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Put out to pasture: pastoralists in the spotlight in Sudan

Written by Sara Pantuliano

The challenge

The Misseriyya are a pastoralist group living in the western part of Southern Kordofan State (‘Dar Misseriyya’) in Sudan who rely on their livestock and on subsistence farming for survival. Over recent decades they have seen their livelihoods undermined by land policies, agricultural expansion, climate change, oil exploration and, of course, by civil war.

Their access to grazing land has dwindled, and they must now contend with roads that cut across traditional cattle trails and act as dams during heavy rainfall, environmental pollution, and a legacy of post-war resentment and distrust. Their traditional way of life appears to be increasingly unsustainable, given the pressures on livestock as a source of income amid a growing population. In addition, the Misseriyya, seen as Government supporters during the war, now feel disregarded by that same government – with obvious security implications in a volatile area.

The response

In late 2008, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group to look at the evolution of Misseriyya livelihoods in light of the rising tension in the Abyei region of Sudan where the Misseriyya graze their cattle in the dry season. The study, published in March 2009, provided targeted and practical recommendations to support the Misseriyya who want to retain their traditional livelihoods, and those who would welcome alternatives. The aim is to help address the crisis of Misseriyya livelihoods and reduce the likelihood of conflict in the region.

The research was enhanced by having a pastoralist expert as part of the research team on the ground. The team mapped and assessed the long-term livelihood interventions by, among others, the World Bank. It detailed a tendency to try and centralise Misseriyya livelihoods via the creation of industries, particularly for milk or cheese.

Recommendations included investment of cattle wealth in small businesses such as shops, and support for diversification. For those who want to retain their links to cattle, the report highlights way to use livestock more productively. This could include reducing the traditionally high ratio of male to female cattle – long seen as a way of maintaining the seed of a herd in times of drought, but obviously less productive in terms of milk production, and a measure that would not be unnecessary if effective early warning systems were in place.

The impact

The findings and recommendations of the study were not only well received: DFID, USAID and the Dutch Government have acted on the recommendations of the study and have funded a number of NGOs to implement livelihoods initiatives in Dar Misseriyya.

As a result of its continuous engagement with government authorities, UN agencies and NGOs in Sudan, HPG was invited to speak at a seminar on citizenship issues post-referendum in Southern Sudan organised by UNHCR in early November 2010 in Khartoum.

HPG’s presentation focused on pastoralist groups in Sudan, in particular the Misseriyya and the findings of the 2009 study. It explored the potential impact of the referendum on pastoralist livelihoods on such groups in relation to citizenship arrangements. The presentation generated a great deal of interest amongst government representatives, who had been aware of the problems, but not their scale.

The Chairperson of the Southern Sudan Legal Referendum Commission, who was at the seminar, commented publicly that he was impressed by the depth and clarity of the presentation and that the recommendations put forward would be ‘of tremendous help to the ongoing negotiations on trans-boundary populations’.

Along with other participants, he has since contacted HPG for more information on the material presented. The work has also been welcomed by Dr. Luka Biong Deng, Minister of Cabinet Affairs of the Government of National Unity, speaking live on Al Jazeera. 

Next steps

ODI has now been asked by DFID and MFA Netherlands to manage the position of the Strategic Advisor to the donors’ Steering Group for the ‘Three Areas’, which includes the Misseriyya area.