and it was based on field visits and interview of selected households and group discussions with the pastoralists (including different age groups).  A semi-structured questionnaire was prepared and used for interviewing randomly selected pastoralists in each district. A total of 60 pastoralists were interviewed. During the assessment discussions were held with pertinent experts and secondary data were collected from the Agriculture Office of the respective district (woreda). In addition to the structured questionnaire, informal discussions were held with a group of pastoralists in each of the areas assessed and with the development agents working in the localities. The collected data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.  The following were the main focal points in the assessment.

         Agricultural and livestock production

         Availability of feed resources for livestock production

         Traditional livestock feeding and management practices

         Productivity of livestock

         Relative importance of livestock and crop production to the livelihood of the community

         Potential of the area for fodder and crop production

         Main means of livelihood and sources of cash income

         Interactions between livestock and crop production activities in the area

         Future prospects for pastoral vs. agro-pastoral development

The forage resources (grasses, forbs and browses) used as animal feed were identified by the pastoralists using local names and the equivalent English names were identified with the help of an expert familiar with the vegetation and by referring to Jenkins et al (1974) and Kelecha (1987).



Results and discussion


Livestock production


Table 1 shows the livestock holding of the interviewed households. Numerically cattle are the most important species followed by goats, camels and sheep.

Table 1.  Livestock holding (number of heads of animals per household) as per the interviews (N=47)

Livestock species



























Bee hives



Available secondary data also confirms the same pattern of numerical importance of livestock (Table 2).

Table 2. Livestock population of the three districts

Livestock  species

Borana zone (Oromia)

Liben zone (Somali)




























Source: Cassini 2003

Ownership of mules and horses is very rare. Only very few number of agro-pastoralists own a mule or a horse. Horses are found mainly in Dirre district. Donkeys are owned by most agro-pastoralists and they are used as pack animals and they play very significant roles in transportation of salt from the salt extraction sites or from the nearest markets to areas where livestock are grazed.


Overall livestock holding is highest in El Leh area of Moyale district of Liben zone whereas the lowest holding is found in Xille Maddo and Saphanite areas in Moyale district of Borana zone (Table 3).

Table 3.   Livestock holding (number of heads of animals per household) in different localities as per the interviews (N=47)




Dubluq, Madhacho

and Melbana

Xille Maddo and Saphanite (Dambi)

Dar El Salam (El Leh)

Dhokisu and Arda’ola









































Bee hives





One of the reasons for the lowest livestock holding in Xille Maddo and Saphanite areas was reported to be due to shrinkage of grazing land and restriction of livestock movement to the neighboring Moyale district of Liben zone. This is consistent with the findings of previous studies (Oba 1998, Oba et al 2000, Oba and Kotile 2001, Desta and Coppock 2004), which showed that Borana pastoralism is under increasing pressure due to shrinkage of grazing lands as a result of ethnic conflicts, demarcation of regional boundaries and displacement of Borana pastoralists from large parts of the grazing lands. Expansion of cultivation is another factor contributing to the decline in livestock holding. Cattle are the predominant livestock species in all the localities included in the assessment. However, the average household holding of camels and goats is highest in Moyale district of the Liben zone as compared to Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone. The Somalis are traditionally known for raising camels.


Cattle are the most highly valued animals by the Borana Oromo followed by goats and sheep. The Borana have a long experience and a very strong attachment to cattle rearing. They also have a higher preference for cow milk as compared to camel milk. The relatively slower reproduction rate is one of the reasons cited by the Borana for having low preference for camels. However, three of the respondents from Moyale district of Borana zone indicated that they have a higher preference for camels followed by cattle and small ruminants. These respondents claimed that camels are drought tolerant, produce high amount of milk and meat and can fetch a high price when sold. Camel rearing is a recent experience for most Borana, which has been started as a copping mechanism to bush encroachment. On the other hand, the Garri Somalis have a higher preference for camels as compared to cattle. The Garrii Somalis claim that camels are tolerant to drought and to feed and water shortage, produce high amount of milk and meat, can be used as pack animals and can travel long distances. However, the reproduction rate of camels is lower than that of cattle as they have a longer generation interval.


Sheep and goats have a high reproduction rate and they are very important as immediate sources of cash income and as source of meat for home consumption. Average sheep and chicken holding per household is highest in El Leh. The attention given to rearing of chicken by both the Borana Oromo and the Garri Somali ethnic groups is very low. The practice of bee keeping is also almost nil in Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone while there is an emerging interest in the Moyale district of Liben zone especially in the Dhokisu area. There are interests and demands for supply of more beehives in Dhokisu and those who have already started the business with support of an Italian non-governmental organization known as Lay Volunteers International Association (LVIA) are very enthusiastic about it.


Feed resources and feeding management of livestock


The main feed resources used for livestock feeding in the area are natural pastures (herbaceous vegetation composed mainly of grasses and forbs and browses (shrubs, tree leaves and pods). Different grass species such as Cenchrus ciliaris (African fox-tail; Matguddesa), Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass; iddo or serdo), Pennisetum mezianum (Bamboo grass; Ogondho), Enteropogon somalensis (Alalo), Chloris roxburghiana (horse tail), Sporobolus sp., Eragrostis sp., Digitaria neghellensis (Ilmoogori), Alchiso (vernacular) and Heteropogon contortus (Sericha) are found in the area. Of these, Digitaria naghellensis is valued as the most palatable species which is also highly valued for high milk and butter production followed by Alchiso, Heteropogon contortus and Cenchrus ciliaris in Moyale district of Liben zone whereas Cenchrus ciliaris followed by Enteropogon somalensis, Cynodon dactylon and Pennisetum mezianum  are valued as the most important species in Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone in terms of palatability and enhancing high milk and butter production of cows when they are consumed.


Browses comprising different Acacia species such as Acacia tortilis (Dhadacha), Acacia seyal (Waacu), Acacia mellifera (Saphansa), Acacia etbaica (Alqabesa), Acacia nilotica (Burquqe), Acacia brevispica (Hammaresa), Acacia bussei (Aloo) and other browse species such as Balanites aegyptiaca (Bedena), Commiphora species and others play a very important role as sources of feed primarily for the browsing species such as camels and goats as well as for sheep and cattle. Acacia brevispica is highly palatable and is said to have a positive contribution for high milk and butter production when consumed by lactating animals. In addition to the leaves, Acacia pods are also used as important sources of feed during the dry season when the availability and quality of the natural pasture becomes very low. Crop residues, particularly maize stover, are also used as animal feed after the crop is harvested in the agro pastoral areas. Sorghum stover and haricot bean and tef straws are also used to a limited extent in areas where these crops are produced.


There is a marked seasonal variation in availability and quality of feed resources due to marked seasonal variation in rainfall distribution. The availability of feed resources (grasses and browses) is adequate during the rainy season. However, the grasses become depleted during the dry season. The over mature dry grasses also have very low nutritive value. The situation is further aggravated when the dry season is prolonged. Thus when dry season is prolonged or during drought years animals become unproductive, they lose condition and market value and eventually die due to inadequate feed and water supply and the very low nutritive value of the available feed. The over mature dry grasses are characterized by low nutrient content, high fiber content, low digestibility and low voluntary intake by animals.  


The pastoralists have an indigenous mechanism of coping with the problems of feed and water shortage during the dry season and during drought years. When grasses become depleted from the grazing land they lop the leaves and branches of trees and feed to their animals. Acacia pods are also used as important sources of dry season feed for goats, camels and cattle. A pastoralist from Arda’ola reported that a plant called Andaade is chopped and fed to animals during the dry season to alleviate the critical problem of feed shortage during this time. In all the areas covered by the assessment there is a tradition of reserving or keeping aside a certain portion of the grassland for use as standing hay (Kaloo) during the dry season. Kaloo is usually reserved for calves, lactating and weak animals and draught oxen. The pastoralists have a certain criteria for selecting a suitable land for Kaloo. These include:

However, cutting excess grass during the rainy season and making hay for dry season use is not a common practice. The excess forage could be conserved in the form of hay at the end of the main rainy season in June or July. During this time the pastoralists are also relatively free so that there is no competing demand for labour. Thus training of the interested pastoralists in hay making techniques and providing them with appropriate tools or any logistic support would contribute to alleviation of the problem of feed shortage during the dry season.


Traditionally the grazing areas were divided into wet and dry season grazing areas and drought reserves. During extended drought the pastoralists migrate to distant places in search of feed and water. However, the scope and possibility for migration is becoming limited as the dry season grazing and drought reserve areas are gradually shrinking due to expansion of cropping in the wetter areas and because of restriction of movement of animals from one region to another as indicated in previous studies (Oba 1998, Oba et al 2000, Oba and Kotile 2001, Desta and Coppock 2004).  


The salt (Sogda) obtained from Chewbet (Mana-Sogda) in Dirre district is widely used as a mineral supplement. Other sources of mineral supplements are the minerals obtained from Dillo and Magado. A very few number (13.3%) of the respondents from Moyale district of Liben zone indicated that they also use common salt as a mineral supplement for their animals. Most of the respondents from Borana zone indicated that they fetch the mineral supplements from the sources of supply (Chewbet, Dillo and Magado). The mineral supplements are also sold in the local markets in the different localities. Donkeys play a very important role in transporting the minerals from sources of extraction to the places where they are used as animal feed. The respondents from Arda’ola, Dhokisu and El Leh areas indicated that they mostly obtain the required mineral supplements by purchasing from Moyale market. Mineral supplements are usually fed during the rainy season when there is adequate amount of forage and water supply. However, the mineral supplements obtained from the local sources are deficient in the essential minerals phosphorus and copper (Kabaija 1989) and hence appropriate supplementation with these mineral elements is required. When shortage of feed from the rangelands, such as during droughts, warrants use of external sources of feed, urea-molasses multi-nutrient block could be an ideal supplement for the pastoral areas. 


Water supply


In general the area is characterized by low availability of surface water and the availability of water is very variable from place to place. Availability of water is better in areas where there are traditional wells and where there have been water development projects. The sources of water include wells (elas), ponds and bore holes. The respondents from Madhacho, Melbana, Saphanite and Arada’ola indicated that there is shortage of water supply both for human and for livestock consumption. The shortage is more serious during the dry season. As a result the people are forced to travel long distance (up to 5 hours walk) in search of water. The water supply is relatively better in Dubluq, El Leh and Dhokisu. In Dubluq, there is pipe water for human consumption and livestock drink from elas and ponds. However, the pastoralists residing far away from Dubluq town have to travel a long distance in search of water for human consumption. During the dry season and in drought years the pastoralists are forced to travel long distances in search of water and animals are also watered at longer watering intervals. Accordingly cattle and sheep are watered after an interval of 3 or 4 days while goats are reported to tolerate a longer interval of 5-6 days. Camels can tolerate a much longer watering interval of up to 10 to 15 days. On the other hand, donkeys are said to be just like human beings and they need to be watered every day or at least every other day.


Livestock management


Different classes of livestock are managed separately. Cattle are normally herded separately from camels and small ruminants while donkeys could be grazed together with cattle. Camels are also managed separately and small ruminants (sheep and goats) are managed together. There is also a tradition of dividing the herd into foora and warra herds. The indigenous range management system includes semi-sedentary camps where the elderly, children, women and milking animals (warra herd) are maintained. In addition to the milking animals the warra herd includes the young and weak animals that cannot travel long distances while the foora herd includes the adult animals (male animals, non-milking female, pregnant animals and the young) that can be taken to distant places in search of feed and water when there is shortage feed and water around the encampment areas. Thus the grazing lands surrounding the semi-sedentary encampments are used by the warra herds, whereas the foora herds use the remote grazing lands. Lactating cows, calves, weak animals and oxen have a priority over the other classes of animals in the use of the standing hay reserved for the dry season (Kaloo). The respondents indicated that lactating cows are the most susceptible animals to feed shortage and drought followed by calves and pregnant animals.


Reproduction and production performance of animals


The production and reproduction of animals is generally low (Table 4).

Table 4.  Reproduction and production performance (meanSD) of livestock in the study area as per the interviews






Age at 1st mating, months





Age at 1st parturition, months





Parturition interval, months





No. offspring born in a life time





Milk yield, l/d





Lactation length, months





Cattle reach sexual maturity at about three to four years of age and heifers calve for the first time at about four and a half years of age with a calving interval of about one year and three to four months. The average age at first calving and the calving interval are comparable to the values reported in previous studies (Nicholson and Cossins 1984, Assefa 1990). Camels reach sexual maturity at about four years and a half and females give birth for the first time at about five and a half years of age with an average calving interval of about 2 years and 2 months. These values are comparable to the values reported by Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981) on reproductive performance of camels. Sheep and goats reach sexual maturity at about one year of age and they give birth (lambing/kidding) for the first time at about one year and a half, which is comparable to the age at first parturition reported by Cossins and Upton (1987) for sheep and goats in Borana rangelands. The parturition (lambing/kidding) interval for both sheep and goats is about seven months and a half.


On average, both cattle and camels produce about 10 offspring (calves) in their lifetime. Goats and sheep also produce an average of about 11 and 14.7 kids and lambs, respectively, in their lifetime. Twining is uncommon in sheep and very rare in goats. This is consistent with the results of previous studies (Cossins and Upton 1987) and appears to be one mechanism of adaptation to the harsh environmental conditions of the rangelands and to seasonal scarcity of feed resources. Kids and lambs reach market weight at about 12 and 10 months of age, respectively.


The average daily milk yield of cows and camels is about 2.23 and 5.3 liters, respectively, excluding the milk suckled by the calf. In the case of goats and sheep the average daily milk yield is about 0.53 and 0.34 liters, respectively. Cattle are the most preferred milk animals among the Borana Oromos followed by camels and goats in decreasing order of importance. The respondents from Borana zone indicated that they have preference for the taste of cow’s milk as compared to camel’s milk. On the other hand, camels are the most preferred milk animals among the Garri Somalis because of their ability of producing  higher amount milk on the available feed resources as compared cattle and goats. Goats are valued as important milk animals next to camels and cattle. Only very few respondents reported milking of sheep. The average lactation length is about 8 months for cattle, one year and three months for camels and two and a half months for goats. According to Mukasa-Mugerwa (1981), the average lactation length of camels is about 12 months and may vary from 9 to 18 months.


Animal health


Diseases such as foot and mouth disease (FMD), anthrax, black leg, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCPP) and trypanosomiasis are reported to be occasional health problems in the area. External parasites, particularly ticks and mange mites are also of significant health problem. Ticks suck blood thereby reducing the condition and productivity of animals. They can also predispose the animals to tick-borne diseases. However, internal parasites are not a serious threat in the area since the relatively dry conditions are not suitable for multiplication of most of the internal parasites that are known to cause animal health problems in the humid areas.


There are also some poisonous plants that are known to cause ill-health and even death when consumed by animals. The most important of such plants are plants that are locally known as Gaaddalla, Gora, Bobiya, Garbicha, Tabari and others. Gaaddalla is reported to affect all classes of animals except donkeys and the pastoralists in Dhokisu indicated that it is the major cause for high mortality rate of camels and other animals during the dry season in the area. Due to acute shortage of alternative feed resources animals would be forced to consume such plants during the dry season.


Mineral deficiency has also been reported to be one of the factors affecting productivity of animals. Traditionally there is a practice of using minerals supplements from Chewbet (Mana Sogda), Dillo, Magado and other sources. However, if the pastoralists fail to supply the mineral supplements at the right time the deficiency problems could be manifested in the form of poor body condition and decreased productivity (decreased milk yield) of animals. As shown by Kabaija (1989) these locally extracted mineral supplements are also deficient in the essential minerals phosphorus and copper. Animals may also be attacked by predators such as hyena, lions, cheetah and foxes.


Marketing of livestock and livestock products


The sale of livestock and livestock products is the main source of cash income. Small ruminants (sheep and goats) are used as immediate sources of cash income. However, cattle and camels are sold when there is a need for a higher amount of cash.  Camels fetch a higher price than any other animals.  The price of animals is influenced by the size and condition of the animals, the season of the year and the distance from the main marketing centers. There is seasonal fluctuation in the price of animals coming to the market. In general, animal prices are higher during the rainy season and falls during the dry season. During the dry season animals lose body condition due to shortage of feed and the pastoralists also desperately need to sell their animals before further loss of condition and death and to buy grain for family consumption. These are the main reasons for the significant decline of the price of animals during the dry season.


Animal products are marketed in towns and market places. Donkeys and light trucks (ISUZUs) are used for transporting milk from the local markets to the nearby towns, mainly to Moyale town. The price of animal products is dictated by the season of the year and the distance from the main towns. The price of milk and milk products is generally higher during the dry season due mainly to limited supply of the products than during the wet season. The price is also higher in places that are closer to towns as there is a higher demand for milk in the towns than in the rural areas. Ittitu, sour milk similar to yogurt, is also sold in some places, especially in Dirre district particularly in small towns or market places like 147, Melbana and Dubluq. According to Coppock (1994) the frequency of sale of dairy products is inversely related to the distance from the nearest market.


Livestock production constraints


Lack of feed and water during the dry season and drought is the main constraint affecting livestock production in the area. Shortage of rain and the frequently recurring drought in the area is a major cause for reduced forage production and quality. Shortage of feed and water and the harsh climatic condition of the area seriously affect the health and productivity of animals. Bush encroachment is exacerbating the problem of feed shortage. Encroachment of the rangeland by some undesirable plant species such as Acacia drepanolobium reduces accessibility of forage leading to reduction of effective grazing areas. The prolonged dry season and drought are the causes for high mortality rate. Diseases such foot and mouth disease (FMD), black leg and anthrax; parasites such as ticks and manage mites; predators (especially hyenas) and poisonous plants such as gaaddalla also have a significant effect on the health and productivity of animals. Expansion of cropping and land grabbing for cultivation and private enclosure are causing shrinkage of grazing areas and loss of key resources for dry season and drought period grazing. Demarcation of regional boundaries and ethnic conflicts also hinder movement of the pastoralists in search feed and water thereby hampering the indigenous copping mechanisms. 


Crop production


Although livestock production is the dominant mode of production, crop production is also practiced to some extent in the three districts covered by the assessment. The practice is gradually expanding from the agro-pastoral to the pastoral areas. The main cropping season is from February 15 to May 15 during the main rainy season whereas the small rainy season cropping extends from September 15 to November 15. Available unpublished reports from Dirre district Rural and Agricultural Development Coordination Office shows that cultivated land constitutes only 1.2% of the total land area of the district whereas pastureland and bush land constitute 27.5% and 33% of the total land area, respectively. Nearly half of the interviewed pastoralists indicated that they are currently practicing crop production in addition to livestock rearing. The main crops grown in the area include maize, haricot bean, wheat, barley, tef and sorghum. Traditionally the Borana Oromo and the Garri Somalis are pastoralists whose livelihood depends mainly on extensive pastoral livestock production. Thus crop production is a recent experience for most of them. Most of the pastoralists engaged in cultivation reported that they started cultivation since the last 3-15 years. Coppock (1994) also showed that crop production is a recent experience for most pastoralists of the southern rangelands. However, around the towns, where cultivation was initially introduced by highland migrant settlers it was practiced for a longer period of time (Tilahun 1984, Coppock 1994).


Farming is one means of economic diversification. The ecological crisis in the area has made it difficult for the pastoralists to rely on livestock alone for food. Growing of crops is a response to food insecurity. The interviewed pastoralists asserted that grains when available delay sale of livestock thereby boosting livestock production. On the other hand, farming is practiced in the bottomlands where moisture conditions are favorable. The bottomlands are traditionally used for calf grazing reserves. Thus loss of the bottomlands to cropping makes livestock vulnerable during drought, when the landscape is in a greater demand. Farming is causing transfer of the communal grazing land to private use with negative consequences on the indigenous management system (Oba 1998). Cultivation also accelerates nutrient depletion from the soil and exposes the soil to erosion as the soils of the arid and semi-arid lowlands are very fragile. Moreover, crop failure is a common feature of the area due to unreliable rainfall and frequent drought. On average, crop failure is experienced every 4-5 years in 10 years. Most respondents indicated that they are able to achieve a reasonable harvest only for one or two years in five years time. Although there is a general trend of shifting from pure pastoral to agro-pastoral production system the agro-pastoralists rarely make meaningful harvest from their cropping activities due to very frequently recurring drought and very unreliable and unpredictable pattern and timing of rainfall. Thus, livestock production remains to be the mainstay of their livelihood.


Means of livelihood and sources of cash income


Livestock rearing is the main means of livelihood of the population in the three districts (Table 5). This was confirmed by 93% of the interviewed pastoralists and agro pastoralists from Liben zone and by 90% of those from Borana zone.

Table 5.  Main means of livelihood, possibilities for off-farm employment and major sources of cash income of the interviewed pastoralists


% Respondents reporting

Borana zone

Liben zone

Means of livelihood



   Livestock production



   Crop production






Off-farm employment






   Charcoal sale



   Firewood sale



   Gold mining



    Gum production



    Working for others



Sources of cash income



    Sale of animals



   Sale of animal products



   Sale of crops






    Sale of charcoal






This indicates that an increase in productivity of animals would have a significant effect on improving the livelihood of the community. Cropping is a secondary activity followed by petty trade and brokering of livestock. Charcoal production and selling is also becoming an important means of earning income for few of the pastoralists. The main possibilities for off-farm employment in Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone include petty trade, which includes brokering of animals, and charcoal production. In the case of Moyale district of Liben zone, the most important possibilities for off-farm employment include petty trade, charcoal burning, sale of firewood and poles and collecting gold especially in Dhokisu area. The pastoralists are resorting to the sale of charcoal, firewood and poles due to lack alternative means of livelihood. However, widespread extraction of these natural resources may have an adverse long-term effect on the environment. Only about 7% of the respondents indicated that they are engaged in gum production or incense collection.


The sale of animals and animal products constitute the main sources of cash income. Similarly a previous study conducted by Desta and Coppock (2004) showed that sales of livestock and dairy products constitute the main source of cash income in the North-Central Borana plateau. The contribution of animal products to the cash income of the pastoralists is higher in Dirre and Moyale districts of Borana zone than in Moyale district of Liben zone because of the proximity of the former to the main highway as well as to the small towns and marketing centers. Petty trade, brokering in livestock markets, occasional sale of crops and sale of charcoal play a secondary role as sources of cash income in the area. 


Interaction between crop and livestock production


Both positive and negative interactions between crop and livestock production have been reported by the interviewed pastoralists. Both crop and livestock production activities compete for resources particularly for land and labour. Crop production requires wet areas that are suitable as dry season grazing areas. Thus expansion of cropping is causing shrinkage of dry season grazing area as suitable cropland is usually the best grazing land.  It could also lead to the problem of land grabbing and enclosing for private use for grazing and cropping. In the process, herders lose critical resources and their copping strategies may break down due to changes in indigenous management regimes. This situation could introduce instability as the population becomes compressed, creating an artificial density-dependent condition (Oba 1998). The herders not only experience loss of critical resources, but their copping strategies breakdown. In order to avoid such problems in some areas land for cropping is allocated by the Qabale Administration, the lowest administrative body under the district (woreda), or by the community elders (jaarsa ardaa). Due to occasional migration of livestock in search of feed and water it is not easy to manage both crop and livestock production activities effectively. Both activities demand close attention of the owner and when he gives attention to one activity the other could be overlooked.


On the other hand, if the production activity is properly handled, crop and livestock production can complement each other as sources of food and cash income. If grain is produced on each farm there is no need of selling animals to buy grain for human consumption and the need for slaughtering of animals as sources of food will be minimized. Thus crops can supplement the family diet and cash income of the agro pastoralists. Moreover, crop residues can be used as sources of feed for animals and the manure can be used as a fertilizer thereby enhancing soil fertility and crop production. Animals also provide traction power for cultivation of land for crop production.


In general, the area is more suitable for livestock production than for cropping and other activities. The variable and unpredictable nature of rainfall and the ensuing moisture stress, the frequently recurring drought and poor soil fertility make the area less suitable or marginal for crop production.  Gum production or collection of incense is practiced in some areas especially where Acacia seyal and Acacia mellifera are widely found. There is interest in bee keeping in some areas. However, most of the areas are not suitable for bee keeping due to shortage of water and flowering vegetation during the long dry season.



We thank the Lay Volunteers International Association (LVIA) for supporting the field study, Mr. Ayana Angassa for his help in identification of forage species and all the facilitators and respondents for their cooperation.





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Received 8 August 2007; Accepted 14 September 2007; Published 11 December 2007

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