Climate change, agrarian justice and pastoralism

On 26 September, our lead researcher Ian Scoones will be on a keynote panel at the virtual conference on Climate Change and Agrarian Justice.

How struggles in the agrarian space connect with the huge challenge of climate change is a vital focus for both thinking and action. Climate change is inextricably entwined with capitalism, but how the relationship between capitalism and climate change plays out in the rural world requires deeper analysis.

In a recently-published essay, ‘Climate change and agrarian struggles’, members of the Journal of Peasant Studies editorial collective lay out a preliminary agenda for future work linking climate change to critical agrarian studies.

The conference also provides a moment to highlight the shared challenges of peasants and pastoralists. Although often studied in parallel by researchers, they face many similar challenges.

Painting of people in a forest surrounded by urban, rural and desert scenes.
Artwork: Federico “Boy” Dominguez

There is much attention to conflicts between pastoralists and settled farmers, but they also often collaborate or overlap in practice, especially where pastoralists move around ‘patchworks’ and share resources like fodder or manure. However, at the level of social movements, there is more work to be done to make connections between struggles of pastoralists and peasants.      

Common challenges include the need to live with (and off) uncertainty, and the transformations that come with a globally-connected world. Responses to climate change, too, are often globally connected: examples include international investments in renewable energy in pastoral areas, or the growing agenda to create protected areas. Sometimes these can lead to further marginalisation of pastoralists.

Attitudes towards pastoral livelihoods by West are also affected by climate concerns in richer, industrialised countries, as explored in our 2021 report, Are Livestock Always Bad for the Planet? Debates typically revolve around mass production, lumping in extensive pastoralists with more industrial food producers. It’s likely that these issues will be raised again at COP27 in November, although pastoralists’ own perspectives and contributions are often sidelined.

Meanwhile, this year’s severe droughts and floods have once again drawn attention to the severity of climate disruption, with pastoral communities and areas often at the frontline, along with settled farmers who rely on consistent water supplies. Although pastoral communities are experts in managing variability in weather and water, they can still be severely hurt by the consequences and ongoing injustices of climate change.

The conference on Climate Change and Agrarian Justice takes place from 26-29 September, and is free to attend online. Registration is open until 24 September. It is co-hosted by the Journal of Peasant Studies, the Transnational Institute, the Collective of Agrarian Scholar-Activists of the Global South, and the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies.

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