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Culture - Arts | Agriculture - Nutrition | Society

Generous herdsmen of Niger honoured by UNESCO

afrol News, 19 June - When a Mbororo (Wodaabe) herdsman in drought-ripe Niger loses his herd, his neighbours traditionally will offer him a discrete loan. For three years, he may keep a young pregnant cow from each of them. The cultural practice, called "habbanae", has such an impact on food security, social standards and local economy that it was put onto UNESCO's prestigious "Harmony List" as an example for humanity worldwide.

The lending of pregnant cows to neighbours who have fallen on hard times, a tradition among herdsman in Niger, has been added to a list of cultural practices around the world that best contribute to sustainable development, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announced today.

The jury of the Harmony List, an initiative of UNESCO and a group dedicated to socially responsible investment, cited the Mbororo people's tradition of "habbanae" as a cultural practice that significantly contributes to improving quality of life, and integrates its culture into social, environmental and economic development.

According to habbanae (which means "bond" in the Peul language, Fulfulbe), when a herdsman loses his herd each member of the community lends him a pregnant young cow to be kept for three years. "This tradition is more than a contract designed to help people in need, it also helps consolidate the life of the community as a whole by strengthening the bond among its members," UNESCO said.

The Mbororo people - which also are called Wodaabe locally - are a nomadic sub-group of the larger Fulbe (Peul, Fula) people that inhabit large parts of the Sahel, from Guinea to Chad. The Mbororo nomads mainly are reduced to the most drought affected pastures of Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.

UNESCO's Harmony List was born in 2004 of a partnership between the UN agency's International Fund for the Promotion of Culture and the Crédit Agricole Group, both of which provide jury members who pre-select up to ten cultural practices from all regions of the world, out of which at least one is inscribed on the Harmony List.

In 2004, Bedouin hospitality of the Middle East and indigenous Cree people's bush schools of northern Canada were honoured. The practice chosen for 2005 was the traditional Chinese medicine of the Miao community in Guizhou Province, China.

This year, the jury also recognised the "Story-Tellers Grandmothers Programme" of Argentina. Launched five years ago by the Mempo Giardinelli Foundation, it mobilises senior citizens to read stories to children, and contributes to dialogue between generations, UNESCO said.

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