In adapting to a harsh and variable physical environment, the African pastoralist has developed principles and strategies for managing natural resources. Recently the pastoralist has had to face new external pressures, such as crop expansion into high quality rangelands, nationalisation of land by governments, population increase, forceful sedentarisation, and indiscriminate water development. These problems have been compounded by a relentless series of droughts. These external pressures have contributed to pasture shortages, land degradation, and socio-economic disintegration. Although many pastoralists are changing their ways (for example diversifying into crop cultivation, sending relatives off for urban wages, or engaging in commerce and trade) many continue to manage their livestock in the old way. But in many areas their traditional system of management is no longer able to cope with the shortage of pasture and instead is adding to the problem of land degradation. In addition, traditional management knowledge is gradually being lost as more of the younger generation of pastoralists are attracted to urban areas. Yet the traditional system had developed an intimate knowledge of the environment and many successful techniques that could still be of use today.
A literature survey was commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to collect details on traditional African natural resource management, to investigate the survival of traditional techniques and to evaluate their potential for the development process. The study collected information on: (i) pastoral knowledge of the physical environment (e.g. names of plants and soil types), (ii) daily natural resource management techniques (e.g. which type of tree or pasture to use, when and why), (iii) the social control and organization of daily management (e.g. communal grazing controls), and (iv) the socio-political structure of resource management (e.g. resource tenure issues). This article covers only daily range, water, and herd management techniques and the social control of daily management.