‘Playing with variability’: Michele Nori explains how we can learn global lessons from pastoralists

Dr Michele Nori helps lead the PASTRES project from a base at the European University Institute in Florence. With experience of research and development work in many pastoral areas, he reflects in this new video on his work in Somalia.

‘Pastoralists are not wrong’, he says, and the UN and development agency reports that describe Somalia as a ‘mess’, with no functioning economy and degradation everywhere miss their mark. Instead, he argues, ‘pastoralists play with variability’ in ways that makes their livelihoods productive. Uncertainties are sources of opportunity, not just risks and threats, he argues.

More than twenty years on from the publication of the book, Living with Uncertainty: New Directions in Pastoral Development in Africa, which laid out the arguments for a non-equilibrium approach to pastoralism and rangeland management in Africa, PASTRES aims to find out how pastoralists respond to new types of uncertainty emerging across the world.

By learning from the margins – or at least those areas constructed by those in power as marginal – we can potentially understand the skills, capacities and principles that pastoralists deploy when confronting uncertainties, whether environmental, economic or political, and see how they might be relevant for other areas.

This is the broader aim of the PASTRES project, linking to thinking about uncertainty in other areas as diverse as financial systems, migration, climate change, disease outbreaks, conflict and security and critical infrastructures.

Uncertainties are everywhere, but we often don’t know how to embrace them – preferring instead to close down towards technocratic risk management and control. However, PASTRES argues, if we can learn about how pastoralists respond, maybe this can be useful in other domains, facilitating a conversation between them.

For more on the ERC (European Research Council) funded PASTRES project, check out the website, subscribe to the mailing list for occasional updates and newsletters and follow us on Twitter.

Image credit: Matteo Caravani

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