Old version: Key entries under the heading, “Pastoralists and Pastoralisms”

The principal blog entries are:

Seven examples of the value-added by “thinking infrastructurally” about pastoralism and pastoralists

Assetizing pastoralism-as-infrastructure

Curating publics rather than facilitating development is a better answer to “So what?”

Other entries of possible interest include:

  • What happens when their wastelands are taken out of our proleptic ruins
  • Climate justice?
  • Probes and proposals for the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists 2026
  • Keeping up with herders
  • Colin Strang versus Garrett Hardin: Which one do you believe?
  • “The elephant in the room at Cop27 is the cow” (another example of environmental livestock-tarring)
  • The methodological challenge of interconnected granularity in representing pastoralists and pastoralisms
  • An authoritative website for real-time decisionmaking involving pastoralists
  • Marginal?
  • Pastoralism on the offense, not just defended
  • Things we don’t hear in pastoralist development or, Why not these utopian imaginaries rather than others?

Five examples of the value-added in “thinking infrastructrurally” about pastoralists and pastoralism

1. Pastoralism as a global infrastructure


If you think stabilization and expansion of herder outputs and outcomes—in particular household livelihoods—are central to pastoralism, then there are varieties of pastoralism. This is largely because efforts to achieve stable and expanding livelihoods vary with the critical infrastructures upon which they depend for their livestock.

Some pastoralisms depend on roads for herd transport. Others rely from time to time on helicopters. Veterinary health infrastructures have also been instrumental in various ways and it’s a commonplace to say pastoralists depend upon and configure around diverse market infrastructures differently. Migration infrastructure for those leaving their herder households and remittance infrastructures for the migrants to send income back to those households are as well patently various as they are patently evident.

The list continues, but the gist remains: Critical infrastructures do not just empirically affect pastoralist behavior; pastoralism are majorly defined through their different reliances on them.


I’ve tried, however, to make the case the variety of pastoralisms themselves should be seen a global infrastructure:

pastoralist systems are, in respects that matter, infrastructural; and since pastoralists and their systems are found worldwide, so too is pastoralism a global infrastructure, and importantly so. . .Pastoralist systems tender the world a key critical service (and have been doing so for a very long time): they, like other globalised/globalising infrastructures, seek to increase process variance in the face of high input variance to achieve low and stable output variance. More, they do so by managing non-measurable uncertainties well beyond the capabilities of formal risk methodologies and in the face of increasing and diversified input variabilities while still facing demands for sustained livelihoods. In this counternarrative, that key service is best understood as foundational to the world economy in times of great uncertainty and complexity.

I need to unpack that paragraph before drawing out what I take to be a new implication for pastoralisms-as-infrastructure.

Start with a common definition of critical infrastructures: Large sociotechnical systems deemed essential for the provision of vital societal services, which conventionally include, but are not limited to, large-scale systems for water, electricity, and transportation.

Pastoralist systems also share, I argue in my paper, a number of specific features that characterize large-scale critical infrastructures–not least of which is the role, practices and processes of real-time operators in managing for system-wide reliability and safety. Reliability professionals are also to be found—centrally so, I argue—in pastoralist systems. As pastoralist systems are found across the world, it is appropriate to view pastoralisms in aggregate as a global infrastructure with its own reliability professionals.

To put the point formally: As with other major globalized or globalizing infrastructures, pastoralist systems seek to increase process variance—think, real-time management strategies and options—in the face of high but unpredictable or uncontrollable input variance so as to achieve low and stable output variance. Task demands are to be matched, at least in real time, by resource capabilities, which if the match occurs is called requisite variety.

(It might help those initially reluctant to think of pastoralism as an infrastructure to know that the US government, among other governments as well, also fails to acknowledge space systems, notwithstanding their telecommunications and navigational [GPS] infrastructure components, as a separate critical infrastructure sector.)


With that in mind, now think of an infrastructure’s operations across an entire cycle: normal operations (fluctuations within formal or informal bandwidths), disrupted operations (temporary loss of system services), failed operations (indefinite loss of service along with destruction of assets), and response & recovery operations to a new normal (if there is to be one). Just as disrupted operations entail timely but not always successful restoration efforts back to normal operations, failed operations entail immediate emergency responses directed to longer-term system recovery (no guarantees here as well).

Yet here is the pastoralist literature with which I am familiar often describing systems that have failed and disappeared or are failing and threatened with more or less extinction. In contrast, from a pastoralism-as-infrastructure perspective, to end an infrastructure’s cycle of operations at system failure is to stop too early and end up in exaggeration.

How so? When it comes to a large-scale infrastructure, you have to go from failure onto to describe follow-on emergency response, which can well include first steps for recovery (e.g., damage assessments and solicitation of longer-term aid). Emergency response is a really-existing phase of operations that requires analysis precisely because the infrastructure has not been stopped in its tracks.

(In case it needs saying, there are many fine-grained analyses of pastoralist systems under stress, but rarely—I stand to be corrected—within the frame of an infrastructure’s cycle of operations.)


So what?

–Return to the infrastructures key to configuring varieties of pastoralism: the migration infrastructure, the veterinary health infrastructure, the road transport infrastructure, the water points infrastructure, the livestock market and communications infrastructures, the urban arrival (employment) infrastructures for migrants from herder households, and the infrastructure for–well, the list goes on, doesn’t it?

From the perspective of pastoralism-as-infrastructure however, the preceding separate infrastructures are part and parcel of the process variance (the requisite variety) of those varieties of pastoralism. Segments of these specific infrastructures are activated or relied upon differently and at different points in the whole cycle of pastoralist operations.

Yes, critical infrastructures that underlie pastoralisms are under threat and in some cases the physical systems are very fragile or already extinct. But pastoralisms, from this infrastructure perspective, don’t wither away unless their process variance withers. This is to ask: What about the other empirically demonstrated ways to graze, herd, be im/mobile, or “be in the market,” case by case? This is not optimism or an eternal promise of requisite variety. It is being realistic.


Again, so what? Two quick points follow from the infrastructure perspective:

First, if it is the entire cycle of pastoralist operations that is our point of departure, we should be able to investigate how routine and non-routine repairs are undertaken as part of normal operations. However, when was the last time you read about “repairing this or that pastoralist system or subsystem”? In this view, remittances back to the herder household provide the means to add management options at the site, but they also seek to repair dryland (sub-)systems that have lost labor and expertise.

Second, the infrastructure perspective suggests that instead of talking about environmental risks associated with pastoralisms (e.g., the climate risks of land degradation and methane production), we should be comparing the environmental footprints produced by the respective global infrastructures (e.g., roads globally, electricity globally, dams globally, and so on). Obviously, because pastoralisms rely on these other infrastructures, the respective footprints overlap. But the physical damage done to the environment by roads, dams, and power plants are well documented and extend far beyond pastoralist usage.

To sum up, the argument is that pastoralism-as-infrastructure is no more withering away than—as long prophesied—the state has withered away in the last century and half.

2. Resilience is a plural noun

The topic here is herders of livestock primarily in the African rangelands. Below are two different redescriptions of herders and their systems: it’s resiliencies, not just resilience; and disasters-averted need to be far more recognized and capitalized on.


The opposite of the coping herder, who can only react to external shocks, is the resilient herder, who bounces back. But is that true? Both occur at the individual level, and the opposite of the individual is the collective (think: “team situational awareness”), not a different individual with different behavior.

We observed reliability professionals in critical infrastructures undertaking four types of resilience at their system level, each varying by stage of system operations:

Table 1. Different Types of System Resilience

  • Reliability professionals adjusting back to within de jure or de facto bandwidths to continue normal operations (precursor resilience);
  • Restoration from disrupted operations (temporary loss of service) back to normal operations by reliability professionals (restoration resilience);
  • Immediate emergency response (its own kind of resilience) after system failure but often involving others different from system’s reliability professionals; and
  • Recovery of the system to a new normal by reliability professionals along with others (recovery resilience)

Resilience this way is a set of options, processes and strategies undertaken by the system’s real-time managers and tied to the state of system operations in which they find themselves. Resilience differs depending on whether the large sociotechnical system is in normal operations versus disrupted operations versus failed operations versus recovered operations. (Think of pastoralist systems here as critical infrastructure.)

Resilience, as such, is not a single property of the system to be turned on or off as and when needed. Nor is it, as a system feature, reducible to anything like individual “resilient” herders, though such herders exist.


So what when it comes to pastoralists?

What you take to be the loss of the herd, a failure in pastoralist operations that you say comes inevitably with drought, may actually be perceived and treated by pastoralists themselves as a temporary disruption after which operations are to be restored. While you, the outsider, can say their “temporary” really isn’t temporary these days, it is their definition of “temporary” that matters when it comes to their real-time reliability.

To return to Table 1, herder systems that maintain normal operations are apt to demonstrate what we call precursor resilience. Normal doesn’t mean what happens when there are no shocks to the system. Shocks happen all the time, and normal operations are all about responding to them in such a way as to ensure they don’t lead to temporary system disruption or outright system failure. Formally, the precursors of disruption and failure are managed for, and reliably so. Shifting from one watering point, when an interfering problem arises there, to another just as good or within a range of good-enough is one such strategy. Labelling this, “coping,” seriously misrepresents the active system management going on.

Pastoralist systems can and do experience temporary stoppages in their service provision—raiders seize livestock, remittances don’t arrive, off-take of livestock products is interrupted, lightning triggers a veldt fire—and here the efforts at restoring conditions back to normal is better termed restoration resilience. Access to alternative feed stocks or sources of livelihood may be required in the absence of grazing and watering fallbacks normally available.

So too resilience as a response to shocks looks very different by way of management strategies when the shocks lead to system failure and recovery from that failure. In these circumstances, an array of outside, inter-organizational resources and personnel—public, private, NGO, humanitarian—are required in addition to the resources of the pastoralist herders. These recovery arrangements and resources are unlike anything marshaled by way of precursor or restoration resiliencies within the herder communities themselves.


There is nothing predetermined in the Table 1 sequence. Nothing says it is inevitable that the failed system recovers to a new normal (indeed the probability of system failure in recovery can be higher than in normal operations). It is crucial, nevertheless, to distinguish recovery from any new normal. To outsiders, it may look like some of today’s pastoralist systems are in unending recovery, constantly trying to catch up with one drought or disaster after another. The reality may be that some systems—not all!—are already at a new normal, operating with a very different combination of options, strategies and resources than before.

If you think of resilience in a pastoralist system as “the system’s capability in the face of its high reliability mandates to withstand the downsides of uncertainty and complexity as well as exploit the upsides of new possibilities and opportunities that emerge in real time,” then they are able to do so because of being capable to undertake the different types of resiliencies listed here, contingent on the stage of operations herders as a collectivity find themselves.

Or to put the key point from the other direction, a system demonstrating precursor resilience, restoration resilience, emergency response coordination and recovery resilience is the kind of system better able to withstand the downsides of shocks and uncertainty and exploit their upsides. Here too, nothing predetermines that every pastoralist system will exhibit all four resiliencies, if and when their states of operation change.

3. Disaster-averted is central to pastoralist development


My argument is that if crises averted by pastoralists were identified and more differentiated, we’d better understand how far short of a full picture is equating their real time to the chronic crises of inequality, market failure, precarity and such.

To ignore disasters-averted has an analogy with other infrastructure reliability professionals. It is to act as if the lives, assets and millions in wealth saved each day doesn’t matter when real-time control room operators of critical infrastructures prevent disasters from happening that would have happened otherwise. Why? Because we are told that ultimately what matters far more are the infrastructure disasters of modernization, late capitalism, and environmental collapse destructive of everything in their path.

Even where the latter is true, that truth must be pushed further to incorporate the importance of disasters-averted-now. Disaster averted matters to herders precisely because herders actively dread specific disasters, whatever the root causes.


Of course, inequality, marketization, commodification, precarity and other related processes matter for pastoralists and others. The same for modernization, late capitalism, global environmental destruction, and the climate emergency. But they matter when differentiated and better specified in terms of their “with respect to.”

Just what is marketization with respect to in your case? Smallstock? Mechanized transportation? Alpine grazing? Is it in terms of migrant herders here rather than there, or with respect to other types of livestock or grazing conditions? How do the broader processes collapsed under “marketization” get redefined by the very different with-respect-to’s?

Most important, appeals to generalized processes or state conditions diminish the centrality of disasters averted through diverse actions of diverse herders. This diminishment leaves us assuming that marketization, commodification, precarity. . .are the chronic crises of real time for herder or farmer. They, we are to assume, take up most of the time that really matters to pastoralists.

But the latter is the case only if the with-respect-to scenarios demonstrate how these broad processes preoccupy real time because herders have failed to avert dreaded events altogether. Without the empirical work showing that no disasters have been averted by pastoralists, the appeal to broad structural explanations begins to look less as a denial of human agency than the idealization of the absence of agency, irrespective of the facts on the ground.


Let me give an example. Andrew Barry, British sociologist, reports a finding in his article, “What is an environmental problem?,” from his research in Georgia:

A community liaison officer, working for an oil company, introduced me to a villager who had managed to stop the movement of pipeline construction vehicles near her mountain village in the lesser Caucasus. The construction of the pipeline, she told us in conversation, would prevent her moving livestock between two areas of pastureland. Her protest, which was the first she had ever been involved in, was not recorded in any official or public documents.

Barry found this to be a surprising research event (his terms) and went on to explain at length (internal citations deleted) that

my conversation with the villager pointed to the importance of a localized problem, the impact of the pipeline on her livelihood and that of other villagers, and her consequent direct action, none of which is recorded or made public. This was one of many small, fragmentary indicators that alerted me to the prevalence and significance of direct action by villagers across Georgia in the period of pipeline construction, actions that were generally not accorded significance in published documents, and that were certainly not traceable on the internet. . .At the same time, the mediation of the Georgian company liaison officer who introduced me to the villager was one indicator of the complexity of the relations between the local population, the oil company, and the company’s subcontractors. . .

I believe the phrases, “managed to stop,” “would prevent her moving livestock,” “a localized problem,” “consequent direct action,” “generally not accorded significance,” and “the complexity of the relations” are the core to understanding that disasters-averted remain very real, even if not identified, let alone publicized, by outsiders preoccupied with what hasn’t been averted.

Should it need saying, some with-respect-to scenarios do specify how such phrases result from an ongoing interaction and dialectic between the wider processes and local particularities. I’d hope, though, you’d want to see details behind any such assertion first.


So what? How does the argued importance of disasters-averted compel rethinking pastoralist development? One example will have to suffice: the need to recast “pastoralist elites.”

I recently read a fine piece mentioning today’s Pokot elites and Turkana elders in Kenya. When I was there in the early 1980s, they were neither elderly nor elites all. I’m also pretty sure had I interviewed some of them at that time I’d have considered them “poor pastoralists.”

My question then: Under what conditions do pastoralists, initially poor but today better off, become elites in the negative sense familiar to the critics of elites? The answer is important because an over-arching development aim of the 1980s arid and semi-arid lands programs in Kenya was to assist then-poor pastoralists to become better-off.

My own answer to the preceding question would now focus on the disasters averted over time by pastoralists, both those who are today’s elites and those who aren’t. It seems to me essential to establish if equally (resource-) poor pastoralists nonetheless differentiated themselves over time in terms of how they averted disasters that would have befell them had they not managed the ways they did.

Now, of course, some of the poor pastoralists I met in the early 1980s may have been more advantaged than I realized. Of course, I could have been incorrect in identifying them as “poor pastoralists.” Even so, the refocusing on disasters-averted over time holds for those who were not advantaged then but are so now.

Which leads me to the question that should be obvious to any reader: Since when are researchers to decide that time stops sufficiently in a study period to certify who among herders are advantaged going forward, let alone what are the metrics for determining such? When did the development narrative become “poor herders and farmers must advance at the same rate or even faster than advantaged ones?”

4. Recasting “land-use conflicts” involving pastoralists


The great virtue of political ecology, in my view, has been to complexify narratives of scarcity-of-this-or-that-sort leads to land-use conflict. I want to suggest, though, that even the more nuanced, multi-causal explanations can be pushed and pulled further.

In particular, I’m not sure that “conflict,” after a point, helps or aids better pastoralist policy and development. In no way should the following be construed as criticism of those writing on land-use conflicts nor is my contribution a justification for killing people. I suggest only that there may be a different way of interpreting what is going on, and if there is, then there may be other ways even better to productively rethink the policy issues involved.

To that end, I use two lenses from the framework in my 2020 STEPS paper.


The first is the logic of requisite variety. Complex environments require complex means of adaptation. If inputs are highly variable, so too must be the processes and options to transform this input variability into outputs and outcomes with low and stable variance, in our case, sustained herder livelihoods (or off-take, or herd size, or composition. . .).

One major implication is that “land-use conflict” has to be differentiated from the get-go. By way of example, references to pastoralist raids, skirmishes and flare-ups that do not identify “with-respect-to” what inputs, processes or outputs are bound to be very misleading.

Consider a livestock raid of one pastoralist group on another. It’s part of the input variability of the latter group but it also part of the process options of the former (i.e., when periodic raids are treated as one means over the longer term to respond to unpredictable input shocks, like sudden herd die-offs). Indeed, some discussion of jihadist raids by young pastoralist men in the Sahel seems to reflect the changing composition and level of variance around the outputs and outcomes (as if there was something like “young-men pastoralism” whose outputs had been changed by or with jihadism).

So what?

It matters for pastoralist policy just what are the process options of the pastoralist group being raided. Do the response options include that of a counter-raid, or to send more household members away from the area, or to form alliances with other threatened groups, or to seek a political accommodation, or to undertake something altogether different or unexpected? For the purposes of policy and management, a livestock raid (or such) is more than a livestock raid.


The second lens to refocus land-use conflicts is the entire cycle of infrastructure operations. A livestock raid undertaken by one pastoralist group on another in order to repair or restore its herd numbers/composition differs from the livestock raid undertaken as an immediate emergency response to having the entire system of operations or herd disappear because of some systemwide calamity.

As for those jihadist inspired and supported raids by young pastoralist men, it’s important to determine if those raids are best understood as recovery efforts to a new normal (recovery of a failed system is much more inter-organizationally demanding–think conventional humanitarian aid—than service restoration after a temporary disruption by the system on its own). Much of the current literature on the plight of pastoralists seems as well to be equating recurring pastoralist recoveries after failures as its new normal.


Again: So what?

As with the logic of requisite variety, the whole cycle requires those involved in pastoralist policy and management to first differentiate cases of “land-use conflict” before proposing or adopting policy interventions. It isn’t merely about that old nostrum: Conflict can be productive, not destructive. Rather, land-use conflicts are fundamentally different cases of different lands, different uses and different conflicts.

This is especially true if one takes a long-term perspective on pastoralist systems and their evolution. A “conflict” going on for 30 years or more is obviously one that pushes and pulls to center-stage both the full cycle of pastoralist operations across time and the logic of requisite variety at any point in time for transforming input variability into sustained (though over time changing) outputs and outcomes.

5. Rangeland “restoration” from an infrastructure perspective


“Restore” is a very big word in infrastructure studies. It’s been applied to: (1) interrupted service provision restored back to normal infrastructure operations; (2) services initially restored after the massive failure of infrastructure assets; and (3) key equipment or facilities restored after a non-routine “outage” as part of regular maintenance and repair.

To be clear, these are overlapping categories, but good-enough for the following purposes, e.g.:

–An ice storm passes through, leading to a temporary closure of a section of the road system. Detours may or may not be possible until the affected roadways are restored. This is an example of #1.

–An earthquake hits, systemwide telecommunications fail outright big time, and mobile cell towers are brought in by way of immediate response to restore telecom services, at least initially. This is an example #2.

–A generator in a power plant trips offline. Repairs are undertaken, often involving manual, hands-on work, and it’s restored back on line. This kind of sudden outage happens all the time and is considered part of the electric utility’s standard-normal M&R (maintenance and repair). This is an example of #3.


Now think of “rangeland restoration” in these terms of 1 – 3, e.g.:

#1: Stall feeding, which is here part of normal operations, is restored after an unexpected interruption in its version of a supply chain. Trucking of water and livestock, which are now part of normal livestock operations there, are temporarily interrupted.

#2: Grasslands have been appropriated for other uses (the infamous agriculture), requiring indefinite use of alternative livestock feed and grazing until a more permanent solution is found (aka, the hoped-for new normal).

#3: A grassland fire—lightning strikes are a common enough occurrence though unevenly distributed—takes part of the grasslands out of use, at least until (after) the next rains. Herders respond by reverting to standard-normal more intensive grazing practices for what’s left to work with.


Now, note two very important implications:

First, rangeland equilibrium—and ecological disequilibrium for that matter—have nothing to do with the issue. The benchmark here is the normal operations of pastoralism as an infrastructure with respect to the use of pasture assets. Yes or no: Has routine stall feeding been restored back after an interruption in the supply chain? This is pre-eminently the issue of infrastructure reliability, not range ecology (i.e., the former is an output matter, the latter more an input issue).

Second, the issue of overgrazing is often a sideshow distracting from what is actually going on infrastructurally. Why? Because normal operations—remember, it’s the benchmark used here for comparisons—always has had overgrazing in its operations.

What, for example, do you think the sacrifice grazing around a livestock borehole is all about? There is nothing to “restore” the immediate perimeter of this borehole back to. In fact, that “overgrazed perimeter” is an asset in normal operations of the livestock production and livelihood systems I have in mind.


So what?

As I read them, what calls for “rangeland restoration” are really about is a contradiction in infrastructure terms, namely: “rangeland recovery back to an old normal.” Recovery in infrastructure terms is a massively complex, longer-term, multi-stakeholder activity without any guarantees following on immediate emergency response to outright full system collapse.

More positively, by thinking infrastructurally about “rangeland restoration” in really-existing restoration (not recovery) terms, you might get to much more of what is actually going on in real-time pastoralism by real-time pastoralists.

(Think of “real-time pastoralists” as a synonym for “reliability professionals”.)

Climate justice?


Three decades ago, Jon Elster wrote Local Justice: How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens (1992, Russell Sage Foundation: New York). It’s of interest today because one of its enduring points has been that not only can local justice systems lead to global injustice, global justice systems can lead to local injustices. I end with a pastoralism illustration.

First, his definitions:

Local justice can be contrasted with global justice. Roughly speaking, globally redistributive policies are characterized by three features. First, they are designed centrally, at the level of the national government. Second, they are intended to compensate people for various sorts of bad luck, resulting from the possession of ’morally arbitrary properties.’ Third, they typically take the form of cash transfers [e.g., think reparations]. Principles of local justice differ on all three counts. They are designed by relatively autonomous institutions which, although they may be constrained by guidelines laid down by the center, have some autonomy to design and implement their preferred scheme. Also, they are not compensatory, or only partially so. A scheme for allocating scarce medical resources may compensate patients for bad medical luck, but not for other kinds of bad luck (including the bad luck of being turned down for another scarce good). Finally, local justice concerns allocation in kind of goods (and burdens), not of money.

Elster (1992, p4)

The semi-autonomous institutions are local in three senses: arena, country and locality. Different arenas, such as organ transplantation, college admissions and job layoffs, follow different principles: “Need is central in allocating organs for transplantation, merit in admitting students to college and seniority in selecting workers for layoffs” in the US. Allocative principles vary by country as well: “In many European countries, need (as measured by number of family dependents) can be a factor in deciding which workers to lay off”. Lastly, allocative principles can also vary by locality within the same country or arena, as with the case of local transplantation centers in the US.

In short, complexity in local justice systems comes not just from the fact that the goods are scarce, heterogeneous and in kind and that the sites of allocation may well be local in multiple senses. Local justice systems vary also because principles are tied to complex (and not always certain) arrays of criteria, mechanisms, procedures, and schemes.


Local justice systems have clear implications. Not only are they not designed to compensate for global injustices, they can actually lead to those injustices:

From childhood to old age, [the individual] encounters a succession of institutions, each of which has the power to give or deny him some scarce good. In some cases the cumulative impact of these decisions may be grossly unfair. We can easily imagine an individual who through sheer bad luck is chosen for all the necessary burdens and denied all the scarce goods, because in each case he is just below the cutoff point of selection. To my knowledge this source of injustice has not been recognized so far…. Those who are entrusted with the task of allocating a scarce good rarely if ever evaluate recipients in the light of their past successes or failures in receiving other goods. Local justice is largely noncompensatory. There is no mechanism of redress across allocative spheres….

[B]y the nature of chance events, some individuals will miss every train: they are turned down for medical school, chosen by the draft lottery, laid off by the firm in a recession, and refused scarce medical resources; in addition, their spouse develops cancer, their stocks become worthless, and their neighborhood is chosen for a toxic waste dump. It is neither desirable nor possible to create a mechanism of redress to compensate all forms of cumulative bad luck. For one thing, the problems of moral hazard would be immense [i.e. if people knew they were going to be compensated for whatever happened to them, they could take more risks and thereby incur more harm]. For another, the machinery of administering redress for bad luck would be hopelessly complex and costly.

(Ibid 133-4)

If so, local justice clearly can lead to global injustice.


But just as clearly from a local justice perspective, the global justice promised in, say, climate justice (e.g., via reparations), leads to local injustices, when the former is implemented uniformly over an otherwise differentiated landscape. One thinks immediately of how to define an “extreme event” that triggers automatic debt relief.

To expand, the more uniform the application of climate justice policies, the greater the local pressure for suitably heterogeneous applications, if not alternatives. But the more heterogeneous on the ground, the greater the chance of global injustice arising from lack of coordination and cross-learning on the ground.

In this way, just as it is not possible for local justice systems to compensate for the global injustices they create, so too it may well not be possible for global justice systems to compensate for the local injustices they create, at least in any timely way or coverage.


So what? For one thing, the continued insistence that global climate justice involves money transfers (as distinct from in-kind compensation typical of local justice systems) ends up further monetarizing a global environment that local systems take to be quite otherwise.

In so doing and arguably much more important, the insistence obscures the huge importance of in-kind compensations at the local level. Think here of the livestock sharing systems (e.g., khlata in Tunisia and mafisa in Botswana). These are local justice systems irrespective of the livestock involved being methane producers from the global climate perspective. Indeed, I can’t think of a better example of global climate justice at odds with local justice systems, globally.

Probes and proposals for the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists 2026

When was the last time you heard pastoralist livestock exports from the arid and semi-arid regions of the world being praised for this: Reducing the global budget for virtual water trading from what it could have been?

And yet, that is exactly what pastoralism as global infrastructure does.


The remittance-sending household member is no more at the geographical periphery of a network whose center is an African rangeland than was Prince von Metternich in the center of Europe, when the Austrian diplomat reportedly said, “Asia begins at the Landstraße” (the district outskirts of Vienna closest to the Balkans).

You can stipulate Asia begins here and Africa ends there, but good luck in making that stick for policies!


Philanthropy needn’t be viewed as the city’s rich helping the city’s poor; urban-generated remittances needn’t be seen as one set of family members helping other family members elsewhere.

Both philanthropy and remittances become something else when it’s “urban citizenship”–its duties and responsibilities–that come into better view through these very transactions.


It isn’t just that pastoralist households have off-site activities with household members elsewhere who contribute from there to on-site pastoralist activities. Rather: It’s more appropriate to say that some pastoralisms are done off-site, just as what was once platform trading on the floor of a stock exchange is now done elsewhere on different platforms, as now with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.


Start with the EU’s Emission Trading System for CO2 emission credits. Imagine member/non-member states and companies are now able to enter the ETS to buy credits directed to offsetting GHG emissions in dryland localities committed to transitioning to environmentally friendly production systems and livelihoods based in or around livestock.

Start with the European COVID-19 initiative, NextGenerationEU (issuance of joint debt by EU member states to fund pandemic recovery). Imagine employee support schemes under this or some such initiative, with one aim being to augment remittances of resident migrants back to dryland household members and communities.

Stay with those resident migrants sending back remittances. Imagine other EU-financed schemes to improve the greening of EU localities heavily resident with migrants (e.g. subsidies to EU residents for more sustainable lifestyles in the EU). Think of this as a form of “reversed green extractivism,” in this case on behalf of dryland households by EU member states for EU-migrant communities.

Now extend this kind of thinking to the likes of G7 and many OECD countries.


A more traditional configuration of dryland herds as assets is being recast into a newer configuration of herds as global environmental liabilities. One consequence is to exclude pastoralists from being considered part of the near-global asset boom in rising prices of stock, bonds and real-estate.

Who benefits when policy attention is distracted by reclassifying cattle as global environmental liabilities from recognizing instead that their owners/managers were and continue to be entrapped in capitalist asset bubbles, and on a global scale?


I want to suggest that applicability of pastoralist strategies/perspectives/approaches now extends to richer-country settings because the goalposts for poverty reduction—not necessarily, for inequality—have changed and are changing.

More formally, the relatively-poor in both poorer and in richer nations remain, but they are becoming “closer-alike” in their respective precarities. This is happening—again, it’s a hypothesis—even as inequality within countries (intra-national) persists or is increasing.

Where so, I’m suggesting that some—not all or only—pastoralists may be better able than ever before to have something to say to others—some but not all—who have never been as precarious as now—whatever the absolute differences between the two groups in terms of surviving their respect inequalities.


If sustainable growth is defined as increasing human opportunities to unpredictable variability, then of course markets and commercialization have a role in pastoralist development. Having more income is one very important way really-existing humans know to increase opportunities in the face of uncontrollable changes. The issue is: how much a role and, as we all also know, the devil is in the details of these scenarios.


Cross-loading is the mutual influence of pastoralist household members and close relations with each other, separate from those governed by state policies and regulations. Cross-loading captures better the sense of pastoralists looking sideways to each other and reacting, where each is co-present and their relations co-constitutive.

This does not deny that the pastoralists adapt their behavior to state policies and regulations (so-called “downloading” through formal hierarchies) nor does it deny that pastoralists seek to project their own views onto and thereby influence state policies and regulations (so-called “uploading”).

Uploading and downloading may have their own (more vertical) networks, separate from or overlapping with those for (more horizontal) networks. Cross-loading is very much more a “multilateral” platform than center-periphery networks (with hubs and outposts).


Globalization, marketization and commodification have indeed set into play path dependencies for pastoralist development. But do these answer the crucial real-time question of concern to pastoralists, namely: What happens next?

In effect, the only answer to What-Happens-Next in path dependencies is: well, continued path dependence.

What’s missing is a granularity in answers that can be acted upon. If anything, all those appeals to globalization, marketization, commodification together end up degranularizing when just the opposite is needed. How is it that differentiated pastoralist behavior is best represented as dead-end coping, differentiated pastoralist landscapes are best represented as depastoralized, differentiated livelihood strategies are best represented as vulnerabilities all, and differentiated herders are best represented as poor and not-equal?


Much has been made of the declining share of labor relative to capital in the incomes of advanced economies over the last decades. More, wages and productivity have become increasingly decoupled, i.e., a good deal of productivity’s contribution has shifted to capital’s share. These changes are often attributed to labor-substituting (“labor-saving”) technologies via the spread of neoliberal globalization.

Pastoralist systems are of course part of that globalization, but have the technologies been more labor-augmenting (“labor-intensive”), at least in some systems? All the lorries ferrying livestock and supplies, all the cellphones used in real time (not just for price-and-market monitoring but for mediating inter-group conflicts as well)—have they advanced labor’s share relative to capital in pastoralist incomes, broadly writ? Yes, the costs of production are shifting through these innovations, but to the disadvantage of labor in all or even most cases?

Keeping up with herders


Really-existing practices and processes of pastoralist households are known to be empirically differentiated, so much so that the popular common property resource (CPR) management narrative no longer captures (if it ever really did) the changing gist of what is going on in pastoralism(s).

Wheere so, we have then to ask ourselves how are policymakers to keep up with the changes and differentiation that even we researchers have a hard time to track?


More, the follow-on requirement to be provisional in our findings and open to all manner of caveats is evident on all sides of pastoralist development, i.e., not only those espousing evidence-based narratives, but also those leveling the critiques of said policies.

It’s far too early, by way of prime example, to adopt fall-and-stall narratives of the depastoralizing, deskilling, disorganizing and dewebbing of the pastoralist life-world (leaving behind corpse-pastoralism, knifed by conflicts, mummified by inequality, buried at sea in liquid modernity, and dissolved in the quicklime of disaster capitalism while harboring yet worse to come).

More, it’s highly problematic for researchers to recommend that government officials and NGO staff be in an authentic conversation with pastoralists taking the lead, when those researchers wouldn’t be caught dead in collaborating with the powers that be. This is especially problematic when (1) pastoralists bear all the risks when the recommendations go wrong and (2) government would be blamed anyway if mistakes in implementing the recommendations were not caught beforehand.


So it seems to me a productive question is not, “What replaces current dominant narratives for the purposes of better pastoralist development?,” but: “How do we catch up with and keep abreast of what pastoralists are actually doing?”

So what? Our not-knowing what pastoralists are doing better by way of managing under uncertainty—practices and mechanisms—is the mirror reflection of our trying to manage uncertainty by not-knowing the big-data algorithms for decision-making we increasingly rely upon.

Colin Strang versus Garrett Hardin: Which one do you believe?

M: You seem now to be in the paradoxical position of saying that if everyone evaded [e.g., paying taxes], it would be disastrous and yet no one is to blame. . . .But surely there can’t be a disaster of this kind for which no one is to blame.

D: If anyone is to blame it is the person whose job it is to circumvent evasion. If too few people vote, then it should be made illegal not to vote. If too few people volunteer, you must introduce conscription. If too many people evade taxes, you must tighten up your enforcement. My answer to your ‘If everyone did that’ is ‘Then some one had jolly well better see that they don’t’. . .

Colin Strang, philosopher, “What If Everyone Did That?”, 1960

Yet 8 years later we get this familiar piece of fantasy, Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Common, whose answer to “What if every herder did that?” is, e.g.: “We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust–but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.”

Get real: We’ve always known the better question is: Whose job is it to ensure overgrazing doesn’t happen? Which, to be frank, continues to be the same as asking: Whose job is it to define “overgrazing”?

NB: One of the biting ironies is that Hardin’s was an explicit piece on morality that took no account of Strang’s essay, which was among the most cited and anthologized in collections on ethics and morality at that time.

“The elephant in the room at Cop27 is the cow”* (another example of environmental livestock-tarring)

–A modest proposal:

Assume livestock are toxic weapons that must be renounced in the name of climate change. Like nuclear weapons, they pose such a global threat that nations sign the Livestock Non-Proliferation Treaty (LNPT). It’s to rollback, relinquish or abolish livestock, analogous to the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.

How then would the LNPT be implemented, i.e., what are the ways to reduce these toxic stockpiles of dangerous animals?

If the history of the nuclear proliferation treaty is our guide, the livestock elimination focus quickly becomes the feasibility and desirability of particular elimination scenarios. Scenarios in the plural because context matters, e.g., the way South Africa renounced nuclear weapons could not be the same ways Belarus and Ukraine relinquished them, etc.

–So assume livestock elimination scenarios are just as differentiated. We would expect reductions in different types of intensive livestock production to be among the first priority scenarios under LNPT. After that, extensive livestock systems would be expected to have different rollback scenarios as well. For example, we would expect livestock to remain where they have proven climate-positive impacts: Livestock are shown also to promote biodiversity, and/or serve as better fire management, and/or establish food sovereignty, and/or enable off-rangeland employment of those who would have herded livestock instead, etc.

In other words, we would expect–well, how to put this obvious fact?–livestock scenarios that are already found empirically widespread.

–Which raises the important question: Wouldn’t the LNPT put us right back to where we are anyway with respect to livestock? What’s the use of pigeonholing these strategies as “pastoralist” when in fact they are environmentally friendly scenarios based demonstrably in extensive livestock production?

–In case there is any doubt about the high disesteem in which I hold the notion of a LNPT, let me be clear: If corporate greenwashing is, as one definition has it, “an umbrella term for a variety of misleading communications and practices that intentionally or not, induce false positive perceptions of a system’s environmental performance,” then environmental livestock-tarring is “an umbrella term for a variety of misleading communications and practices that intentionally or not, induce false negative perceptions of a system’s environmental performance.”


Drylands, remittances and the twelve rules for radicals

–Any number of radical proposals have been made for addressing problems of the globe’s rangelands, including: the end of capitalism and extractivism, redistribution of wealth, and reparations.

In an important sense, though, these are not be radical enough. I have in mind the “twelve rules for radicals” of the late organizer, Saul Alinsky, two in particular being:

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.


–By extension, use the logic of capitalism, extractivism and financial accumulation to benefit rangelands and pastoralists, e.g.:

1. Start with the EU’s Emission Trading System for CO2 emission credits. Imagine member/non-member states and companies are now able to enter the ETS to buy credits directed to offsetting GHG emissions in dryland localities committed to transitioning to environmentally friendly production systems and livelihoods based in or around livestock.

2. Start with the European COVID-19 initiative, NextGenerationEU (issuance of joint debt by EU member states to fund pandemic recovery). Imagine employee support schemes under this or some such initiative, with one aim being to augment remittances of resident migrants back to dryland household members and communities.

3. Stay with those resident migrants sending back remittances. Imagine other EU-financed schemes to improve the greening of EU localities heavily resident with migrants (e.g. subsidies to EU residents for more sustainable lifestyles in the EU). Think of this as a form of “reversed green extractivism,” in this case on behalf of dryland households by EU member states for EU-migrant communities.

Now extend this kind of thinking to the likes of G7 and many OECD countries. The aim, again, is not to dismiss current radical proposals, but to find opportunities to exploit all twelve of Alinsky’s rules for radicals.

The methodological challenge of interconnected granularity in representing pastoralists and pastoralisms

Ask yourself what it means when it’s easier to identify a dominant development narrative about pastoralism—all you have to do is read the critical literature—than it is to formulate plausible failure scenarios for a proposed pastoralist intervention?

The issue isn’t just “the devil is in the details.” It’s also about identifying and describing the interconnections between and among the details of a failure scenario in ways not possible with the less granular representations of earlier pastoralist development narratives, such as the Tragedy of the Commons. (I focus on scenarios of failure because pastoral development narratives are typically pessimistic representations.)

To illustrate, take the obvious example: We know performance along the project/program cycle from formulation through design onto approval into implementation and later evaluation/redesign (if any) depend on different details at different stages for different scenarios, including those for failure. Equally evident, I argue, is that once interconnections between the details across the different stages are brought to the fore, you’ve established a very effective critique of anything like a “normal project or program cycle.”

This is because identifying and representing latent and manifest interconnectivities is methodologically the best way to highlight the role of contingencies—chance, happenstance, the unexpected or the hitherto unimagined—in unmaking even the best-intended project or program from design through to redesign. The very notion of something as distinct as “implementation” is shown to be its own reduced-form development narrative in the face of really-existing fits and starts, mishaps and sudden delays, ruptures or other discontinuities from the get-go onwards.

Details are themselves representations, such that representations are themselves interconnected through narratives and scenarios. The clearest difference between the representations in failure scenarios and those in pastoralist development narratives is the former’s with-respect-to granularity. Not only are failure scenarios typically more complex, they are often detailed with respect to better anticipating (that is, predicting and preparing for): “What happens next?”

Are detailed failure scenarios, in contrast to reduced-form development narratives, guaranteed to answer the What-Next question? Surely not. There are any number of emergency playbooks, disaster protocols and failure response handbooks whose step-by-steps exist on paper or screen only. But here too what’s often missing in the documentation are the contingent interconnectivities represented as latent, or emerging, or having become manifest, as details and events are said to unfold in this place and duration. That said, the level of granularity found in failure scenarios is, in my experience, often not found at the level of abstraction in development narratives.

Three implications about this level of granularity in development narratives are noteworthy here. One and again, it appears you can become an expert in development narratives by reading the literature or parroting similar-minded people without ever having undertaken your own field work or practice.

Two, some common property counternarratives also fail to answer the What-Next question for widely diverse sets of pastoralisms and pastoralists. Think most recently the Dasgupta Review’s formal model for managing common pool resources.

Three, globalization, marketization and commodification have indeed set into play path dependencies. But the answer to What-Happens-Next in path dependencies is, well, continued path dependence. That’s not granular enough for real-time policy and management. Different path dependencies are also represented via different levels of granularity, and it is not clear why the path dependencies of globalization, marketization and commodification are so often generalized as to be a kind of de-granularization, de-differentiation and erasure of diversity that matters for better policy and management on the ground.

An authoritative website for real-time decisionmaking involving pastoralists

–I’m proposing an authoritative website established for real-time decisionmaking concerning livestock herders and their systems.

–An authoritative website provides sought-after, up-to-date and linked knowledge so quickly and reliably that it is continuously browsed by increasing numbers of users who click on the website early and often in their search for on-point information, in this case about pastoralists.

  • These websites do not pretend to provide final or definitive information, but rather seek to assure and ensure the quality of the topical information continually up-dated.
  • The website serves as a clearinghouse that encourages cross-checking and tailoring of information on, e.g., pastoral development, while also acting as a springboard for future information search and exchange. It is popular because it shortens the number of steps to search for salient information.
  • Well-known U.S. example: Going online to http://www.mayoclinic.org after an initial cancer diagnosis.

–In this illustrative scenario, the policy type, analyst or manager starts her analysis on pastoralist development by searching–let’s give it a name–http://www.PastoralistsNow.org

  • She goes to this website on the well-established better practice that information becomes increasingly policy or management relevant when the people gathering the information are the ones who actually use that information.
  • That is, the authoritative website is constructed and maintained as a platform to make real-time searching and browsing easier for searchers, not least of whom are project and program managers.
  • It is authoritative because: (1) it is online, that is, can be kept up-to-date in ways other media can’t; and (2) it is digital, that is, can be curated for salient multimedia, including but not limited to: video, podcast, blogs, reports, articles, chatrooms, graphics-rich tutorials, advice line (“ask the professionals”), and possibly its own YouTube channel.

–Who funds, provides content, and curates such a website is, of course, the question, e.g., a consortium of researchers, centers, journals and foundations. To that end, it could also be an important deliverable for the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists 2026. Language will be an issue, insurmountable in some cases. But the broader point I’m making here remains the same:


Principal sources

–The Göran Therborn quote is at: https://journalofchinesesociology.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40711-021-00143-0

Barry, A. (2020). What is an environmental problem? In the special issue, “Problematizing the Problematic,” Theory, Culture & Society: 1 – 25.

Krätli, S. (2015) Valuing Variability: New Perspectives on Climate Resilient Drylands Development, London:IIED http://pubs.iied.org/10128IIED.html

—— (2019) Pastoral Development Orientation Framework—Focus on Ethiopia, MISEREOR/IHR Hilfwerk, Aachen: Bischöfliches Hilfswerk MISEREOR e. V.

Nori, M. (2019) Herding Through Uncertainties – Principles and Practices. Exploring the interfaces of pastoralists and uncertainty. Results from a literature review, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2019/69, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute

—— (2019) Herding Through Uncertainties – Regional Perspectives. Exploring the interfaces of pastoralists and uncertainty. Results from a literature review, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2019/68, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute

—— (2021) The evolving interface between pastoralism and uncertainty: reflecting on cases from three continents, EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2021/16, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute

Roe, E. (2020) A New Policy Narrative for Pastoralism? Pastoralists as Reliability Professionals and Pastoralist Systems as Infrastructure, STEPS Working Paper 113, Brighton: STEPS Centre (available online at https://steps-centre.org/publication/a-new-policy-narrative-for-pastoralism/)

Scoones, I. (2019) What is Uncertainty and Why Does it Matter? STEPS Working Paper 105, Brighton: STEPS Centre.


When I first became interested in livestock herders in Africa, I was told they lived on marginal lands. Fifty years later the more common refrain is these herders are marginalized–marginalized in politics, by the economy, and now because of the climate emergency.

I hate that word, marginal.

Since the academic study of pastoralism appears to be stuck with its use and abuse, may I suggest a different, more positive analogy:

The illuminators [of medieval manuscripts] enriched the margins of the page, conventionally an empty space, with figurative, vegetal or abstract elements. Sometimes the marginal images were merely decorative, at other times they functioned rather like visual footnotes or sidebars, as serious or comic commentaries on the text. . .

Jed Perl (2021). Authority and Freedom. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

In short, pastoralists continue to illuminate to our advantage what others persist texting as “the margins.” How so I’ve tried to detail throughout this packet of entries on pastoralists and pastoralisms.

Pastoralism on the offense, not just defended

–Pastoralists and their herds need to be defended against state depredations, private capture and encroachment, and livestock tarring by climate activists. I can also see the need for those defenders who believe “structural problems require structural solutions,” even when leaving “the low mean cunning” (their term, not mine) to others.

What I don’t understand is the comparative absence of discussion, with notable exceptions, of pastoralisms that are in need of no defense, given the double standards operating in the relevant literatures.

–Allow me a few examples:

  • We know dryland pastoralists have members sending back remittances from their urban areas of residence. But when was the last time you heard researchers ask of them, “Do you vote or not?”
    • Yet that question along with those related to party affiliation are asked all the time in progressive movements like the “new municipalism” (think struggles over housing in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, and Vienna).
    • Jihadists and inter-ethnic conflict in the Sahel have been more studied, I suspect, than these migrant struggles over better housing and care in the cities from which essential remittances are sent. Indeed, when was the last time you read something that started with the political lives of pastoralist households?
  • The literature on varieties of capitalism pretty well demonstrates capitalism is better understood as “an assemblage of actors (both state and market), policies and people” (in contrast to a directed project of global reproduction and accumulation), How then could pastoralisms not be intertwined with capitalisms?
    • Pastoralisms have been and remain assemblages of actors (state and market), policies and people, a commercial intertwining that existed well before the advent of always-late capitalism and the more recent late-imperialism?
    • In fact, I’d bet there are cases where this intertwined rope called “an economy” is better understood as more pastoralist than capitalist.
  • And, just to make sure we are on the same page, that “capitalist” is very misleading when it obscures understanding the signal significance of the pastoralist part of said economy. Rather “the foundational economy” (FE) is the better term, not “capitalism” or “varieties of capitalism.”
    • “The FE comprises two parts,” according to researchers writing on cases in Sweden. “Material FE connects households to daily essentials and encompasses utilities (electricity, gas and water), transport and telecommunication infrastructure, food production and distribution, as well as private banking services. Providential FE includes a subset of activities providing welfare services (education, health and care) as well as systems of income maintenance.”
    • In the literature on foundational economies, what have been called the lifeline infrastructures not only drive regional economies; there wouldn’t be any foundational economy without them.
  • This means that to declare contemporary economics “capitalist,” as if by default, occludes the similarities that pastoralist economies have with other foundational economies across time and space.

–The list could go on, but so what? I for one would wish as much time were spent on these myopic standards as has been spent on the crises of pastoralists!

Principal sources

https://academic.oup.com/joeg/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jeg/lbac027/6759701 [foundational economy]

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0308518X221130080 [capitalisms as assemblages]

Thinking infrastructurally about rangeland carrying capacity

–The key problem in my view with the notion of “rangeland carrying capacity” is the assumption that it’s about livestock. The notion wants you to conjure up livestock shoulder-to-shoulder on a piece of land and then ask you: How could this not be a physical limit on the number of livestock per unit of land? You can’t pack anymore on it and that has to be a capacity constraint. Right?

Wrong. Livestock numbers on a piece of land are not a system. The number of pipes, rods and valves are not a nuclear power plant. Yes, livestock systems that provide continuous and important services (like meat, milk, wool. . .) also have limits. But these limits are set by managing physical constraints, be it LSU/ha or not. More, this management combines with managing other constraints like access to markets, remittances for household members abroad, nearby land encroachment, and much else.

Can herders make management mistakes? Of course. That is why pastoralists-to-pastoralists learning is so important.

From this perspective, it’s not “rangeland carrying capacity” we should be talking about, but “rangeland management capacity”. Or better yet, “rangeland management capacities,” as there is not just one major type of pastoralism, but many different pastoralist systems of production and provision of livestock-related services.

–There are other rangeland-related points as well, including

No system, not even large critical infrastructures, can run 24/7/365 at 100% capacity and be reliable, and pastoralist systems are no different. This means comparing pastoralist livestock systems to some kind of “optimized” grassland ranching or intensive dairy production is ludicrous if only because the latter is more likely to headed to disaster anyway.

Indigenous populations and their land rights are now taken by progressives as an essential part of democratic struggles (and not just in the Americas). But where are pastoralists holding livestock and claiming their land rights in the literature on this indigeneity?

We hear about the need to move infrastructure change away from powerful actors towards more inclusive low-carbon futures. But where is the focus on pastoralists already practicing such futures? We hear so much about the methane contributions of livestock to global warming, but what about the reverse climate risks associated with curtailing pastoralism and in doing so its pro-biodiversity advantages?

Recasting national policies for pastoralist development

I propose to categorize policies according to their intended goal into a three-fold typology: (i) compensation policies aim to buffer the negative effects of technological change ex-post to cope with the danger of frictional unemployment, (ii) investment policies aim to prepare and upskill workers ex-ante to cope with structural changes at the workplace and to match the skill and task demands of new technologies, [and] (iii) steering policies treat technological change not simply as an exogenous market force and aim to actively steer the pace and direction of technological change by shaping employment, investment, and innovation decisions of firms.

R. Bürgisser (2023), Policy Responses to Technological Change in the Workplace, European
Commission, Seville, JRC130830 (accessed online at https://retobuergisser.com/publication/ecjrc_policy/ECJRC_policy.pdf)

This epigraph focuses specifically on the how to think about policies that better respond to effects of automation on displacing workers.

Please re-read the epigraph and then undertake the following thought experiment.


Imagine it is pastoralists who are being displaced from their usual herding workplaces, in this case by land encroachment, sedentarization, climate change, mining, or other exogenous factors.

The question then becomes what are the compensation, investment and steering policies of government, among others, to address this displacement. That is, where are the policies to: (1) compensate herders for loss of productive livelihoods, (2) upskill herders in the face of eventually losing their current employment, and (3) efforts to steer the herding economies and markets in ways that do not lose out if and where new displacement occurs?

The answer? With the odd exception that proves the rule, no such national policies exist.


Yes, yes, of course there are the NGO, donor project, and local department trying to work along these lines. But one has to ask at this point in development history whether their existence is the excuse government uses for avoiding having to undertake such policies, regionally or nationally.


It seems to me that a more productive exercise is to ask: How would various pro-pastoralist interventions be classified: as compensatory, as investment, and/or as steering?

Stopping or reversing the displacement, so as not to need the threefold strategies in the first place, appears to the preferred option.

But let’s just assume that would be about as successful as reversing automation and technological change has been.

It seems to me then that many of the pro-pastoralist interventions fall under the rubric of “steering policies”. The aim is to keep pastoralists who are already there, there–and in the process better off. Better veterinary measures, paravets and mobile teachers that travel with the herding households, real-time marketing support, mobile health clinics, restocking programs as and when needed, better water point management and participation, and the like are offered up as ways to improve herding livelihoods in the arid and semi-arid lands.


Fair enough, but clearly not far enough, right?

For where are the corresponding compensation and investment policies?

Where, for example, are the policy interventions for improving and capitalizing on re-entry of remittance-sending members back into pastoralism once they return home? Where are the national policies to compensate farmers for not encroaching further on pastoralist lands, e.g., by increasing investments on the agricultural land they already have? Where are the national (and international) policies that recognize keeping the ecological footprint of pastoralist systems is far less expensive than that of urban and peri-urban infrastructures?

Their “wastelands” are not our proleptic ruins


Proleptic ruins treat future events as if they doomed us to ruin. “Proleptic” differs from “predicted” or “forecasted” in that the exact nature of ruination has not been foretold nor has the range of expected devastation been hazarded. “Anticipated” is a close synonym, but I want to avoid the assumption that anticipation typically brings with it, namely: One can prepare for ruin in ways other than fleeing.

Examples of proleptic ruins are common. People move out of floodplains and earthquake zones without having to experience either. Since we already know of cases where people have had to move because of rising sea levels, it takes no imagination to think many more coastal residents are going to do the same.

Proleptic ruins have of course been around for a very long time. We don’t need the climate emergency to remind us of the blasted heath, i.e., that piece of land damaged or destroyed by extreme cold, heat, wind or some such. More, wastelands–as barren, empty or unusable as you get–have existed since time immemorial as benchmarks to compare against.


But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Those wastelands were never ruins. All manner of human and more-than-human activity was underway.

Which raises the question: Take wastelands out of proleptic ruins and what are you left with?


The question turns acute, when one recognizes that “wastelands” are more than physical in the popular imagination. TV was famously called a wasteland, and neoliberalism has laid waste not just to conventional media but everything else considered important. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” etc. etc.

But to counter with the obvious, “When hasn’t it been thus?,” misses or dismisses all local and unique successes. Worse, my retort aligns itself with those who say, well, if it weren’t neoliberalism, wider forces are still wasting us including racism, sexism, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, populism, consumerism, extractivism, productivism, along with financialization, urbanization, monetization, commodification, globalization, etc. etc. etc.


So, what are you left with when taking out all these wastelands from your proleptic ruins?

Well, one very major thing left are the really-existing households and herds in the arid and semi-arid lands of the world that have been and continue to be called wastelands but which were never any such thing.

So often said to be: Nothing there that could be or needs to be there. When in fact the reality for those who are still there–pastoralists, farmers, others–has been the obverse: For them (and so many others on this planet), nothing is everything that doesn’t happen at this very moment and in the next steps ahead.

Try to make a government policy for that.

–For a different but overlapping perspective, see: Paprocki, K. (2022): Anticipatory ruination. The Journal of Peasant Studies (accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2022.2113068)

A missing middle in flexibility and adaptability: herders’ improvisation

–Return to an old resource management typology. Its two dimensions are: (1) fixed resources/mobile resources and (2) fixed management/mobile management.

The repeated example of the mobile resources/mobile management cell has been pastoralist (nomadic/transhumant) herders. Fortunately, the truth of the matter has always been more usefully complicated.

From the standpoint of sustaining biodiversity across wide rangelands, some pastoralist systems are examples of mobile management (e.g., of grazers or browsers) with respect to fixed resources (different patches at different points and times along routes or itineraries). Indeed, this may be occurring because fixed on-site biodiversity management is too costly to undertake, if not altogether unimaginable otherwise.

–Now ratchet up the complexity. What had been mobile management must now be fixed; and what had been a fixed resource or asset now must be mobile.

Example: During the COVID lockdown, some pastoralists created informal bush markets at or near their kraals as alternatives to the now-restricted formal marketplaces. So too do formal associations of pastoralists participating in distant conference negotiations or near-by problem-solving meetings exemplify a now differently fixed resource exercising now differently-mobile management.

It’s good to remember that not only government can (and should) make their fixed-point resources–formal markets or social protection infrastructure–mobile.

–So what?

Terms, like “adaptable” and “flexible,” are not nuanced enough to catch the case-specific improvisational property of that adaptability and flexibility in undertaking shifts from fixed to mobile or mobile to fixed.

More formally, being skilled at real-time improvisation is what we also must expect of pastoralists whose chief system control variable is their real-time adjustments in grazing/browsing intensities (which can of course include adjusting livestock numbers through off-take).

Things we don’t hear in pastoralist development or, Why not these utopian imaginaries rather than others?

1. Government agencies and donors working in pastoralism call for their being overhauled so as to meet pastoralist needs faster and more effectively. (“The C.D.C. director, Rochelle Walensky,. . .called for her agency to be overhauled after an external review found it had failed to respond quickly and clearly to Covid.”)

2. Pastoralists explain their responses to government and donor initiatives this way: “We corrected a few things on the ground. But don’t worry. Our job, after all, is to protect you.”

3. Pastoralists, government and donors agree that, when it comes to pastoralist development, answers are known. Making streets safer and more reliable, for example, is known to include: “stricter enforcement of speed limits, seatbelt mandates and drunken-driving laws; better designed roads, especially in poorer neighborhoods; more public transit; and further spread of safety features like automated braking.” In like matter, making pastoralist development more reliable and safer is known to include:. . . ”

4. Researchers on pastoralism agree that the people and areas they study are marginal and marginalized usefully. In point of fact, pastoralisms provide the only valid commentary on the center where researchers, among so many others, are routinely found. As with earlier commentators:

The illuminators [of medieval manuscripts] enriched the margins of the page, conventionally an empty space, with figurative, vegetal or abstract elements. Sometimes the marginal images were merely decorative, at other times they functioned rather like visual footnotes or sidebars, as serious or comic commentaries on the text. . .

Jed Perl (2021). Authority and Freedom. Alfred A. Knopf: New York

5. We refuse to play the game conjured up by analyses that first begin with tables and numbers of livestock. The follow-on question, almost immediate, is who owns the livestock and, sooner than a blink of the eye, we are down to: What about the old woman with 5 goats or fewer?

As if to ask: What are you going to do about these inequalities? And leaving us hardly any time to reply that, well, the most ethical thing in response is to see if there are more effective ways to think about this problem than one starting with livestock owned and held. Could it be that productive answers are to be offered up from really-existing contexts of complexity than what we am pressed to offer from our armchairs?

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