Challenging desertification myths

Tales of desertification across the world’s drylands are a recurrent theme in policy. This week’s blog reviews an excellent book that takes issue with many of the assumptions around desertification – The End of Desertification? Disputing Environmental Change in the Drylands. It was edited by Roy Behnke, an anthropologist with deep knowledge of pastoral areas in North and Southern Africa, West Asia and more, and Michael Mortimore, sadly now late, a development geographer, who knew a huge amount about the drylands of Africa, and particularly northern Nigeria.

The full review is available in the excellent open access journal, Pastoralism. You can download the full pdf here. In this blog, we reproduce a slightly abridged version.

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How pastoralists can help us deal with the unexpected

Ann Waters-Bayer offers a short video commentary, reflecting on the PASTRES project. Since her work in West Africa, particularly on women’s roles in milk production, Ann has been a major supporter of pastoral development. Until her retirement, she worked for 25 years with the ETC Foundation, particularly around issues of farmer-led innovation, and was editor of the ILEIA magazine and a founder of Prolinnova (among many other things!). An important publication for PASTRES research was the manual ‘Planning with Pastoralists’, produced with Wolfgang Bayer, focusing on participatory methods.

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Variability is a resource that pastoralists use

Saverio Krätli is the convenor of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnographic Sciences and editor of the journal, Nomadic Peoples. He undertook his PhD research on animal breeding and husbandry strategies among the WoDaabe pastoralists in Niger. He has since worked on pastoralism with many agencies, including arguing how pastoralists make use of variability and live off uncertainty.

In this short video, filmed at the PASTRES launch in May last year, he makes the case that pastoral systems can be seen like a ‘machine’ for making use of variability as a resource. The ‘machine’ involves many interconnected components, with knowledge embedded in each – animals, rangelands, institutions and so on. Perfected over many years, the ‘machine’ is brilliant at converting variability into useful outputs.

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Pastoralism has a comparative advantage in variable environments

Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Fiona Flintan is Rangelands Governance Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute and is Technical Coordinator for the International Land Coalition’s Rangelands Initiative. She also offered a short video commentary on the PASTRES project at our launch last year.

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Pastoralists are experts at improvisation

At our launch workshop last May, we invited a number of the participants to comment on the themes of the PASTRES project in short video clips. These complement the ones already shared from the PASTRES team on China, Italy and Kenya, as well as the project overall.

Echi (Christina) Gabbert, from the University of Goettingen in Germany and coordinator of the Lands of the Future network, discusses, in the video below, the way pastoralists are experts at responding to a tough reality, able to improvise and make use of practical knowledge.

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The PASTRES project’s first year!

The PASTRES project has been extremely busy during 2018. This blog presents an overview of activities covered in the recent newsletter. If you haven’t already, do sign up for the bi-annual newsletter, here.

Following our launch event at IDS, Sussex in May, we have recruited three PASTRES PhD students who will be joining us at IDS, Sussex early next year. They will be joined by three more PhD students, also working on pastoralism issues. We have also selected a number of new honorary affiliates who will work closely with the project, contributing to the agenda.

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Negotiating uncertainties on the Tibetan plateau in China

The pastoral areas of the Tibetan plateau in China have been through numerous upheavals over the past decades. From collectivisation to the household responsibility system, to increasing individualization and marketization in recent times. Over the last decade in particular, massive investments have been made in infrastructure development, with roads, rail lines and new towns and cities being built across the plateau.

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Pastoralism under pressure in northern Kenya

Pastoralists  in Isiolo county in northern Kenya feel under siege, with their way of life under threat. Isiolo has been the home of the Waso Boran pastoralists for many decades, but attacks from neighbouring Somali herders, encroachments by agriculturalists from Meru, expansion of conservancies and planned road, pipeline and resort city mega-projects are affecting all pastoral livelihoods, creating many new risks and uncertainties. One elder warned us: “We were the majority in our area, but now we are becoming a minority. This means conflict is coming”.

In a scoping visit for the PASTRES fieldwork in Kenya, the PASTRES team talked to many people. Government officials in town, local experts and activists and pastoralists at water points and other meeting places. A number of themes emerged, each of which highlight different dimensions of uncertainty.

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The changing dynamics of Sardinian pastoralism: why an uncertainty lens is important

Most people’s image of Sardinia is based on the picture-postcard scenes of beaches and smart tourist resorts along the coast. But Sardinia also has an important livestock production sector, and pastoralism is central to the wider economy. Sardinia is most famous for its pecorino cheese, made from sheep’s milk. Most of us know the hard grating Pecorino Romano PDO cheese exported globally, but there are multiple other varieties too, and sheep, goat and cow’s milk production for cheese-making and meat offtake are all-important.

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