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Herding Decision Making in the Commons of Southern Ethiopia

Chuan Liao

Arizona State University, USA

The practice of extensive herding through camp relocation allows pastoralists to track greener pastures while redistributing grazing pressure throughout the landscape, but the lack of intensive and continuous monitoring data on large-scale livestock movement results in a limited understanding of this important practice. This paper takes an integrated approach to understanding pastoral mobility and modeling extensive herding. The analysis is based on Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking of fifty-eight cows, as well as surveys, participatory mapping, and interviews with pastoralists in five study sites in southern Ethiopia. Linear mixed-effect models are used to examine the community- and household-level determinants of extensive herding. The findings suggest that resource conditions, resource users, and socioeconomic context play significant roles in affecting the practice of extensive herding. Compared to household herd size, community-level factors largely determine the feasibility of extensive herding. Future pastoral policymaking needs to facilitate the creation and maintenance of favorable herding context to encourage large-scale mobility as an adaptation strategy in the arid and semiarid environment.

Prise de décision en troupeau dans les communes du sud de l'Éthiopie

Chuan Liao

Arizona State University, États-Unis

La pratique de l’élevage extensif grâce à la relocalisation des camps permet aux pasteurs de suivre des pâturages plus verts tout en redistribuant la pression de pâturage à travers le paysage, mais le manque de données de surveillance intensive et continue sur les mouvements de bétail à grande échelle se traduit par une compréhension limitée de cette pratique importante. Cet article adopte une approche intégrée pour comprendre la mobilité pastorale et modéliser un élevage extensif. L’analyse est basée sur le suivi du système de positionnement mondial (GPS) de cinquante-huit vaches, ainsi que sur des enquêtes, une cartographie participative et des entretiens avec des pasteurs dans cinq sites d’étude dans le sud de l’Éthiopie. Des modèles linéaires à effets mixtes sont utilisés pour examiner les déterminants au niveau de la communauté et du ménage de l’élevage extensif. Les résultats suggèrent que les conditions des ressources, les utilisateurs des ressources et le contexte socioéconomique jouent un rôle important dans la pratique de l’élevage extensif. Comparés à la taille du troupeau des ménages, les facteurs au niveau communautaire déterminent en grande partie la faisabilité d’un élevage extensif. Les futures politiques pastorales doivent faciliter la création et le maintien d’un contexte d’élevage favorable pour encourager la mobilité à grande échelle en tant que stratégie d’adaptation dans l’environnement aride et semi-aride.

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5 Responses

  1. I enjoyed your presentation very much as I am also interested in pastoral mobility and the governance of common-pool resources. I have a few comments and questions.

    First, your research shows that extensive pastoral mobility is better for livestock because they spend less time traveling and more time grazing and that it is better for pastures because the grazing pressure is distributed over a wider area. However, you describe mobility as a response to environmental stress, rather than as a response to environmental opportunity. The question is whether herds are moving away from areas with lower NDVI values and/or moving to areas with higher NDVI values? Are pastoralists moving away or moving too? Framing matters.

    Second, I would love learn more about the perceived boundaries that you described in the introduction. Have you written about this in your publications?

    Finally, I like the idea of planning for resource sharing between communities in order to support extensive pastoralism. I would love to learn more about that too.

    1. Hi Mark: Thanks for your interest and ideas on possible future research topics.
      1) I should clarify that camp relocation is a response to environmental stress on rangelands close to base camp locations. Yes, framing matters, and we can also say that pastoralists relocate to seasonal grazing sites to pursue better environmental opportunities there. While NDVI is generally used as an indicator grazing value on rangelands, the highly encroached rangelands by different woody species makes it tricky to use NDVI. Open grassland or savanna can have lower NDVI but higher grazing value than encroached bushes.
      2) Other than the herding decision making paper in which I used the perceived boundaries as a predictor variable, I haven’t written one specifically about this topic. Certainly something to do in the future.
      3) From our GPS tracking data, we do see one household relocate to the outskirts of a neighboring community to access their well during drought. I will further explore such evidence of resource sharing.

      1. Regarding perceived cf. constructed/materialised boundaries, this is a super interesting issue. Check out Barry Smith’s work on fiat and bona fide boundaries (e.g. Phil and Phen Research 2000); I have also published on a deep time approach to this matter in Current Anth and J of Cog and Cult (both from 2014).

  2. The use of GPS is interesting in understanding herding patterns. What was the response by the herders when you were presenting the findings to them?

    1. Thanks for your comment. We translated those maps into the local language to make them relevant. Different people had different different responses. Some young herders who went to school were better at interpreting those maps. Older herders need more explanation to understand. Our hope is that the young herders can help other community members for interpretation, and facilitate discussion on rangeland management.

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