Friday, November 4, 2011

Where's the beef? Mideast looks to East Africa

A herd of thirsty cattle arrives at a watering trough in Isiolo, Kenya. Much of the livestock from the Horn of Africa is destined for the Middle East. (

By Carol Clark

Muslims are gathering in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for hajj, an annual five-day pilgrimage, set to begin on Saturday. The largest pilgrimage in the world, the hajj draws millions of Muslims, and they will be feasting on ritually sacrificed meat.

Much of that livestock, more than two million animals, will come from the Horn of Africa.

“It’s big business, but it’s unclear how much small-scale livestock producers in East Africa really benefit from the growing demand for their products in the Middle East,” says Emory anthropologist Peter Little.

That’s one of the questions Little plans to tackle during the next phase of his research into how East Africa pastoralists make a living amid the vagaries of a harsh environment and climate change.

Little, who has been studying the region’s pastoralists for three decades, recently received an additional $700,000 from the Livestock-Climate Change Collaborative Support Program, to continue working on a joint project in the region. The LCC program, centered at Colorado State University, was established in 2010 through an agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Emory is partnering with Pwani University College in Kenya and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia for the current phase of the project. In addition to Little’s deep experience in the region, Emory brings a strong public health component to the research, and the expertise of disease ecologist Uriel Kitron, chair of environmental studies.

“One thing we will be looking at is how the warming of East Africa is creating different kinds of disease vectors, affecting both livestock and humans,” Little says.

The project ultimately aims to increase incomes and food security in the extremely vulnerable Horn of Africa. The region is currently confronting yet another drought disaster, and violent conflict between Kenya and Somalia.

“It’s a challenge working in the Horn of Africa on many levels,” Little says. “But the research questions are exciting, and so is the potential to have an impact. It’s a worthy goal.”

Small-scale livestock keepers have managed climate variability and many other challenges by moving to new sources of water and pastures. Fences and settlements are increasingly restricting their moves, however, while new technologies, such as cell phones and trucking of water and feed, have expanded access to information and resources. Little is known about the current market risks facing mobile pastoralists, although the livestock trade continues to be an integral part of the economies of the region.

Students from Emory and the African universities will also be involved in the project, which includes training local counterparts to continue the work of pastoralist development in the region after the project ends in 2015.

What we can learn from African pastoralists
Famine in Somalia driven by conflict

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