The PASTRES project explores uncertainties around environment and resources (notably due to climate change and land-use shifts), markets and commodities (including the interplay of informal pastoral economies with high-value export markets) and institutions and governance (linked to enclosures, privatisation and ‘hybrid governance’ arrangements, including conflict over competing land uses).

Environment and resources  |  Markets and commodities  | Governance and institutions

Environment and resources

men with water bottles
Pastoralists in Somalia. Photo: Michele Nori

In complex, non-linear ecological systems, such as in pastoral areas, conditions of stability rarely apply.

This basic insight is often not incorporated into management and policy regimes, resulting in a long history of failure in control-oriented development efforts. Attempts to manage for stability (through certain grazing regimes, fencing systems or environmental management regulations) are upset in highly variable systems.

Non-equilibrium approaches, reflecting pastoralists’ own flexible, improvised and mobile responses, are required, where variability becomes a resource. This is especially the case under conditions of climate change, where droughts or heavy snow falls become more frequent. Socio-ecological studies suggest a deeper cultural-political perspective on uncertainty is required; one that links social and technological imaginaries, and deeply-rooted epistemic cultures, to future directions. Approaches to responding to uncertainty and building resilience include ‘adaptive management‘, ‘managing mess/generating reliability’ and creating ‘transformations’.

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Markets and commodities

transporting goods by vehicle in the mountains
Transporting goods in Amdo Tibet. Photo: Michele Nori

The penetration of new capitalist relations through processes of globalisation creates new spaces and interfaces for economic relations. Even in remote pastoral areas, new forms of commodification – of land, water, energy, minerals, carbon, biodiversity and other resources – are occurring.

Commodification involves the revaluation of the environment, individualisation, privatisation and the creation of new markets. This restructuring of former common property systems and the enclosure of land and resources can have profound effects on livelihoods. As well as ‘grabs’ by external investors, this may involve accumulation by local elites in a process of social differentiation, seen starkly in some pastoral areas. As traditional pastoral systems are transformed, new social and political engagements with capital and markets are being forged. Alternatively, they may build on long-standing economic relations, based on a sharing economy, transnational trading, migrant networks and remittance connections. For, while frequently at the margins of state territory and power, pastoral areas are often in the centre of important regional cross-border trade networks.

With growing demand for livestock products, driven by increased incomes and changes in urban and middle class diets, opportunities for pastoral production and markets expand. Yet such market networks are often informal and low-value, suggesting important questions about how informal and formal economies intersect under conditions of globalisation. At the same time, such areas are also seen as sites for carbon sequestration, watershed protection and ecotourism, resulting in conflicts over land use. ‘Real markets’ driving change in pastoral areas must be seen as embedded, social-cultural phenomena. Competing processes of economic change, within different frameworks of commodification and market development, occurring in pastoral areas are in turn linked to processes of territorialisation, sedentarisation and state control. This makes pastoral areas sites of conflict between formal and informal markets, and between externally-driven capitalist expansion and local, endogenous dynamics.

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Governance and institutions

Map of Northern Kenya and surrounding territories (photo: Wikimedia commons)

Pastoral areas often are in places at the edge of state power, straddling borders where forms of centralised control are weak. Boundaries are fuzzy and contested in mobile systems rooted in forms of common property.

In many areas, a new spatial ordering is occurring, linked to processes of territorialisation, sedentarisation, regionalisation, privatisation under neoliberal globalisation, as well as state-led development. Processes of incorporation are uneven and may result in displacement, conflict and violence, prompting large-scale movements of people linked to social unrest. In response, hybrid governance arrangements are evolving as extensive transhumant systems transform, with a mix of private and common property ownership. Changes of authority, political order and forms of citizenship are emerging.

In this fast-changing context, a range of institutional innovations for managing livestock and rangelands exist that respond to uncertainty, and offer important lessons. Standard institutional and governance responses – for example enforcing boundaries with inflexible management institutions based on settled cultures and practices – fail in pastoral areas, and may generate insecurity and conflict, as well as environmental degradation. Authority may be built from below, with networked, hybrid, federated institutions and pluralistic regulation, based in embedded social and cultural relations, bricolage institutions and ‘rhizomic’ relationships in society, creating ‘vernacular’ forms of governance and security arrangements that ‘go with the grain’ without imposing particular forms and rules.

This suggests new thinking about relationships between states, resources, territories and citizens under uncertainty, the range of state and non-state actors involved, and the form of inclusive, adaptive, polycentric, flexible institutions, operating across scales, which are required to build resilience in such settings.

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