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And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse

Posted by Jacques Godfrain on 26 January 2011

The Sahel is not deserted by man. Humans are everywhere, at the end of each road, along each track, around every dune. Those who know these vast expanses a little (perhaps a lot?), know that men and women live here, entrenched in this hostile setting and yet capable of both adapting to it and protecting themselves from it.

Their wealth is their herds, emaciated when far from waterholes and magnificent during the kinder seasons or with thin vegetation nearby.

For decades, Europeans and Africans have understood the importance and wealth of the pastoral world. Studies of tropical breeds go far back in our veterinary schools; be they Agro here in France or the Veterinary School of Dakar.

The care, the vaccinations, the follow-up of herds in sub-Saharan Africa have, over the years, created close, personal, and trusting ties between these populations and those who contribute to their livelihood and sometimes their survival.

And then came structural adjustments. Agriculture was phased out as the primary concern of financial managers. There were budget freezes and major institutions changed their guidelines.

Desert populations soon realized that the health of their herds was not a priority and that they themselves were of little importance in the minds of those they had welcomed as tourists, as brothers, as admirers of the setting sun, and sometimes for whom their grandparents had died.

And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse.

Other men came, talked, helped, supported, and often replaced a certain White Man with their support and sense of brotherhood.

Today, circumstances require action not contrition.

Special forces will not suffice. We must rethink our positions on agriculture and livestock. An impressive organization exists, the OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health (1)) ; however, every year, budget after budget, their financial power is eroded.

We must re-engage dialogue with those who take care of the animals, for they feed people.

This means fighting hunger, this means actually fighting against falsified drugs and vaccinations, in deed and not merely in word.

When human wisdom prevails over the strength of things, then there is no longer room for those who kidnap or kill.

Preventing conflicts shows the poor that ultimately, life will offer the shepherd, during his twilight years, the hope of leaving his son a larger herd than the one bequeathed by his father.

Jacques GODFRAIN
Former Minister
Honorary member of Parliament
Replacement deputy for Aveyron

(1) L’Office international des épizooties was created in 1924 to globally fight animal diseases, in 2003 the Office became the World Organisation for Animal Health but has kept its historical acronym, OIE.

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