Pastoralism: An African population phenomenon that needs the attention of researchers

September 25, 2019

By Uwizeye Dieudonne
Pastoralism is a way of life for most people in Karamoja region, located in North Eastern Uganda, bordering Kenya, and South Sudan. A predominantly pastoralist community, the Karamojong also cultivate food crops but on a smaller scale with little use of manure to increase soil fertility. According to the data by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2016), the population of the Karamoja region was estimated at 1.2 million. A 2018 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report described the region as the most poverty-stricken region in Uganda and globally. Being a semi-arid region, the population experiences the effects of climate change to a greater extent compared to other parts of the country, and most of the children under five years of age are malnourished.

Nakapermoru communities, Kotido district, Karamoja region 

As part of the CARTA postdoctoral fellowship, I participated in a five-day field visit with a team of partners from the University of Greenwich, United Kingdom, Makerere University, Uganda and the Northern and Eastern Uganda Livestock Development Organization. The purpose of the visit was to collect pilot data among the Karamojong communities to inform the writing of research proposals for our research network focusing on pastoralism, policy, and governance research in the East African region. We interacted with pastoralists and the community opinion leaders. We also visited a cattle market in Kotido, one of the seven districts of the region and the Nakapelimoru communities, one of the broadest Manyatta (thatch) households in the area where we interacted with the Nakapelimoru elders.

During the field visit and interactions with the community, I observed several issues that deserve the attention of researchers, such as malnutrition, child mortality, the utilization of healthcare facilities, and education.
Malnutrition: Much as many actors are working on initiatives to address malnutrition in the region, more efforts are needed to eradicate it. The war against malnutrition in Karamoja and probably among other pastoral communities awaits researchers to answer some of the questions to inform policy and decision makers more:
(i) What is the best approach to influence communities to introduce vegetable and fruits crops in their agricultural practices and on their tables?
(ii) How can manure production be utilized to address the effects of climate change on their crop production?

Child mortality and utilization of healthcare facilities: Community members indicated that child mortality levels are high, and teenage pregnancy is of concern in the region. The average age of marriage in the area is between 12 to 15 years among girls. Nearly every woman aged 30 years has lost at least one baby, some have lost two or more. The UNFPA (2018) report indicates that the child mortality level is at 102/1,000 live births for the Karamoja region. Although the elders in Nakapelimoru village did not mention any specific disease, I observed that hygiene and sanitation-related diseases might be rampant in the area. The environment is very unsafe due to open defecation. Clean water is hardly accessible in the area, and water treatment technologies are generally unknown. There is a need for concerted efforts by researchers, policy, and decision makers to make informed decisions and implement programs that adequately respond to the high child mortality levels in the community.

Education: Formal education in Karamoja region is a privilege. Mostly reserved for a few lucky young boys and the odd girl who has been fortunate enough to interact with missionaries. The “free primary education program” in Uganda and the “special education program for the Karamoja region” have not extended significant impact on the community. Illiteracy is a common phenomenon among the Karamoja population. I asked the elders, “why so many children in the community do not go to school?” One of the elders replied: “The schools require us to pay for things that we cannot afford like books and food.” In the context of the Karamoja communities, where a family owns a herd of cattle, I wondered whether the real problem is poverty, or perhaps the mindset towards education, or whether it was the incompatibility between the current education system and the pastoralist way of life. Additionally, researchers can investigate
(i) how the current national education system can be aligned with the pastoralists’ lifestyle
(ii) whether parental counseling approaches that worked to increase parental involvement in education among poor urban communities can work in pastoralists’ communities.
These questions need to be addressed by education researchers to ensure that pastoral communities are not left behind.
To ensure that the sustainable development goals (SDG) maxim of “leaving no one behind” is achieved requires a renewed approach to education, friendly health systems, and adequate community involvement in interventions. Policy decisions affecting pastoralist communities have to be informed by research evidence, or else SDG 4 that captures education may not be achieved in our lifetime amongst pastoral communities.