Pastoralism, sustainability, and marketing. A review

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Pastoralism is a highly traditional production system for livestock and livestock products. Under the surface of a seeming stability a variety of pressures of the modern time all seem to accumulate to put the sustainability of the pastoralist production system to the test. Population growth and growing demand formeat, put pressure on the natural resources used by pastoralists because the grazing lands that are saved from encroachment or conversion into arable lands, may be overexploited. Changing climatic conditions, such as frequent droughts, put even more pressure on the system.With so many challenges coming together, it is important to analyze whether pastoralism in itself can be considered a sustainable production system that in principle can cope with these challenges and thus deserves support from policy, or whether the pastoralist production system has fundamental misfit with today’s challenges, in the sense that it is detrimental to the world’s scarce resources. The scientific literature on pastoralism provides an important entry point to such fact finding. This article therefore analyzes 125 recent research contributions to the literature on pastoralism on their inferences as to whether pastoralism is a sustainable production system for livestock-based products. The results show substantial consensus that pastoralism is seen as a sustainable production system for livestock and livestock products (78 of the 125 studies contain sustainability inferences, of which 58 infer that the pastoral system is sustainable, while only 2 come to a negative conclusion). A total of 18 studies point however at conditional factors. The main factors that can potentially explain differences in the conclusions on whether pastoralism is sustainable pertain among others to the domain of sustainability, including abiotic and biotic factors representing the planet dimension, mobility, adaptation, indigenous knowledge, institutions and population growth as people-related factors, and economic contribution as a profitrelated factor. Other factors include the ecosystem and land use types, policy instruments, constant/flexible stocking, controlled/mobile grazing, and diversification policies, as well as academic discipline, research methods and geographic focus. A quantitative test shows that consideration of adaptation, institutions and mobility are most strongly related to the sustainability inference. Such studies suggest that pastoralists that can adapt to external conditions, that are supported by effective institutions and that can exercise mobility, are more likely to behave sustainably. We argue that marketing can help to meet these conditions. Because the role of marketing has received scant attention in the context of pastoralists and because it has often been narrowly interpreted as market integration, we further explain the potential role of marketing in sustainable pastoralism. The role of marketing comes down to a strategic competence that enables pastoralists to create value for target buyers with whom they may develop economic and social relationships that can be favorable for both parties. Because it is likely to stabilize prices and generate a long-term perspective on value creation, and therefore on resource use,marketing can contribute to a pastoral systemthat supports people, planet, and profit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-92
Number of pages18
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • group ranch subdivision
  • south-africa
  • northern kenya
  • land-use
  • rangeland management
  • climate-change
  • resource-use
  • east-africa
  • property-rights
  • communal areas

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