New IDS Bulletin reflects on 50 years of pastoralism

Published on 27 May 2020

Pastoralism is a way of life for millions of people around the world, farming livestock in wide geographical areas and moving with their herds. However, it can often been a neglected or marginalised subject. The new IDS Bulletin reflects on fifty years of research on pastoralism at IDS, bringing together 13 articles published between 1986 and 2017 addressing themes from pastoral livelihoods to climate change and conflict, together with a new introduction written by researchers who have been involved in research on pastoralism at IDS from 1970 to today.

Which way for pastoral development?’ Camels in Isiolo, Kenya
Which way for pastoral development?’ Camels in Isiolo, Kenya. Image: Ian Scoones

Over the past fifty years, pastoralism has changed massively, as development policies, infrastructures, societies, markets and environments have transformed. IDS work has attempted to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and to insert new understanding of pastoralism into development planning.

Pastoralists face many challenges from environmental, economic, and political change and there is much that we can all learn from pastoralists about responding to uncertainty.

Pastoralists can teach us about mobility and migration, flexible, adaptive approaches, living in marginal environments, dealing with financial volatility, managing infrastructures, and responding to disasters and disease outbreaks.

In the face of so many challenges some people question whether pastoral communities will survive the next fifty years, but Ian Scoones and co-authors of the introduction are confident that they will. They say: “The doomsayers in the past were proven wrong; and will be again. Indeed, the capacity to respond to today’s turbulent world, to make productive use of marginal environments, to make use of mobility to respond to heightened uncertainty, and to adapt and innovate are all features of pastoralism that can be important in meeting wider, global challenges.

“In 2070, perhaps development professionals will be looking to pastoralism, not as an archaic, ‘backward’ lifestyle, but as quintessentially modern and mobile, and the source of inspiration for addressing future uncertainties.”

Over fifty years, since Jeremy Swift started his PhD research, IDS research on pastoralism has challenged mainstream development thinking and practice, highlighting the importance of mobility and living with uncertainty. It continues to do so through its work with the PASTRES (Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins) programme through the ESRC-STEPS Centre.


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