Overstocking the range: A critical analysis of the environmental science of Sahelian pastoralism uri icon


  • There has been little experimental work in West Africa that distinguishes grazing from climate effects on rangeland vegetation. In the absence of such Knowledge, the recurrence of boom-bust cycles in livestock populations, along with the seemingly degraded state of semiarid range, have been used to support notions of the inevitability of overgrazing. Regional stocking rates are used as indicators of degradation potential. I argue that the persistent reliance by environmental analysts on carrying-capacity models oversimplifies range ecology and excludes social processes from causal analyses. Both regional stocking rates and the seasonality of livestock distributions should be treated as proximate factors, each affected by biophysical and socioeconomic conditions. The common assumption that the size of local livestock populations is primarily affected by bioclimatic factors result from a misunderstanding of the pastoral economy. A case study examines the underlying causes of the cattle population boom in the Maasina during the 1960s. Rather than being solely a biological phenomenon, growth in the Maasina cattle population resulted from the historical confluence of inoculation programs with greater local demand for covert accumulation brought about by the changing social relations between the FulBe and the RimayBe

publication date

  • 1993