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Living Off Uncertainty: The Intelligent Animal Production of Dryland Pastoralists

This article argues that despite important advances following the challenge to equilibrium-based models in range ecology, pastoralism is still largely seen as a coping strategy that allows herders to get along with an ‘inadequate’ resource base. This stance can be traced to a long-established approach in the disciplines that inform pastoral development planning to rely on analytical tools based on standard statistics and average values. However, pastoralism is better understood as a sui generis production system, that deliberately exploits the transient concentrations of nutrients that represent the most reliable feature of dryland environments; a system geared at maximising the production of economic value while stabilising its performance in environments where ‘uncertainty’ is harnessed for production. It is argued that as average values and standard statistics fail to capture non-uniform distribution, they should not uniquely or uncritically inform pastoral development planning.