Accepted paper:

'Quality over Quantity' Rhetoric in Pastoral Development: Stocking Decisions and 'Rationality' in a Risky Climate


Annika Ericksen (University of Arizona)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing from research in Niger and Mongolia, this paper focuses on "quality over quantity" rhetoric, which development practitioners use to encourage pastoralists to decrease the size of their herds in order to increase the fitness of the remaining livestock.

Paper long abstract:

Destocking is purported to lead to greater resilience to droughts in Niger and to winter disasters, called zud, in Mongolia. In addition, proponents of destocking suggest that fewer but healthier animals are more economically productive, in terms of meat, dairy, wool, etc., than larger numbers of animals that are unhealthy due to competition for scarce resources. The paper examines destocking rhetoric and related development strategies in relation to tragedy of the commons theory and mutable conceptions of economic rationality. According to Hardin's classic theory, pastoralists who contribute to 'overstocking' the range can be considered 'rational,' if unwise, since it makes sense for individuals to prioritize their own short-term interests when resources are open to all. Despite the popularity of this logic among policy makers, in practice, pastoralists who appear to seek to 'maximize' the size of their herds on open range are treated by development practitioners and administrators not as rational actors but as irrational. A development priority in both Niger and Mongolia is to lead pastoralists to understand that the 'appropriate' response to climate risk is to sell livestock, thus decreasing grazing pressure, and then use the money to buy supplemental fodder for the remaining animals. The persistent view of pastoralists' herd management as 'irrational' derives in large part from stereotypes of 'backward' nomads, whose decisions are supposedly culturally determined and pragmatically unsound.

panel MMM12
Lost in mutation: pastoral development rhetoric of the third millennium (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)