A recent PASTRES seminar at the Robert Schuman Centre at the European University in Florence discussed mobility, and how lessons from pastoralists might be important for thinking about policy themes such as international migration and cross-border trade. The recording of the seminar and slides are below.
- The future of the world is mobile – what can we learn from pastoralists? – Ian Scoones
- Reconceiving migration through the study of pastoral mobility – Natasha Maru
- Interfacing pastoral movements and modern mobilities – Michele Nori
- Discussion: The Future of the World is Mobile Giorgia Giovannetti
Why are pastoralists’ experiences relevant in our mobile world?
Pastoralists’ perspectives challenge many ideas derived from a settled state perspective – dominated as they are by fixity, settlement, controlled migration, regulated movement, fences and borders.
In a world characterised by a global web that enables continuous and growing mobilisation of resources, flows and exchanges, a perspective that starts from pastoral experience suggests new ways of thinking about policy and practice in a range of different areas, and forces us to challenge assumptions that have informed science and policy making in recent decades.
How do pastoralists move, and why?
Herders and shepherds move seasonally in search of opportunities to take care of their animals and ensure their best performance. They do so by taking into account the medium- and longer-term needs of their herds, as well as those of the household and of the rangelands.
For pastoralists, avoiding fixity and crossing borders are vital for chasing resource availability and market opportunities, or to escape climatic extremes and dangers or diseases. This means that flexible movement in response to changing conditions is essential for pastoral livelihoods. This emerges through extended networks and adaptive forms of governance.
Pastoralists’ responses to uncertainties hinge on specific patterns of mobility. These are not the same everywhere: different patterns have been described, including nomadic, transhumant, semi-sedentary agro-pastoralism, and others. More recently, analysts have described a continuum, whereby herders and herds move or do not move opportunistically, according to the risks and chances posed by ecological, economic and/or social domains.
Livelihood strategies in pastoral areas are constantly engaged in playing differently with mobility. In the Sahel, in the Maghreb, on the Tibetan plateau or Mediterranean Europe, the principle of mobility is retained as central to the livelihood strategy of pastoralists, although the associated social practices and technologies change continuously. The emergence of migratory flows, mobile phones, mechanised transport and other factors have shaped new patterns of mobility in these regions.
These include patterns of ‘inverse mobility’ in the Maghreb and Mashreq, where livestock movement is limited. Administrative borders confine pastoralists’ movements, and only a part of the household and herd move seasonally. Instead, water and forage are brought to livestock through mechanised vehicles, or, alternatively, ‘substitutional’ herding occurs, where absentee landlords hire shepherds and pay them through remittances.
Mobility is central to our societies
To some people, the practice of scanning rangelands looking for ‘greener pastures’ may seem like an ineffective, old-fashioned practice, a remnant of a tradition just waiting to disappear. Pastoral mobility has made herding communities difficult to analyse for scientists, and hard to accept for politicians. This is a major reason why pastoralists have inhabited the ‘margins’ of science and policymaking in the past.
Yet in societies that increasingly live through and bet on enhanced and expanded mobility, through the migration of people and the global trade of goods, and whose technological developments in the last centuries have enhanced the possibilities of mobility, ignoring these pastoral experiences of mobility is inappropriate.
Mobility is increasingly central to our societies. Nomadic practices and networks that enhance mobility are synonymous with a fluid, flexible, mobile modernity, which is governed through a continuous and growing flow of people, resources, information, commodities and finances. Yet our policy narratives and institutional settings are poorly equipped to tackle accelerating patterns of mobility.
Perhaps, as discussed at the recent seminar, we can learn from pastoralists as the world becomes more and more mobile.