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HomeAfricaThe Success of Pastoralism in Africa Lies in the Hands of Women

The Success of Pastoralism in Africa Lies in the Hands of Women

By Maina Waruru

Women in pastoralist areas of East Africa play a crucial role in the health of livestock in their communities. They are essential to the success of animal vaccination campaigns aimed at protecting herds from deadly diseases.

Therefore, involving women in these efforts is key to achieving the goals of vaccination strategies. This is especially important as climate change introduces new diseases that pose threats to the sector and household incomes.

However, one barrier to the success of these campaigns is the failure to involve women by authorities and development agencies. Although women do not commonly own livestock due to cultural reasons, they are caregivers for sick animals. With the increasing incidents of disease outbreaks, involving women ensures improved food and financial security for families.

In addition, a growing number of households in the region rely on livestock keeping as their main source of income, with many of these households headed by women who act as providers for their families.

According to scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), as many as 43 percent of livestock insurance policyholders in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia are women. This highlights the importance of allowing women access to disease control measures through a strong gender strategy.

In their disease surveillance and response strategy, ILRI has engaged local leaders, village women’s champions, and women heads of households to gather information on outbreaks and raise awareness about vaccination campaigns. Efforts have been made to address challenges faced by women, such as intimidation in queues during mass vaccination exercises.

Recognizing the nomadic nature of pastoralists, where men often travel in search of pastures and water, women are left behind to care for the household and livestock. This makes them effectively in charge of their households, highlighting the importance of their involvement in livestock health programs.

Women pastoralists face the challenge of providing food for their families, which is exacerbated by livestock deaths. Livestock insurance plays a critical role in increasing the resilience of herder communities and enabling them to cope with climate-induced risks.

To address the barriers to livestock vaccine uptake among women, partners have launched the SheVax+ research project. This initiative aims to bring together experts and implement partners to address gender norms, stereotypes, and power relations that hinder women’s access to information and resources related to livestock vaccination.

Livestock insurance, such as the Index-Based Livestock Insurance pioneered by ILRI, is another critical component of safeguarding the well-being and incomes of households in the sector. This insurance utilizes satellite data to determine drought conditions, providing compensation to herders when vegetation turns brown/yellow to indicate a shortage of foliage.

In light of frequent droughts caused by climate change in the region, new disease control and nutritional strategies are needed to sustain livestock systems. The Greater Horn of Africa region is predicted to experience El Nino weather conditions with higher than usual rainfall, further highlighting the need for proactive measures.

Overall, involving women in livestock health programs and vaccination campaigns is vital for the success and resilience of pastoralist communities in East Africa.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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