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Decent work? How self-employed pastoralists and employed herders on ranches perceive their working conditions


  • M. Aufderheide
  • C. Voigts
  • C. Hülsebusch
  • B. Kaufmann


Pastoralism and ranching are two different rangeland-based livestock systems in dryland areas of East Africa. Both usually operate under low and irregular rainfall and consequently low overall primary biomass production of high spatial and temporal heterogeneity. Both are usually located far from town centres, market outlets and communication, medical, educational, banking, insurance and other infrastructure. Whereas pastoralists can be regarded as self-employed, gaining their livelihood from managing their individually owned livestock on communal land, ranches mostly employ herders as wage labourers to manage the livestock owned by the ranch on the ranches’ own land property. Both production systems can be similarly labour intensive and – with regard to the livestock management – require the same type of work, whether carried out as self-employed pastoralist or as employed herder on a work contract. Given this similarity, the aim of this study was to comparatively assess how pastoralists and employed herders in northern Kenya view their working conditions, and which criteria they use to assess hardship and rewards in their daily work and their working life. Their own perception is compared with the concept of Decent Work developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Samburu pastoralists in Marsabit and Samburu Districts as well as herders on ranches in Laikipia District were interviewed. A qualitative analysis of 47 semi-structured interviews yielded information about daily activities, income, free time, education and social security. Five out of 22 open interviews with pastoralists and seven out of 13 open interviews with employed herders fully transcribed and subjected to qualitative content analysis to yield life stories of 12 informants. Pastoralists consider it important to have healthy and satisfied animals. The ability to provide food for their family especially for the children has a high priority. Hardships for the pastoralists are, if activities are exhausting, and challenging, and dangerous. For employed herders, decent conditions are if their wages are high enough to be able to provide food for their family and formal education for their children. It is further most important for them to do work they are experienced and skilled in. Most employed herders were former pastoralists, who had lost their animals due to drought or raids.There are parallels between the ILO ‘Decent Work’ concept and the perception of working conditions of pastoralists and employed herders.These are, for example, that remuneration is of importance and the appreciation by either the employer or the community is desired. Some aspects that are seen as important by the ILO such as safety at work and healthy working conditions only play a secondary role to the pastoralists, who see risky and dangerous tasks as inherent characteristics of their efforts to gain a livelihood in their living environment.

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  • M. Aufderheide & C. Voigts & C. Hülsebusch & B. Kaufmann, 2013. "Decent work? How self-employed pastoralists and employed herders on ranches perceive their working conditions," ICDD Working Papers 7, University of Kassel, Fachbereich Gesellschaftswissenschaften (Social Sciences), Internatioanl Center for Development and Decent Work (ICDD).
  • Handle: RePEc:ajy:icddwp:7

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lesorogol, Carolyn K., 2005. "Privatizing pastoral lands: economic and normative outcomes in Kenya," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 33(11), pages 1959-1978, November.
    2. Tache, Boku & Sjaastad, Espen, 2010. "Pastoralists' Conceptions of Poverty: An Analysis of Traditional and Conventional Indicators from Borana, Ethiopia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(8), pages 1168-1178, August.
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