Seeing Pastoralism 5: Pastoralism, 100 Ways

This is the fifth post in our Seeing Pastoralism series, highlighting material from a new online exhibition that draws on PASTRES research.

This week focuses on pastoralists in Sardinia, Italy and their role in keeping rural economies and rural communities alive and vibrant. Sardinia is the location of Giulia Simula’s research, which focuses on the politics of pastoral markets, and the transformations that are taking place in agrarian sector.

Many will have experienced the products of Sardinian pastoralism in the form of pecorino cheese, which is produced from sheep’s milk; another popular Sardinian cheese is Fiore Sardo. Selling cheese is an important part of the island’s pastoral economy.

An important channel for artisanal producers is selling directly to consumers, which often takes place in their small shops. But this is now also happening online and in territorial markets.

The main consumers for these artisanal products are local Sardinians, Italians from the mainland, or tourists travelling to Sardinia. Restaurants and specialised shops are also important. However, where cooperatives and private industry are involved, the products are largely sold in international markets. North America is the main market, but northern Europe and Asia are becoming increasingly important. Pecorino Romano is the most popular product: its primary buyers are processing industries and wholesalers.

Uncertainty and precarity

Yet a reliance on private industry is not universally popular amongst Sardinian pastoralists. One pastoralist interviewed by Giulia said:

‘It’s little, little, little. You work long hours and they’re not paid, it’s useless. If they paid me for all the hours of work I do… I mean you see me how much I work. I get up at 4:00 a.m., I go back home when it’s dark….I don’t want to be in the hands of [industries] anymore’.

Access to land is also becoming a problem for pastoralists on the island. For many landowners, it is more convenient and economically better to receive state subsidies for their land, than to allow a pastoralist to rent it. This makes it difficult for pastoralists to plan and organise their work long term, as they are uncertain if they will have access to the land they need.

Bringing people together

While pastoralism is vital for the rural economy, it also helps to keep the rural community alive and vibrant. For instance, sheep shearing has traditionally been a collective event. While this may be slowly disappearing, it still brings people together. Friends, family and pastoralist colleagues are invited to help.

The younger people are charged with tying the sheep ready to shear, and collecting the wool. Adult pastoralists oversee the shearing of the sheep, which can go on for four to five hours over two to three days. Once the shearing is over, everyone involved shares a lunch and spends time together.

Sheep shearing is not the only time communities come together. Social events, gatherings and spuntini (light, brief meals)are important ways to celebrate work, culture and food. During these events, lamb and cheese are given as gifts, symbols of relations that go beyond market exchange. It is through such events that existing relationships and networks are consolidated, while new ones are also forged.

Explore the exhibition

For more images and stories from Sardinia, and to explore the other PASTRES research sites, visit the exhibition site Seeing Pastoralism.

Previous posts in this series:

Seeing Pastoralism 1: ‘Everything has changed, even the way we die’

Seeing Pastoralism 2: Dharma on the Left, Conservation on the Right

Seeing Pastoralism 3: I Exist Because You Exist

Seeing Pastoralism 4: Moving through time and space

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