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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

Range systems

A range system is the arrangement of soils, water, crops, livestock, labor, and other resources that the manager works according to personal preferences, capabilities, and available technologies. The major factors that influence productivity are determined by the characteristics and interactions of (1) the physical environment, (2) the economic environment, and (3) the social environment. Subsystems can be recognized within range systems. Interdependencies and interactions among resources (land, labor, crops, livestock, capital, water, wood), environment (climate, topography, soil, market), and humans (family members, relatives, friends, enemies) are essential components of the analysis.

The tools for the economic analysis of range systems are essentially the same as those for conventional farm management studies: budget analysis by gross margins or partial budgeting, linear programming, and discount procedures. However, when these methods are applied to a range system, the results have become more reliable, essentially because previously unidentified factors (inputs as well as outputs) are taken into account.

Little (1984), however, recommending the systems approach, also points to two major limitations: the assumption that the household is the proper unit of analysis, and the lack of focus on macro and micro linkages in problem solving. He therefore recommends a combination of household production and regional analysis.

Rangeland management systems have been divided into two major systems: nomadic and transhumant. Another distinction is based on land ownership - that is, pastoral nomadic, open-range ranching, and fenced ranching (Behke, 1984; Lawry et al., 1984). This distinction is addressed in a later section of this chapter.

Rangeland Farming Systems

Within the framework of range systems analysis, relatively little work has been done on livestock-related issues. Several reasons account for this neglect:

· Most of the research is done by crop-oriented agronomists and social scientists, neither of whom are familiar with livestock and therefore tend to overlook their role.
· Most of the livestock have multiple outputs (such as draft power, meat, milk, manure, hides, status) and non-cash inputs (especially for ruminants).
· A substantial part of these outputs is used within the household (for example, draft, manure), and therefore only indirectly contributes to the cash income of the pastoralist.
· The cash income from livestock activities often occurs at irregular intervals and on special occasions; it is easily if not intentionally overlooked during household surveys (Sabrani and Knipscheer, 1982). Even if scientists have explicitly focused on the livestock component of the range system, they have encountered a number of additional problems. Table 3-1 compares livestock-oriented farming systems research with crop-oriented farming systems. Factors such as genetic variability, differences in age and productivity, and problems with farmer cooperation, measurement of effects of input and output, and representativeness of prices have constrained the researcher in conducting on-farm trials (Amir et al., 1985). Consequently, rangeland research has proved to be time-consuming, logistically difficult, and expensive.

Major Features of Nomadic Systems

Nomadic systems are based on livestock, and the main source of income is derived from meat and animal by-products. Typical for nomadic systems is the annual migration of livestock and managers, for example, from highlands in the summer to plains in the winter, as in the arid and semiarid region of Asia. The influence of climate as well as culture is large, as families or tribes or both travel together, following the opportunities that the climate offers. In this kind of culture, crop farming is held in low regard. The crop component in nomadic production systems is virtually nonexistent. The linkages between livestock and other household activities are found in household processing (for example, wool and weaving) and fuel supply. Land use is characterized by grazing and collection of fuelwood, while the manure of the animals returns some of the nutrients to the soil. Although nomads generally are believed to be unconcerned with improvement of feed resources, it is also known that they are aware of the importance of future pasture availability and, therefore, are careful in their grazing practices (Camoens et al., 1985).

Major Features of Transhumant Systems

The critical difference between nomads and transhumants is the existence of a substantial crop-producing activity in the household system. Transhumants migrate seasonally with their flocks but have a permanent residence area. The crop enterprise is generally for subsistence, while the livestock component is geared for the market.

TABLE 3-1 Comparison of Characteristics of Crops and Livestock and Implications for On-Farm Testing

TABLE 3-1 Comparison of Characteristics of Crops and Livestock and Implications for On-Farm Testing

Situation with respect to:








Difficult to measure and control non experimental factors

Life cycle

Generally less than 4 months

Generally over one year

Increases costs likelihood of losing experi mental units

Life cycle

All units synchronized

Units seldom synchronized

Difficult to find comparable units


Only grain and/or tuber and residue

Multiple ouputs, mest, hides, milk manure, power

Difficult to measure or evaluate treatment effect




Difficult to evaluate input or outputs

Experimental unit size

Small divisible

Large nondivisible

Increases cost risk to cooperate

Producer attitude

Impersonal taboos

Personal cull, castrate towards

Difficult to product

Management variability



Difficult to isolate treatment effect

Observation units



Large statistical variability

SOURCE: Bernsten et al., 1983.

Climate and culture play dominant roles in transhumant systems, comparable to those of the nomadic systems. Because of the crop activities, some of the land is privately owned (or rented). Some of the large ruminants are used for draft purposes, but the application of manure provides a linkage between the livestock and the crop component of this farming system.

The common feature of both the nomadic and the transhumant farming systems is the mobility of the households. This strategy to meet the variability in the physical environment is associated with unstable control of resources, notably land and water, and difficulties of planning herd size and herd movements.


The three types of land ownership are communal, modified communal, and exclusive (Lawry et al., 1984). Exclusive land tenure (private ownership or lease) has been seen by some as a solution to overgrazing. Overgrazing in turn is believed to find its economic rationale in the "tragedy of the commons": the individual herdsman has no economic incentive to reduce the number of animals as long as there is free access to communal land and water. Although assignment of grazing rights is advocated as a solution (Doran et al., 1974; Jarvis, 1980), experience has not yet shown that tenure reform is an effective policy instrument (Lawry et al., 1984, p. 247). One of the problems is that stock limitations specified in leases are almost never enforced. There is also growing evidence that pastoralists are very aware of the need for rangeland conservation and will act accordingly (National Research Council, 1986).

Narrowly related to the issue of land ownership is that of access to water. Because moisture is the overriding limiting factor in pastoral management, access to water is crucial. In many cases, control of water supply implies de facto control of land use. Water sources can be classified according to ownership in a similar way. Other classifications are made according to the technical operations (including boreholes, dams, wells) or size.