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close this bookThe Improvement of Tropical and Subtropical Rangelands (BOSTID)
close this folderPart I
close this folderThe economic context
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentRange systems
View the documentThe basis of range economics
View the documentProject analysis
View the documentDetermining costs and benefits
View the documentResource evaluation
View the documentMarket price determination
View the documentReferences


The previous chapter dealt with the behavioral characteristics of groups of people living on, or using, arid and semiarid lands. This chapter focuses on the economic behavior of the individual or the individual household.

Economic analysis of pastoral management practices has proved difficult for several reasons. First, many analysts have a tendency to consider the household as one homogeneous decision-making unit, with the "head" of the household as the decision-making director. In fact, households are heterogeneous and not always clearly defined, and decision-making is generally delegated to a large number of individual household members who may not share the same interests. Surveys that used the (male) family head as the sampling or observation unit have therefore yielded incomplete or biased data, leading to biased conclusions.

Second, many studies have limited the focus of the analysis to one aspect of household activities - only land management or only animal performance, for example. These single-commodity approaches fail to incorporate interactions among various household enterprises. Therefore, the predictive value of the analysis for household behavior is low.

Third, any economic analysis is based upon the identification of determinants and their impact. Even when successful in identifying important factors, allocating values ("impact") to these factors has proved extremely difficult. In resource-poor environments such as arid rangelands, the assessment of values is highly time- and location specific. Not only do values vary over time and space, but also among individuals, households, tribes, and generations. The cost (negative value) of soil degradation will be felt more by future generations than by present ones (who might be causing the degradation).

Fourth, and related to the third point, is the difficulty in assessing the social costs and benefits (as opposed to the private values). Communal grazing is believed to occur with virtually no cost to the herders, but with possible social costs (in the case of overgrazing) to the society as a whole. In the same vein, the long-term costs are not necessarily the same as the short-term costs. This problem is aggravated by the fact that the life span of range management projects is generally limited to 10 years or less, even in projects that attempt to deal with long-term problems, such as desertification and erosion. Another example of social costs is the negative effect that a project might have on resources or persons outside the project are a . For example , the development of a pocket of highly productive rangeland for crop cultivation might have a negative impact on the usefulness of the surrounding low-quality rangeland because during a drought period cattle would not have access to a highly productive forage source (Sanford, 1983). Other social costs or benefits include the impact of interventions on employment and equity.

Finally, we cannot overlook the fact that many projects have failed for reasons other than inadequate economic analysis. For example, biological scientists and technicians have often provided projects with short-term, single-commodity technical input-output relationships that have contributed to illusionary expectations of possible changes in management behavior.

For some time, pastoralists have therefore been labeled "irrational," but this allegation has been refuted by a growing number of case studies. Cattle portfolio models developed in industrial countries have found useful applications in pastoral situations (Jarvis, 1980; Ariza-Nino and Shapiro, 1984), and elements of African and Asian range management systems are finding application in industrialized countries (National Research Council, 1984).