Herding through uncertainties – principles and practices : exploring the interfaces of pastoralists and uncertainty : results from a literature review

Working Paper
  • Published 09/09/19

This paper has been written as a background review for the European Research Council-funded PASTRES project (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins). Lessons from pastoralists, we argue, may help others working in other domains to develop more effective responses to uncertain contexts. Following Prof. Scoones’ paper ‘What is uncertainty and why does it matter?’, this is one of two papers developed with a view to analyse and reflect on the interfaces and interrelationships between pastoral societies, the uncertainties that embed their livelihoods, and the related coping/adaptive principles, strategies and practices.

Through a structured review and a meta-analysis of existing literature, the environmental, market, and governance dimensions characterizing uncertainty for pastoralists are explored in six different settings:

a) Central and southern Asia, with specific references to the Tibetan plateau in China and to Indian pastoralists

b) the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, with a focus on Morocco in the Maghreb-Mashreq region and a wider perspective on pastoralism in Mediterranean Europe

c) the eastern and western flanks of Sub-Saharan Africa drylands, with a specific focus on the Fulani and Borana pastoral groups inhabiting these regions.

This paper assesses the practices and strategies pastoral communities adopt in responding to the stresses and shocks generated by the uncertainties that surround them in these diverse settings, with a view to understand and appreciate the underpinning inspiring principles. The responses displayed and applied by pastoral communities show in fact relevant and intriguing degrees of similarity across the regions. This helps identify a common framework and a set of overarching principles and patterns for pastoralists in dealing with risk and uncertainty. The paper concludes by indicating potential ways we could learn from pastoralists, as part of a wider conversation about embracing uncertainties to meet the challenges of our turbulent world.

This endeavour is complemented by another paper that explores the diverse and constantly changing uncertainty frameworks characterising different pastoral regions of the globe.