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close this bookEcology in Development: A Rationale for Three-dimensional Policy (UNU, 1984, 59 pages)
close this folder3. Illustratory
close this folderII. Pastoralism on the iranian plateau
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe case of Iran
View the documentThe case of Afghanistan

(introductory text...)

The case of Iran
The case of Afghanistan

The arid and semi-arid rangelands of the Iranian Plateau, in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, are also spectacular. But the spectacle lies in their vastness in relation to the sparseness of the resource they have to offer, not (as in the case of the Punjab) in their productivity per hectare. In fact the resource is important probably as much for its vastness as for its productivity. However, its present and potentially increased pastoral productivity is significant for the national economies, and for economic, sociocultural, and political development in each of the countries of the area. Furthermore, national as well as larger interests demand both that the vast steppe, semidesert and desert spaces that separate cities and smaller settlements in the region be domesticated, and that their sparsely distributed, isolated populations be integrated into national life and given the same opportunities as their fellow countrymen in the cities. The question here is one not so much of the potential for transformation of the resource as of the difference between rational use and nonuse.

The resource and the technology

Unlike the irrigation resource, which exists only in a limited number of well-defined locations, the pastoral resource is an uninterrupted expanse. Some 120 million hectares (out of 165 million) in Iran, 55 million (out of 65 million) in Afghanistan, and an only slightly smaller proportion in Pakistan are loosely classified as rangeland. Most of this vast area lies on the Plateau and, without irrigation, cannot be used efficiently for any food-production system other than pastoralism. If its pastoral use can be efficiently developed, not only will national and regional food production be greatly increased, but an extremely important contribution will be made to the socio-economic and cultural integration of significant sectors of the population of each country.

These areas have been used for pastoralism to varying extents for up to ten millennia, but pastoralism is accused of depleting the natural vegetation cover and causing permanent reduction in primary productivity, leading, in extreme cases, to erosion, sand accumultion, and dust storms that also affect the quality of urban life. It is often forgotten that, unlike the case of irrigation where most of the population has been imported, the existing pastoral population in these areas is - like the soil and vegetation an irreplaceable local resource. Over generations traditional pastoralists have built up an intimacy with the natural resource, and their use of it has modified it in such a way that they can now be said to be co-adapted. If this population were lost through migration, pastoral development would become considerably more difficult, because cultural values inhibit the movement of labour from the cities back out into rural areas, especially for shepherding. Both the natural and the human resource have suffered in recent decades from a negative attitude on the part of government, which has favoured farming to the detriment of pastoralism. This bias has led to the alienation of significant areas of rangeland for dry farming, even though pastoralism would be economically more productive in the long term.

The technology of traditional pastoralism has generally been assumed by development planners to be uncomplicated, and has received little attention. Anthropologists, who because of their choice of subject matter might have filled this gap, have in fact, with few exceptions, illuminated only the purely social and cultural aspects of the pastoral systems they have studied (See for example Barth 1961, Tapper 1979, and Equipe Ecologie et Anthropologie des Sociétés Pastorales 1979), without relating them to the problems and issues of ecology or, generally, even of development. Their work does, however, demonstrate that it is misleading to consider traditional pastoralism as a single form of land use. Our concept of pastoralism comprehends a wide range of variation of traditional practice. Within it we need to differentiate variation on a number of levels: natural conditions, availability and choice of suitable animal species and their ecology. market accessibility for their products, historical experience (especially of drought and war) and cultural values.

In order to make efficient use of natural grazing, which varies temporally and spatially according to season, topography and latitude, most forms of traditional pastoralism involve seasonal movement. The species of domesticated animal that pastoralism choose to herd (the usual range now is sheep, goats, and cattle; in most areas camels have largely disappeared) depends on natural conditions, on markets, and on cultural values. The decision to produce particular products depends on the same variables. Pastoralism - overall strategies, productivity, choice of products, and impact on the environment - should be evaluated in the light of these variables, which influence perception and attitudes to planned change. In the development record so far, however, recommendation of technologies or technological modifications has generally been based on considerations of alien experience of natural and economic variables, to the neglect of local experience and values. Although such recommendations may be valid for the natural resource if it were to be utilised by an alien population, they tend to be incompatible with the interests of the existing human resource - the people who run the risk of serious social, economic, and cultural disruption. This incompatibility would cause further decline in overall productivity.