ECOWAS regulations on pastoralism discourage large investments in livestock and need to be reformed to adapt to current realities.
Each year, approximately 300 million of livestock (mainly cattle) cross West Africa. Depending on the season, they leave their usual grazing areas in search of water and food.
These practices, called pastoralism or transhumance, date back thousands of years. They have made it possible to maximize land use in dry regions.
To support these practices, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) developed regulations in 1998 et 2003. All ECOWAS member states had to apply these regulations.
My findings show that livestock productivity has not increased improved in the region since the introduction of the new rules. Livestock productivity fell and milk production improved very little. Clashes between farmers and herders have increases, as well as insecurity. Elites take advantage of regulations to exploit poor breeders.
I conclude that regulations may discourage significant large-scale investments such as ranching that could increase productivity, create jobs, and ensure peace in the region.
Livestock movements in West Africa
ECOWAS is the only regional economic community in Africa to have specific regulations governing transhumance. The regional organization is made up of 15 states.
Its regulations aim to improve livestock productivity and food security, improve the environment and reduce poverty.
The regulations allow the free movement of livestock across member state borders under certain conditions. For example, breeders must have the ECOWAS international transhumance certificate and a minimum of two breeders must accompany the herds. Breeders must be at least 18 years old.
Member States are required to apply the regulations. But they don't do it uniformly. Some coastal states do not allow ranchers to enter their territories. For example, the Republic of Benin recently not allowed the entry of foreign breeders into its territory. Togo and Ivory Coast control the number of breeders who enter their territory each year.
Impact of ECOWAS regulations on transhumance
In my article, I argue that ECOWAS regulations allow transhumance to exist in a form that is not favorable to other commercial investment options – such as livestock breeding – for livestock production in the region.
Investors want profits, safe environments and safe rules. Pastoralism, in turn, encourages cheap labor and other practices that jeopardize large-scale investments in the livestock sector.
Bad business environment
Transhumance has been commercialized – and criminalized – in ways that create a negative environment for the livestock sector.
Traffickers, smugglers, bandits and drug traffickers benefit livestock movements to commit crimes.
Weapons proliferation, terrorism, kidnappings and drug use have also increased under the cover of transhumance.
In Nigeria, for example, Boko Haram insurgents accused of disguising themselves into herders to transport improvised explosive devices to attack communities.
Discouragement of investment
I also argue that ECOWAS regulations, by allowing herds to move within the region, discourage investment in modern methods of livestock production. Indeed, the production cost of transhumance is low. Land and fodder are free. Labor is cheap and exploited. All of this makes other business models, such as livestock farming, relatively unattractive. This impacts their profits and investment risks.
Some countries that practice pastoralism, such as Mongolia and Tibet, limit it to arid regions.
What has to be done
In my opinion, the practice of transhumance in West Africa should be gradually abandoned. By this I mean a progressive – and ultimately total – ban on cross-border movements of breeders.
Indeed, transhumance is not an efficient use of land. Approximately a third of West Africa's land area is used for agriculture. Two-thirds of this land is used for rangeland and pastures, while one-third is used for crop production. Designated grazing areas should be established in semi-arid parts of the region. Pastoralism should be limited to these lands.
In my opinion, conflicts will be reduced if transhumance is limited to arid and semi-arid regions. This will make livestock farming more attractive and enable large-scale investments that can create jobs and improve food security.
In the immediate future, emphasis should be placed on:
- strict application of International transhumance certificate. The certificate usually contains information on the composition of the herd, the vaccines administered, the herds' route and the breeder's destination. Responsibility for issuing the certificate lies with the country of origin. This should help reduce the number of criminal elements disguised as breeders.
- limiting the number of livestock that can be kept in a moving herd. This will help prevent herds from straying and the conflicts that result.
- the introduction of new rules requiring the use of ear tags. This measure would facilitate traceability in the event of livestock theft or destruction of agricultural land.