Fifty years of research on pastoralism at IDS

Published on 30 January 2020

Despite great efforts made to agree global goals for development, the world continues to be an uncertain, challenging environment for many people. This is true in some of the most challenging, marginal environments, where food and livelihoods rely on pastoralism – a way of life that revolves around people’s relationships with animals, often moving from place to place. Old traditions come up against new challenges, and there is much to learn from pastoralists’ response to uncertainties.

2020 sees the 50th anniversary of research on pastoralism at IDS. Over the course of the year, we are celebrating this half-century of work with a number of publications and events.

© Palden Tsering/PASTRES

A history of research on pastoralism

Over the past 50 years, pastoralists have continued to pursue well-established ways of life, as well as adapting to changes in financial systems, climate, technology, politics, borders and markets.

IDS began its research in 1970 with the commencement of a major PhD study by Jeremy Swift of the Tuareg people in northern Mali, up to the present day with  a major new European Research Council-funded initiative, the PASTRES (Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Resilience: Lessons from the Margins) programme.

PASTRES involves six new PhD studies – working in Amdo Tibet, China; Gujarat, western India; southern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, southern Tunisia and Sardinia, Italy – which all build on the IDS traditions of grounded field research in marginal pastoral areas.During the year, we will be publishing a bibliography of work undertaken by IDS fellows and PhD students, before, during and after their work at IDS. It is an impressive selection spanning all five decades. As with most IDS work it is a blend of academic contributions on big themes, and practical, operational engagements with policies and projects in different parts of the world. The geographic scope is wide: across Africa, Europe, China, India, Mongolia, among other places. Part of this research has been conducted by PhD students, through sustained fieldwork, and the bibliography has a special section with links to doctoral theses on pastoralism over the years.

Themes of IDS work highlighted in the bibliography include: Pastoral livelihoods; Pastoral production and marketing; Natural resources and the environment; Common property institutions and pastoral land tenure; Drought and disaster responses; Pastoral administration and development; Service provision in pastoral areas and Conflict and governance. Look out for the bibliography’s publication in early March.

New publications, events and online courses on pastoralism

In May, an online archive IDS Bulletin will be published with a newly-written introduction reflecting on the 50 years of work. This introduces the 13 articles in the special Bulletin written by both IDS researchers and partners from the 1980s onwards. These again reflect similar themes, with a major emphasis on understanding the complexities of pastoral settings through extended field studies on livelihoods, institutions and environmental and social dynamics.

For people interested in learning more, the PASTRES programme will be running a free online course on pastoralism in April 2020, discussing many of these themes, and linking to wider debates in development. The course was developed as part of the training of the newest group of PhD students to work at IDS on pastoralism, and has been designed to ensure it is free and simple to use for anyone who is interested. The course will be available online via the PASTRES website.

At the end of the year, a celebration event at IDS will acknowledge the contributions of Jeremy Swift and many others, both within and outside IDS, and the vital role of partnerships with other individuals and organisations that has made this work possible.

Engage with IDS’ work on pastoralism

To keep in touch with work on pastoralism at IDS, and the publications and events mentioned here, do sign up for the PASTRES newsletter, and follow what is happening on our blog, Twitter and Instagram.

Online course


Key contacts

Nathan Oxley

Impact Communications and Engagement Officer

+44 (0)1273 915826


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