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Livelihood strategies in endemic livestock production systems in sub-humid zone of West Africa: trends, trade-offs and implications


Rural livelihoods in West Africa depend largely on livestock. The sub-humid and humid zones of the region, however, are highly affected by the tsetse flies, vector of trypanosomosis, by severely limiting livestock production and livelihood options. Endemic ruminant livestock breeds are trypanotolerant, but perceived as inferior compared to other breeds in terms of productivity. The paper shows trends of relative decline in endemic population as a result of increased crossbreeding, largely with zebu cattle and Sahelian sheep and goats, and considerable decline in habitat quality due to forest conversion, logging activities and bushfires. The trade-offs between livelihoods and income strategies and endemic ruminant and habitat conservation are captured by an understanding of the socio-economic conditions and potential drivers of breed choices and forest use within households and communities. The paper shows that livelihood analysis is an important step in understanding impacts and therefore responses to development projects and to ensure that the poorest categories are not excluded from development interventions.

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  1. 1.

    Livestock production contributes about 20–25% of the agricultural GDP in West Africa (Agyemang 2005).

  2. 2.

    According to Thévenor and Belemsaga (2005), the proportion of N’dama has declined from 13.10% in 1985 to only 10.5% in 1998; and that of West African Shorthorn from 5.3 to 4.2%.

  3. 3.

    Miskeno (very poor); Fuwaro (poor); Temakundako (moderately rich) and Fankamaa (rich).

  4. 4.

    We applied Non parametric Kruskal–Wallis test to questions “do farmers perceive the contribution of different livestock and general activities to have different impact?” The Kruskal–Wallis tests show insignificant differences between communities/villages.

  5. 5.

    In local language, Miskeno is the one who is unable to gain his basic needs (may afford one meal per day) and rely on community support. A very poor household does not have assets (or minimal assets) but has the ability to make his living (can afford two meals per day). The very poor cannot meet the educational expenditure of their children, who always drop out at the lower level, whereas the poor can educate children up to upper basic.

  6. 6.

    This section was added based on one reviewer comment. The last sentence is quoted from the reviewer.

  7. 7.

    Animals can graze, fodder can be collected, or purchased.

  8. 8.

    During NRM workshop, organized to validate these results, community forest was reported as well as national forest which is not far away from Chameh. This arises questions regarding the access to these resources.

  9. 9.

    Results indicate (though not prove) that in two of our Gambia sites change in breeds is due to habitat degradation (less tsetse). We, however, acknowledge that there may be other influencing factors not captured in our study.

  10. 10.

    Horse and donkey were ranked second and third because they are for many families the only means of transportation to purchase or sell their products on local markets. Horses and donkey are also preferred as draught power for field work because they work faster than cattle.

  11. 11.

    The ethnic bias in keeping cattle is also important but not captured during the PRA; ethnic groups with pastoral tradition (Pula) tend to have more cattle than the other ethnic groups.


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This paper is an output of a regional project (PROGEBE) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) and implemented by ILRI and partners in four West African countries (Mali, Senegal, Guinea and The Gambia). The authors would like to thank the reviewer of this journal for very useful comments.

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Zaibet, L., Traore, S., Ayantunde, A. et al. Livelihood strategies in endemic livestock production systems in sub-humid zone of West Africa: trends, trade-offs and implications. Environ Dev Sustain 13, 87–105 (2011).

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  • Endemic ruminants
  • Habitat
  • Livelihoods
  • Trade-offs
  • West Africa