Pastoral situation in the context of COVID-19

Pastoral situation in the context of COVID-19

Pastoral communities were already facing many challenges long before the COVID-19 outbreak. These include significant fodder shortages in Mauritania and Senegal and in parts of Mali and Niger as well as competition with farmers over access to land, water and resources. The security crisis disrupts pastoral activities in the Liptako-Gourma area and the Lake Chad basin with the closure of markets, reduced access to pastures, and limited transhumance, triggering massive displacement of pastoralists to peri-urban areas. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the pastoral situation has deteriorated further. Several RPCA members are mobilising to strengthen existing early warning systems, set-up new monitoring tools and co-ordinate responses. The call of all livestock stakeholders is unanimous: a targeted response to support the agro-pastoral sector is urgently required.

Fodder production

While biomass is in generally good supply across the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, it is scarce in Sahelian countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal). Some regions in Nigeria (Adamawa, Central zone, Northern zone, Southern zone) have already crossed the warning threshold. The situation is particularly alarming in Mauritania and Senegal, which are suffering from biomass shortages for the fourth consecutive year. In addition, wildfires have destroyed the scarce viable grazing land, thus exacerbating the vulnerability of pastoral households. An analysis carried out by ACF, GNAP and RBM at the end of February 2020 shows that soils in 84% of southern Mauritania and 49.6% of northern Senegal are bare, with no grass for grazing. According to the analysis, ”Pasture stocks that were low at the end of the last rainy season are now depleted in many regions.”

Access to grazing land

Due to ongoing insecurity, access to grazing land in the pastoral areas of most Sahelian countries is very difficult, particularly in the Liptako-Gourma region. Several areas have become completely inaccessible and now exceed the warning threshold of 75%. Access to grazing land is still possible in some areas of Niger (Goudoumaria, Manesora, Ngourti), Chad (Batha Est, Fitri Bourkou, Lac and Kanem) and Mali (central and northern).


Long before COVID-19, the 2019-20 pastoral season was marred by Nigeria’s closure of its land borders with Benin and Niger, and Benin’s ban on cross-border transhumance, which started in December 2019. Most of the region’s countries have already reached the warning threshold (75% ban on transhumance), except for Chad, Guinea and Togo.

In accordance with their typical seasonal migrations, most transhumant herders are currently in host coastal countries and are expected to start returning at the end of May 2020. But border closures are disrupting the ability of transhumant herders and livestock to return to their home regions. The high concentration of livestock at the borders represents two major risks: possible epizootic diseases and potential conflicts between farmers and herders at the beginning of the crop year. There is an urgent need to help cross-border transhumant populations return to their home communities in order to mitigate the risk of drought-related livestock deaths and to prevent potential conflicts.

Transhumance within the same country has also been disrupted due to quarantine and curfew measures that restrict domestic travel. Insecurity has led herders to relocate on a massive scale to peri-urban areas.

Maps & Facts: Transhumance and nomadism


APESS has analysed the extent of the quarantine measures that its member countries have put in place. Quarantines prevent the free movement of herders from one region to another or even from one city to another. The countries have also declared states of emergency, introduced bans on movement from one region to another and instituted curfews. All these measures, which aim to ensure people’s safety, are having a significant impact on how the agro-pastoral sector functions and are adversely affecting the living conditions of those who work in the sector, a problem that is touching herder families first and foremost. Find out more

Market closures

Pastoralists’ livelihoods are also being damaged by the closure of weekly markets. In addition, restrictions on travel are leading to sharp increases in livestock prices in urban areas.

Based on information from the heads of market management committees (COGES) in Togo: “There is a revenue shortfall at both the COGES and municipal levels due to the measures taken in response to the epidemic. Markets are less crowded; the livestock markets of Koundjoaré and Cinkassé, which each used to handle between 500 and 750 heads of cattle per day, are now down to around 250 to 400 heads per day. With all the pandemic response measures that have been implemented, attendance at the livestock markets has dropped precipitously.

Several RPCA members are mobilising to strengthen existing early warning systems, set-up new monitoring tools and co-ordinate responses. For example, APESS conducted an analysis in 12 member countries to identify trends negatively affecting the agro-pastoral sector. ACF and RBM set up a monitoring platform to analyse how COVID-19 is affecting pastoral populations economically. This information system provides weekly updates through 340 focal points in 11 countries.

National responses

Most of the national response plans are currently under elaboration.


On 13 April 2020, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani of Mauritania launched a special agro-pastoral programme to help mitigate the rainfall shortage’s impact on pastoralists and farmers. Financed to the tune of MRU 171 745 642 (EUR 4.1 million), the programme includes two streams of activities: the first focuses on pastoral water supply, and they will drill and equip 25 wells in several wilayas; the second focuses on animal health, and they will be providing free health care and medicines to 400 000 herders in different wilayas. The products covered by the special agro-pastoral programme were transported to each commune throughout the country via the moughataas on which these communes depend.

Key documents

Impacts of COVID-19

Prospective analysis on pastoralism

Political declarations