Transhumant pastoralism, sustainable management of natural resources and endemic ruminant livestock in the sub-humid zone of West Africa


Transhumant pastoralism is one of the dominant livestock production systems in West Africa, and it is characterized by seasonal and cyclical movement of varying degrees between complementary ecological areas. The common pattern of transhumance is moving herds from areas with pasture and water scarcity such as the Sahelian zone to areas where the forage and water are found, often in the sub-humid zone. Whereas the transhumant herds from the Sahel are mainly Zebu breeds, endemic ruminant livestock (ERL) are the dominant breeds in sub-humid zone of West Africa because of their tolerance to tsetse-borne trypanosomosis disease. These livestock fulfill different functions in the livelihood of rural communities in the region. To identify potential areas of interventions for sustainable natural resource management to improve ERL productivity, a desk study that included spatial mapping was performed to review and document the existing knowledge on transhumance in West Africa. Additionally, group discussions were held to analyze the (actual or potential) effects of transhumant herds on natural resource management and ERL in the sub-humid zone. This study covered sub-humid zone in The Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal. The key question we addressed in this study was as follows: What are the key trends and changes in transhumant pastoralism and how do these impact sustainable management of natural resources including endemic livestock? The results of the desk study and group discussions showed that there have been more southerly movements by transhumant pastoralists into the sub-humid zone over the past three decades and this has contributed to growing competition for grazing resources. The presence of transhumant herds in the sub-humid zone has a potential impact on management and conservation of ERL through crossbreeding with transhumant Zebu breeds from the Sahel but only study sites in Mali showed a high risk.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. Adriansen, H. (2008). Continuity and change in pastoral livelihoods of Senegalese Fulani. Agriculture and Human Values, 23, 215–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Agyemang, K., Dwinger, R. H., Grieve, A. S., & Bah, M. L. (1991). Milk production characteristics and productivity of N’Dama cattle kept under village management in the Gambia. Journal of Dairy Science, 74, 1599–1608.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ayantunde, A. A., de Leeuw, J., Turner, M. D., & Said, M. (2011). Challenges of assessing the sustainability of (agro)pastoral systems. Livestock Science, 139, 30–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Balde, H. (2007). Etude sur la Gestion des Parcours dans la Zone de Transhumance du Litoral. Direction Nationale de l’Elevage, Conakry, Guinea. Report.

  5. Basset, T. J., & Turner, M. D. (2007). Sudden shift or migratory drift? FulBe herd movements to the Sudano-Guinean region of West Africa. Human Ecology, 35, 33–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Benjamin, C. E. (2004). Livelihoods and institutional development in the Malian Sahel: A political economy of decentralized natural resource management. PhD Thesis, University of Michigan, USA.

  7. Boutrais, J. (2007). Crises écologiques et mobilités pastorales au Sahel: Les Peuls du Dallol Bosso. Sécheresse, 18(1), 5–12.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Breman, H., & de Wit, C. T. (1983). Rangeland productivity and exploitation in the Sahel. Science, 221, 1341–1347.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Davies, J., Niamir-Fuller, M., Kerven, C., & Bauer, K. (2010). Extensive livestock production in transition: The future of sustainable pastoralism. In H. Steinfeld, H. A. Mooney, F. Schneider, & L. E. Neville (Eds.), Livestock in a changing landscape. Volume 1: Drivers, consequences, and responses (pp. 285–308). Washington: Island Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. FAO. (2000). World watch list for domestic animal diversity (3rd ed.). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization.

    Google Scholar 

  11. FAO. (2001). Pastoralism in the new millennium. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization, Animal Production and Health Paper 150.

  12. ILRI. (2010). Sustainable management of globally significant endemic ruminant livestock in West Africa (PROGEBE). Gambia Baseline Report. Nairobi, Kenya: International Livestock Research Institute, 95 pp.

  13. IPCC. (2007). Climate change 2007: The fourth assessment synthesis report. Summary for policymakers. Geneva: IPCC.

  14. Kanyarukiga, S. (2010). Legislation to support cross-border livestock mobility. Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa-COMESA. Policy Brief Number 14.

  15. Kratli, S. (2007). Cows who choose domestication. Generation and management of domestic animal diversity by WoDaaBe pastoralists (Niger). PhD Thesis, Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex, England.

  16. Moritz, M. (2008). Competing paradigms in pastoral development? A perspective from the far north of Cameroon. World Development, 36, 2243–2254.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Moritz, M., Kyle, B., Nolan, K., Patrick, S., Shaffer, M., & Thampy, G. (2009). Too many people and too few livestock in West Africa? An evaluation of Sandford’s thesis. Journal of Development Studies, 45, 1113–1133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Niamir-Fuller, M. (Ed.). (1999). Managing mobility in African rangelands. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Pretty, J., Toulmin, C., & Williams, S. (2011). Sustainable intensification in African agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9(1), 5–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. SWAC/OECD. (2007). Promoting and supporting change in transhumant pastoralism in the Sahel and West Africa. Paris: SWAC/OECD. Policy Note Number 3.

  21. SWAC-OECD/ECOWAS. (2008). Livestock and regional market in the Sahel and West Africa—Potentials and challenges. Paris: SWAC-OECD.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Thebaud, B., & Batterbury, S. (2001). Sahel pastoralists: opportunism, struggle, conflict and negotiation. A case study from eastern Niger. Global Environmental Change, 11, 69–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Thornton, P. K., van de Steeg, J., Notenbaert, A., & Herrero, M. (2009). The impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems in developing countries: A review of what we know and what we need to know. Agricultural Systems, 101, 113–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Tiffen, M. (2004). Population pressure, migration and urbanization: Impacts on crop-livestock systems development in West Africa. In T. O. Williams, S. A. Tarawali, P. Hiernaux, & S. Fernandez-Rivera (Eds.), Sustainable crop-livestock production for improved livelihoods and natural resource management in West Africa (pp. 3–27). Nairobi: International Livestock Research Institute and Wageningen: CTA.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Turner, M. D. (2000). Drought, domestic budgeting and wealth distribution in Sahelian households. Development and Change, 31, 1009–1035.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Vrieling, A., de Leeuw, J., & Said, M. Y. (2013). Length of growing period over Africa: Variability and trends from 30 years of NDVI time series. Remote Sensing, 5, 982–1000.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Winrock International. (1992). Assessment of animal agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Arkansas: Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Zaibet, L., Traore, S., Ayantunde, A., Marshall, K., Johnson, N., & Siegmund-Schultze, M. (2011). Livelihood strategy in endemic livestock production systems in sub-humid zone of West Africa: Trends, tradeoffs and implications. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 13, 87–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was carried out under Projet régional de Gestion durable du Bétail ruminant Endémique en Afrique de l’Ouest (PROGEBE), which is a regional project funded by Global Environment Fund (GEF) and African Development Bank (AfDB), and it addresses conservation and sustainable use of endemic ruminant livestock in sub-humid zone of The Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Augustine A. Ayantunde.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ayantunde, A.A., Asse, R., Said, M.Y. et al. Transhumant pastoralism, sustainable management of natural resources and endemic ruminant livestock in the sub-humid zone of West Africa. Environ Dev Sustain 16, 1097–1117 (2014).

Download citation


  • Mobile pastoralism
  • Trypanotolerant livestock breed
  • Sahelian breed
  • Rangeland
  • Sudano-Guinean zone