12: ‘Real markets’, commodity chains and economic valuation in pastoral areas

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Market uncertainties are central to pastoral livelihoods. Variations in supply and demand feed into high levels of price volatility for pastoral products. Uncertainties around state subsidies add to the challenges. Complex, often informal, market networks govern economic relations, which are in turn subject to uncertainties around cross-border trade, veterinary regulations or taxation, for example. Conflicts can break out and dramatically affect who can sell what where. But what are ‘markets’ and indeed what is ‘the economy’ within which pastoralists operate?


Answers are not as simple as standard economic explanations suggest. In pastoral areas, the construction of ‘the pastoral economy’ and ‘sector’ is inevitably political, revealing much about state authority. Markets as sites of exchange are always realised in social and cultural settings and operate according to norms, values and through practices very much located in context.

This lecture by Ian Scoones explores the key aspects of ‘real markets’ in pastoral areas, in relation to the form of networks, the cultures of exchange and the role of intermediaries of different sorts. Pastoral marketing of course is changing, as processes of commodification and commercialisation accelerate, promoted by the ‘livestock revolution’. This is discussed in relation to a brief overview of the literatures on value/commodity chains/networks, and a reflection on economic valuation of pastoral systems.

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  • Thinking of a market in livestock (or products) that you know, what social, cultural and political aspects are important in its functioning?
  • In relation to a pastoral commodity that you know about, map out the value chain (or rather network), identifying all the key actors? How does the form of the chain/network affect the sources and patterns of uncertainty?
  • What are the advantages and limitations of ‘valuation’ studies in pastoral areas?


Photo credit: Giulia Simula

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