Livestock Interventions

Pastoralists depend mainly on livestock for their livelihoods and when natural or man-made disaster strikes both people and animals can be highly affected.  Relief agencies have learned that by taking a ‘livelihoods approach’ to relief interventions they can help pastoralists get back on their feet much more quickly after a crisis if they attend to the needs of both.

In droughts, for example, animals such as goats and cattle won’t be able to have enough grazing land, their water sources might have dried up and livestock owners might not have enough cash to purchase fodder.  Since all pastoralists in any area, that is sometimes quite large geographically, will be facing the same problem, the price of livestock will go down even as the cost of food skyrockets.  In such a context an agency might provide fodder distributions for animal feed along with food or cash to help hungry people.  Similarly, a project to provide water and sanitation for displaced pastoral families will consider the need for cattle or goat herder to look after their animals and ensure that this can be done hygienically.  To complement this support agencies might ensure basic veterinary services or even provide support for households to restock their lost animals.

Can you explain how relief agencies and local partners collaborate to implement this program?

International relief agencies often partner with indigenous civil society organisations to implement livestock interventions.  These groups usually have a much more intimate knowledge of the context and so will be able to understand what type of activity will have the most benefit for different population groups.  Partnerships with veterinary authorities are also very important, in order to ensure good coordination amongst different agency efforts and to manage animal disease surveillance and vaccination.  In some contexts private service providers, especially market sellers of livestock medications and fodder are also critical partners.

What potential risks must be taken into account when introducing such a program?

One critical risk area is animal disease and the potential for epidemics to take hold or spread.  Like people, animals can become quite weak when they have not had enough to eat for a prolonged period and this can leave them susceptible to diseases they can normally fend off.  Any intervention that focuses on livestock needs to have technical veterinary support and links to local government veterinary services.

Looting of animals or cattle raiding is a common problem in pastoralist areas, especially where there is a lot of competition for grazing and water.  Large concentrations of animals that have been supported through a feeding intervention might pose a risk of theft, especially in an insecure environment.  Agencies need to manage the protection of animals and people in this situation.

Large concentrations of animals can have a negative impact on the environment, especially during drought conditions.  In this case ‘destocking’ might be the preferred intervention.  In destocking an agency either supporters traders (through linking them to affected livestock owners, providing credit or loans) to buy large numbers of animals to sell in different, unaffected area, thus ensuring a fair price for the animals or buys animals up for slaughter, and then distributes the meat for people to eat.  These interventions are usually complemented by vet services and food and water support for the remaining breeding stock, so that the livestock population can eventually recover.

What category(ies) of people benefit the most from this program?

Disaster affected households who depend partially or fully on animals for their livelihood will benefit from these types of activities.  In different contexts livestock ownership varies by wealth or gender, as do the various tasks associated with livestock management.  For example, the collection and management of animal feed is often a women’s task.  In this case providing fodder in an emergency can free up a woman’s time to do other productive tasks such as caring for her children.  The use of participatory rapid assessment techniques can help an agency to understand these dynamics and so design appropriate interventions.

Can you give examples of places where this type of program was especially effective at alleviating the suffering of people affected by a disaster or crisis?

In 2010 – 11 widespread drought took hold in Eastern Africa.  In this area many people rely almost wholly on animal rearing for their livelihoods.  The drought affected grazing conditions across a wide geographic area causing worsening livestock body conditions, negatively impacting milk production and increasing livestock movements as cattle herders went in search of better pasture and water. The result was that Emergency assistance was urgently needed.  One response from Oxfam (with CIDA funding) was in the Somali region of Ethiopia which sought to support vulnerable pastoralists to protect their livestock assets through two major activities – livestock supplementary feeding and emergency animal health treatment for the goats, sheep and cattle owned by some 70,000 people.

For pastoralist households that depend on livestock for their livelihood, livestock constitute the most important financial asset providing both food (milk, meat, blood and eggs) and income (through sale, barter, transport, draught power and work hire). Therefore, protecting and rebuilding this asset had a significant impact on reducing vulnerability and was found most relevant and appropriate by the beneficiary households. If livestock losses were too great, pastoralists would not be able to reclaim their livelihood or get back on their feet once the rains returned. Without sufficient livestock to provide for their food needs, many pastoralists would have become dependent on aid agencies or government support.

For more information

See the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) website:


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