An Innovation System in the Rangelands: Using Collective Action to Diversify Livelihoods Among Settled Pastoralists in Ethiopia

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Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title

Innovation Africa: Enriching Farmer’s Livelihoods


EarthScan Publications, London

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In 2000 we discovered dynamic pastoral women’s groups in remote northern Kenya. They comprised formerly poverty-stricken women who joined together during recent decades to improve their lives. They used innovative forms of collective action to accumulate money, diversify livelihoods, fill gaps in public service delivery and mitigate negative impacts from drought. In contrast, less than 50km to the north in Ethiopia, pastoral women continued to live in a very traditional way. These women were often very poor and depended largely upon pastoral production despite increasing risks to their livelihoods. Differences between the Kenyan and Ethiopian women were remarkable, given the short distance of separation and because most were from the same ethnic group: the Boran. In 2001, a team of researchers and development agents brought the Kenyan and Ethiopian women together to share experiences. During a cross-border tour, 15 Ethiopian women visited five Kenyan women’s groups. Much has changed in southern Ethiopia as a result of this tour. At least 59 collective action groups have formed with over 2000 members (76 per cent female). The Ethiopian pastoralists have become empowered, their incomes have increased and their livelihoods diversified. This six year process was supported by an innovation system involving 46 partners from various sectors sharing an emphasis on action-oriented outputs and authentic community participation. Despite notable development achievements, the sustainability of the innovation system is not a given. Sustainability will require vigilance, leadership, maintenance of interinstitutional relationships and stakeholder incentives.

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