Sun, Xiaogang, Naoki Naito (Eds.) (2007): 'Mobility, Flexibility and Potential of Nomadic Pastoralism in Eurasia and Africa.'

Article excerpt

Sun, Xiaogang, Naoki Naito (eds.) (2007) 'Mobility, Flexibility and Potential of Nomadic Pastoralism in Eurasia and Africa.' Kyoto, Japan: Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS), Special Paper No. 10.

The aim of an international workshop entitled, "Mobility, Flexibility and Potential of Nomadic Pastoralists in Eurasia and Africa" was to examine how pastoralists in a variety of regions have responded to modernization. The volume produced from this workshop includes twelve papers, with six entries on pastoral groups in East Africa, four contributions from Asia and two commentaries as well as a preface. A folio of colour images taken by some of the authors is included. This volume grapples with the question of whether nomadism is an anachronism--particularly amidst rapid socio-economic transformations and climate change--or whether nomads deserve a place at the table of modernity. Thus, the authors all take up different aspects of the questions: "How are pastoral systems functioning? How do development interventions affect pastoral groups? Will nomads be able to successfully adapt in the future?" With these questions in mind, the volume's authors concern themselves with factors currently exerting powerful influences on pastoral societies including: population growth, the encroachment of agriculture and wildlife reserves on grazing land, infiltration of the monetary economy, increasing inequality between rich and poor, rural to urban labour migration; and the insecurity caused by conflicts. While this list is not specific or unique to pastoralists, the volume raises interesting comparative possibilities about nomads' characteristic adaptations to these challenges.

Maria Fernandez-Gimenez and her co-authors explore the effects of climate, economy and land policy on contemporary mobility patterns in Mongolia. Surveys conducted between 1995 and 2006 indicated that mobility is still a key strategy for many Mongolian herders and that several metrics of mobility have actually increased since 1999. Still, this contribution can perhaps be cited for an overemphasis on mobility as determined by environmental factors (e.g., winter storms) even as economic (e.g., access to markets) and political (e.g., government sedentarization programs) factors impinge strongly upon mobility among pastoralists. This is, in part, a function of the difficulties associated with determining how many households have moved permanently to administrative centers, leaving herding, and how many continue to maintain herds by supporting two households. The authors also note that mobility is linked to socio-economic status with concomitant differentiation among herders resulting in large-scale, specialist 'yield-oriented' pastoral operations which produce for the market, take advantage of economies of scale, sometimes specialize by species and generally move longer distance in contrast to smaller-scale household 'subsistence-oriented' producers (Sneath 1999). Yet even as climate and environmental conditions remain important drivers of herders' land use and mobility, global forces increasingly influence these patterns today. For instance, herd composition in Mongolia has changed in response to demand for cashmere, while the global market demand for minerals has influenced land use and resource access as a result of increased and unregulated mining. In fact, cashmere has become a key factor in the globalization and regionalization of pastoral economies across Eurasia. Despite these changes, the authors assert the five key strategies--mobility, diversity, flexibility, reciprocity and grazing reserves--traditionally used to manage grazing in Mongolia have remained resilient. Unfortunately, comparative questions about whether or not these strategies are applicable to the other contemporary pastoral systems are insufficiently developed in the volume as a whole.

An obvious strength of this and several other articles in the volume is the inclusion of chronological data on the same pastoral populations. …