The future of pastoral societies is by no means rosy, but is it hopeless? Should pastoral peoples bear the responsibility for their own alleged mismanagement of their environment? Since the 1990s, a new way of looking at the situation has become popular. This view asserts that the essence of dryland ecosystems is disequilibrium (e.g., Scoones, 1995). The advocates of this new range ecology have criticized the former equilibrium assumption of the “mainstream view” or “conventional wisdom,” suggesting that it does not account for the complex dynamics of dryland ecosystems. They have also argued that many development policies, such as those limiting livestock numbers and promoting land privatization and rangeland rotation, which are aimed at preventing environmental degradation and stabilizing pastoral production, have been based on the incorrect equilibrium assumption.
The alternative view of rangeland ecology demonstrates that pastoral peoples have complex indigenous knowledge of grazing management and opportunistic herding practices that have enabled them to survive under uncertain dryland conditions. To maintain pastoral strategies, the mobility of populations should be sustained. However, their mobility has been restricted because of land encroachment by farming, private ranches, and game reserves, policies designed to encourage sedentarization (e.g., digging wells, building social service facilities such as hospitals and schools, supplying famine relief food, and providing security), and the reinforcement of national and regional boundaries.
Pastoral mobility is not a mere adaptive strategy for raising livestock in dry areas. Because mobility is indispensable for pastoral production systems in dry environments of stochastic nature, pastoral people have developed concomitant social organizations, institutions, and behavioral patterns. For example, livestock management is generally handled by basic units of rather small-scale groups that make autonomous decisions. These units flexibly expand and contract depending on natural and social situations. Moreover, land use rights are not rigidly defined; thus at times of risk, people cross territorial boundaries to utilize land reciprocally.
However, it appears that these generalizations have not yet extracted the common characteristics of pastoral societies. That is, they are too descriptive and have not attained a high level of abstraction. The characteristics of social organizations and institutions that are closely tied to the mobility of nomadic pastoral peoples have been labeled as flexible, opportunistic, uncertain, complex, and contingency-based. These keywords are very important to examining pastoral societies. Fernandez-Gimenez and Le Febre (2006: 357) stated that social institutions that support mobility “are inherently subtle, flexible and contextual.” However, as these authors have expressed, we still have little understanding about the idiosyncrasies of pastoral societies.
To pursue these inquiries, ecological and anthropological studies should join forces and pool knowledge on various pastoral societies around the world. That is the central object of this volume. Most of the papers were presented at the workshop “Mobility, Flexibility, and Potential of Nomadic Pastoralism in Eurasia and Africa” held on 13 November 2006 at Kyoto University. This workshop was part of the symposium “Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries and Re-visioning Area Studies” held 9-13 November 2006 in the final year of the 5-year program “Aiming for Centers of Excellence [COE] of Integrated Area Studies” conducted by Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS) and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) of Kyoto University. The workshop on pastoralism was organized by young researchers and postgraduate students, namely SUN Xiaogang, NAITO Naoki, NAKAMURA Kyoko, and KAZATO Mari. SAGAWA Toru, ISHIMOTO Yudai, SHOJI Wataru, and SEKINE Yuri provided invaluable assistance in making the workshop possible. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Drs. Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, Jon Holtzman, and Martin Falkenstein for traveling so far to attend the workshop and for contributing articles to this volume. This publication was financed by the above-mentioned COE Program, “Aiming for COE of Integrated Area Studies.”
Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies,
Dyson-Hudson, N. 1985. Pastoral production systems and livestock development projects:
An East African perspective. In (M. M. Cernea, ed.) Putting People First, pp. 157-186.
Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Fernandez-Gimenez, M. E., and S. Le Febre 2006. Mobility in pastoral systems: Dynamic
flux or downward trend? International Journal of Sustainable Development and World
Ecology 13: 341-362.
Scoones, I. (ed.) 1995. Living with Uncertainty: New Directions in Pastoral Development in
Africa. Intermediate Technology Publications, London.