Herding through uncertainties – principles and practices

What are principles that inspire pastoralists in adapting to uncertainties? What practices in turn shape their livelihoods? Can we learn from these for addressing wider societal challenges? These are the questions addressed by a just-published literature review carried out under the PASTRES research programme.

The review assesses the different practices and strategies pastoralists adopt to respond to the stresses and shocks generated by the uncertainties that surround them, with a view to understanding and appreciating the underlying principles.

The reconfiguration of herd management, livelihood practices, mobility patterns, territorial organization, network functioning and institutional arrangements under constantly changing conditions indicate important similarities in responses across world regions. This helps identify a set of overarching principles and practices that pastoralists deploy in dealing with risk and uncertainty.

The paper concludes by indicating potential ways that we can learn from pastoralists, as part of a wider conversation about embracing uncertainties to meet the challenges of our turbulent world. These include the interfaces between public goods and private interests, the herd as a financial portfolio, the governance of cross-border mobilities and regional networks and the management of climatic variability.


Rural urban transhumances in northern Italy (credit: PASTRES)

This endeavour is part of the European Research Council-funded PASTRES project (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins, www.pastres.org). Currently research is underway in China, Italy and Kenya, as well as Ethiopia, India and Tunisia, where PhD students are leading empirical field studies that will explore many of the dimensions raised in this paper.


Inter-generational flock management in Sardinia, Italy (credit: PASTRES)


Marketing small ruminants in Isiolo, Kenya (credit: PASTRES)


Evolving landscape on Tibetan rangelands (credit: PASTRES)

Regional perspectives from Europe, Asia and Africa are explored in a companion PASTRES paper, which will be featured in next week’s blog, while the theme of uncertainty is explored in another paper produced by PASTRES, which examines how uncertainty is understood across literatures and domains.

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