“We see in order to move; we move in order to see.” —William Gibson
Nomadic herding takes place throughout North Africa and much of Asia in areas where the climate is too extreme to support permanent settled agriculture. There are two forms of nomadism; Total nomadism, where the nomad has no permanent home, and semi-nomadism, where the nomad may have a seasonal home.
The Sahel, a semi-arid belt of tropical grassland and desert shrub land on the southern edge of the Sahara is home to 25 million people. Most of the land is used by pastoral nomadic herdsmen. The nomads live in individual tribes and raise herds of cattle, sheep, goats and camels. These herds provide them with meat, milk, skins and transport. They camp in one place until the pasture is exhausted and then migrate in search of fresh vegetation.
Good pasture depends upon rainfall. There is no clear migratory pattern but migration routes increase in size under adverse conditions. In the Sahel the drought which began in 1968, providing less and less water and grass, has meant that the animals are the source of life. In dire conditions, the nomads will not part with their animals.
As the Sahel drought got worse the nomads drifted southwards, competing for water and pasture with livestock of the farming villages. This created shortages for nomad and farmer alike. Other factors aggravating this problem are increases in the number of people and livestock due to the spread of medicine and veterinary services. The population increase created a demand for more food. The increase in livestock made water and pasture necessary. As pasture shrinks overgrazing becomes inevitable.
In northern Kenya the Rendille nomadic herders find that rainfall is too low and unreliable to support settled agriculture. The Rendille have learnt how to survive an extreme environment. They rely on their animals for everything. Once they hear there is more rain elsewhere they pack their limited possessions and move on. Camels and to a lesser extent goats can survive for the time it takes to reach this destination, however this cannot continue indefinitely.
Their way of life is changing because land is becoming overpopulated and resources over-stretched as the numbers of people and animals increase. Consequently as droughts continue, pastoralists are forced to move to small towns.