Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Meaningful Learning for Resilience-Building among Mongolian Pastoralists

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Meaningful Learning for Resilience-Building among Mongolian Pastoralists

Article excerpt


Two pairs of herding communities with and without formal community-based rangeland management experience were studied to understand how the resilience of pastoral communities is influenced by their ability to combine different knowledge types for learning. The two types of communities differed in number, use and integration of existing knowledge types. Challenges in knowledge integration for learning occur when outside knowledge carriers present their information to herders without relating it to prior knowledge systems. When they establish trusted relationships and meaningful communication with herders, one-way knowledge exchanges are avoided, stimulating equitable, inclusive and durable integration of various knowledge systems essential for social-ecological resilience building.

Keywords: Mongolia, herders, traditional knowledge, resilience


Social-ecological systems in Mongolia have changed dramatically over the past century, undergoing many political and socio-economic transformations. After the people's socialist revolution in 1921, the Mongolian People's Republic was founded in 1924. Following the first unsuccessful attempt to collectivize animal husbandry in the early 1930s, actual collectivization started in the 1950s and lasted until the democratic transition in the early 1990s, when all state collectives were dismantled and state-owned livestock were privatized. In the face of these changing political regimes and institutional and administrative structures, Mongolian pastoral social-ecological systems have survived, demonstrating dynamic and self-organizing adaptive behaviour. For example, despite changes in hierarchical institutional forms from feudal to collective, pastoral livestock herding has remained a viable economic practice (Humphrey and Sheath 1999). However, current government policies and market dynamics combined with changes in climate and environmental conditions challenge the resilience of pastoral social-ecological systems in Mongolia.

Resilience has been defined as the capacity of a system to withstand or absorb disturbance and to reorganize while undergoing change, but retain its essential function, structure, identity and feedbacks (Holling 2001; Walker and Salt 2006). In a world where the environmental, socio-economic and political contexts of pastoralism are rapidly changing, it is important to understand the factors that enable pastoral systems to respond constructively to change without losing their fundamental functions and characteristics.

Folke et al. (2003) propose that one of the keys to resilient social-ecological systems is the capacity to combine different types of knowledge for learning. According to this proposition, knowledge integration allows natural resource users and other interest groups, such as government officials, agency experts and scientists, to learn together to explore uncertainties and events of complex ecosystems and their management. Resource user groups and interest groups have different perspectives about learning and doing (Sillitoe 1998; Kalland 2000; Ross et al. 2011); however, the ability to build on each other's knowledge is part of adaptive capacity and resilience (Folke et al. 2003).

This study explores one element of resilience-building and adaptive capacity in pastoral social-ecological systems. Rangeland ecosystems, with their livestock and herders, behave as complex adaptive systems that demonstrate resilience dynamics, including a nested hierarchical structure, cross-scale interactions, nonlinear processes and components that adapt to disturbances (Walker and Abel 2002). Walker and Janssen (2002: 724) argued that to manage such a complex adaptive system, it is important to 'provide the conditions under which the system, as whole, can learn and adapt'. To understand the complexity of social-ecological systems, Berkes (2008) suggests bringing knowledge systems together. …

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