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.

But conditions are changing. In order to keep the ‘machine’ functioning, when shocks are experienced or when elements of the machine are disassembled by policy interventions, pastoralists must invest new skills and develop new innovations. As conditions change, they may not always be in time, and the ‘machine’ may no longer function as well as it did.

Saverio’s analogy helps us understand how the complex systems associated with pastoralism are geared to certain ends. Variability is central, and must be seen as a resource. He sees the PASTRES project contributing to both understandings of pastoral systems, extending our perspectives on living with and from uncertainty, but also closing the gap between theory and practice on the ground.

As he points out, it has been over 20 years since the presumed shift in paradigm on pastoral systems. Yet, too often policymakers and field practitioners are stuck in the old paradigm, thinking that variability is a problem, not a resource. Consistent concepts and languages are needed, which are in turn linked to took-kits that allow practitioners to translate the understandings of the new paradigm into practical action.

Certainly a big and important agenda for PASTRES!

Image credit: Prof Ian Scoones

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