Accepted paper:

Veterans of uncertainty. The art of matching variable inputs and processes in drylands food production


Saverio Kratli (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)

Paper short abstract:

Farming and pastoral systems in highly variable environments specialise in turning variability into a resource for food production. Development represents variability as an obstacle. With examples from the African drylands, this papers presents the case for understanding variability as an asset.

Paper long abstract:

Small-scale farming and pastoral systems which evolved in highly variable environments, developed ways of turning variability into a resource for food production. A basic strategy observed amongst drylands producers consists in interfacing input variability with variability embedded in their processes of production. This often means avoiding unfamiliar risk within a risk-taking strategy rather than avoiding risk in absolute terms. Dryland development policies and programmes continue to represent all variability as a disturbance to the environment and an obstacle to agriculture. Small-scale farming and pastoral systems, with their specialist processes embedding variability, are seen as barely hanging in against a hostile nature, or even part of the problem and therefore targets of corrective interventions aimed at introducing uniformity and stability. Important lessons, in view of the widespread increasing of variability as a consequence of climate change, are being missed out or lost, as drylands specialist livelihood systems are pushed into new forms of social inequality and increasingly unsustainable practices. Operationalising an alternative approach on variability requires a systematic review of the methodological infrastructure of drylands development, especially its assumptions about the normality of stability and uniformity. The need to update this legacy is a challenge for policy makers concerned with modernisation and resilience. When failing to do so, even increasing the rigour and intensity of data collection will not deliver a realistic representation of drylands producers. This contribution presents the case for understanding variability as an asset, with examples from farming and pastoral systems in the African drylands.

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Knowledge contest: global development and local survival