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close this book Measuring drought and drought impacts in Red Sea Province
close this folder 1. Introduction to Red Sea Province
View the document Physical Geography
View the document Precipitation
View the document Political organisation
View the document Infrastructure, economic activities, and employment
View the document Agriculture
View the document Pastoralism
View the document Drought-coping strategies
View the document Population and human geography
View the document Land Tenure
View the document Gender Relations in Beja society
View the document Overview of famine relief in Red Sea Province
View the document References
View the document Appendix 1.1.
View the document Appendix 1.2.


Pastoralism is the second principal land use in Red Sea Province. It should be considered with agriculture as a unit because the major activity of people in the rural areas of the province is agropastoralism. Both activities form the economic basis for survival, although there are other important economic activities. Many of the products of agriculture are used in support of livestock. Indeed, if the harvest fails one still has the stalks from the crop to either sell or feed to the livestock to help get them through the dry season.

There are several strategies employed by herders in semiarid and arid environments to minimise the risk of losing their livestock and to recover if they do. There are other strategies than those listed below. For further information see Cole (1982) and Widstrand (1975).

1. Movement.

2. Herd splitting.

3. Herding different types of livestock.

4. Mutual aid.

5. Social mechanisms of wealth redistribution.

6. Economic diversification.

Pastoralism in most areas of the arid and semiarid world would not exist without movement. The greatest strategy a herder has to minimise risk is to spread risk over space by moving his animals to areas of good and varied grazing. Annual movement, or transhumance, can be classed as either vertical or horizontal. Vertical transhumance is from lowland to mountain and back again while horizontal transhumance is from, for example, river grazing to rainfed grazing on the plains. This classification has been made to better understand pastoralism and is by no means absolute. Some herders practice both types of movement depending on the distribution of rains and floods. An example of vertical transhumance are the Beni 'Amer who descend from the Eritrean highlands in the summer to graze in the Gash Delta; later to return to the mountains in winter. An example of horizontal transhumance are the Fulbe of Mali who leave the Niger Inland Delta in central Mali with their livestock and travel north following the new growth of grass produced by rains associated with the northward summer movement of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone.

In Red Sea Province both types of transhumance are practiced. The Red Sea Hills and coastal strip are used for winter grazing and the interior of the province, particularly the southwest corner, are used for summer grazing. There is a vertical movement from coast to mountain to interior and back and a horizontal movement from the Gash Delta to southwest and southcentral Red Sea Province. These movements are dependent on the year. In some years the herds do not leave the GashButana area and in others, like 1988, where thousands of head entered Red Sea Province to utilise the excellent grazing. There is also a delta to delta (coast to plain) movement from the Tokar Delta in June to the Gash Delta. This is called "grazing the two autumns" in Arabic.

Herders also use space to minimise risk in another way. They routinely keep one part of their herd in one place and other parts of it elsewhere. In case of disease, local drought, or raiding they have something to fall back on by employing strategy two, herd splitting.

The third common economic strategy employed by herders is herding different types of livestock. This strategy is useful in maximizing the use of varied pasture and in combatting heavy losses of one breed due to disease. Each type of animal has different grazing and watering requirements and different types of animal are grouped to minimise labour requirements. The most common combination in Red Sea Province are sheep and goats, while in the Gash it is sheep, goats and cattle. In more arid areas of the province camels, sheep and goats are herded. Although goats are more drought resistant than sheep, sheep have a higher market value. In addition, the market value of sheep to cereals appears to be more stable than the value of goats to cereals. Some groups of herders, for example the Rashayda and Nurab, specialise in camels and sheep and shun goats. In general, people raise goats because they have to. Sheep, camels, and cattle are much preferred to goats.

The fourth common herding strategy is mutual aid. Mutual aid in Red Sea Province has two forms according to Hassan Mohammed Salih (1976). The first form is the loan of an animal to a relative so that he or she benefit from the milk. This loan has to be repaid. The second form of mutual aid is the outright gift of an animal or animals to an impoverished relative. This assistance does not have to be repaid. Hassan Mohammed Salih does not mention mutual aid between non-kin among the Beja In this family-oriented society assistance to non-kin may be rare or nonexistent,

The fifth herding strategy are social mechanisms, or institutions based on the redistribution of livestock wealth. This sort of redistribution involves the transfer of livestock between families being united by marriage, the gift of livestock for a birth, coming of age, death, and the payment of livestock as penalty for unlawful conduct. In the precolonial period, the price of murder was paid in camels. This practice has fallen into disuse today, perhaps because camels are no longer as important as they once were before the decline of the caravan trade. Raiding also once was a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth and ecological adaptation (see Sweet 1965).

Social mechanisms of livestock redistribution can play an important role in recovery from livestock loss. For example, the livestock recovery rate of families with several daughters who became marriageable after the drought of 1983-84 in Red Sea Province was good because many livestock are given as a dowry in marriage.

The sixth common strategy practiced by herders is economic diversification. By diversification is meant involvement in activities other than herding of some member or members of the herding family. Agriculture, for an example discussed above. Herders are also periodically involved in the wage labour economy on a seasonal or stress-period basis. Other activities include making charcoal or selling firewood, selling rural products like Duum nuts or the fruit of Ziziphus spina-christi, making mats, blankets, baskets, and leather bags.

Pasture distribution in and around Red Sea Province is presented in the following two maps of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data. These maps are made from analyzing data on the greenness of vegetation from satellites. The two maps should be examined in conjunction with information from the section discussing Beja groups and migration. Values for the most mountainous parts of the Red Sea Hills are uniformly low because the cell size of the NDVI is 1 km2 and as most of the khors in the hills are less than 1 kilometre in width they are not perceived by the sensors on the satellite. The NDVI index is on a scale of -1 to 1. This represents bare rock to high amounts of vegetation. The NDVI scale was divided into three classes to produce the two maps below: .02-.07, .08-.18, and greater than .18. These classes represent sparse (diagonal hatching), medium (cross hatching), and high (filled) densities respectively. On the map produced from the September-October image the dense vegetation (including agriculture) of the Tokar Delta, Eritrean highlands, the Gash, Gash Dai, Braytek basin and Khor 'Arab basin is clearly visible. Of importance is the distribution of vegetation in the category .02 to .07. This was a result of the high and uniformly distributed rains of 1988. Parts of the province looked like fields of wheat.

The map produced from the NDVI image for March 1989 presents a different story. This is the driest time of the year and only residual grazing- is left. Nevertheless, there remain three areas of high vegetation: parts of the Tokar Delta, parts of the Eritrean highlands, and part of the Gash Delta

Map 1.5. NDVI, September 1 - October A 1988. Red Sea Province.

Map 1.6. ND VI, March 22-24, 1989, Red Sea Province.