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The socio-economics of pastoralism: a commentary on changing techniques and strategies for livestock management

Research reports

This essay explores nomadic pastoralism and argues for programme and policy interventions that are multi-disciplinary, process-driven and focused on a minimum threshold of critical objectives.

Key Points

  1. A clearer understanding of the socio-economics of nomadic pastoralism is needed if the application of recent technological advances in rangeland monitoring is to yield maximum potential benefits to nomads and their home countries. To understand and consider viable nomadic pastoralism in the context of a healthy support environment, several distinct features need to be understood, which require going beyond the more traditional control of livestock numbers in terms of a hypothetical concept of rangeland carrying capacity.
  2. Stock numbers can continue to be governed by the pastoralists’ traditional strategy of enhanced mobility and accessible communications that optimize advantages and opportunities offered by changing climatic and episodic conditions. Grazing systems could remain essentially event-driven. Attention should however be paid to understanding the special needs of pastoral nomads, particularly in terms of cultural values and the need to involve them in the processes of change and development with a potential to affect them.
  3. One conclusion which has emerged generally from development activities that impact on the environments is that economy-wide policies, such as policy and programme interventions for the sustainable use of rangelands or for desertification control, help enhance social stability. This, in turn, will yield environmental benefits. Instability, combined with land-use pressures, undermines the sustainable use of natural resources.
  4. While the mechanics of information-gathering and enhancing mobility have changed with time, the basic strategies for livestock management and production have remained the same. In recent years, however, a number of complex concerns have emerged that render effective livestock production more difficult and burdensome for the pastoral nomads. These concerns include: a rapid increase in human population in pastoral communities; a more sedentary way of life; an increasing need for technology to deal with pressing problems of management; and rapidly-changing political , economic and social conditions. As a result, policy and programme interventions are required that are multidisciplinary, process-driven, and focused on a minimum threshold of critical objectives.
  5. Man and nature are always in search of a liveable balance, but mishaps are more likely to happen because of the "discontinuous" nature of the relationship between the pressures generated by human activities and the tolerance levels of ecosystems. It is unlikely that damages inflicted on dry rangelands by overgrazing will be irreversible, because even a minor change in rainfall or other climatic conditions will often bring about a rapid response in terms of vegetation and alter expectations. It is, nevertheless, worthwhile when faced with risk and uncertainty with such critical consequences, to follow the precautionary principle and take action on a broad front to ensure that unexpected surprises do not occur.
Y. Ahmad