Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Economics of Mobile Pastoralism: A Global Summary

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Economics of Mobile Pastoralism: A Global Summary

Article excerpt


The World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism (WISP) recently commissioned a series of reviews on the economics of pastoralism. Eight regional desk studies were conducted: (1) Southern Africa and the Horn, (2) West Africa, (3) East Africa, (4) North Africa, (5) South America, (6) Asia, (7) the Middle East, and (8) Europe. The studies sought to identify the contribution of pastoralism to domestic and global markets, by gathering productivity indicators and market behaviour, and identifying indirect values and methodologies for analysing indirect values. This review is intended to add to the global understanding on the importance of mobile pastoralism as a form of productive and sustainable land management. By gathering information, the review highlights existing knowledge on the value of pastoralism, gaps in this knowledge, trends in pastoral economies, and policy options that can support rangeland economies most effectively. Presented here is a summary of the main points relating to economic valuation of mobile pastoralism.

Keywords: Global total economic valuation, mobile pastoralism


Mobile pastoralists are a large and significant minority, and often an ethnic minority, in many countries around the world. Precise figures are hard to come by, but when all types of mobility are considered, nomadic and transhumant pastoralists may number between 100 and 200 million people globally (FAO 2003). Mobile pastoralism is practised largely in the drylands and highlands of the world, from South America to the Central Asian steppes, and from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile pastoralism is a natural resource management system that provides a wide range of services and products that are nationally and globally valued, such as biodiversity, tourism and raw materials (Hesse and MacGregor 2006).

Despite a growing body of evidence that highlights the economic and environmental importance of pastoralism, few governments are ready to tolerate mobile livestock production and many pursue explicit or inadvertent policies of settlement. Yet the policy of sedentarization, particularly in the drylands, has been shown time and again to result in increased environmental degradation, reduced economic potential and eroded social and cultural systems (Niamir-Fuller 1999). Rainfall in the drylands is low and unpredictable, both in terms of when it comes and where it lands, so the only practicable management system is an opportunistic one: to go where the resources are, when they are available (Behnke et al. 1993). Most dryland ecosystems are ecologically grazing-dependent, and a reduction of mobility of graziers or exclusion of such graziers can result in a significant drop in biological diversity and reduced ecosystem health and stability (Bonkoungou 2003).

Mobile pastoralism has considerable economic value and latent potential in rangelands environments, and is central to the livelihoods and well-being of millions of the world's poor, but the state of knowledge regarding this sector of the economy is inadequate. This knowledge gap creates weaknesses in understanding what constitutes value in such systems. The policies that emanate from such misunderstanding continue to devalue mobile pastoralism, often at significant cost to national economies and to the natural environment.

The review undertaken by WISP focuses more on the production system than the producers: pastoralism rather than pastoralists. Not all pastoralism is mobile, but mobility is a common feature of many pastoral systems and for this review the focus is on the economics of mobile pastoral systems. The term pastoralism is used throughout this report to imply 'mobile pastoralism', although it is acknowledged that other forms of pastoralism exist. The review illustrates that this form of pastoralism is not something to be tolerated until a 'modern' alternative can be found to replace it: it is a sophisticated system of production and land management that has itself been modernized in many countries, and is irreplaceable in extensive environments. …

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