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close this bookCERES No. 109 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
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View the documentCounting on sheep: historical perspective on a happy partnership
View the documentDevelopment policy: overestimating the capacity to change things

Counting on sheep: historical perspective on a happy partnership

Sheep and Man, by M. L. Ryder, London, Duckworth, 1983, 846 p., 55 pounds sterling.

Except for the dog, the first animals domesticated by man were the sheep and the goat, preceding pigs and cattle by several thousand years. The transformation, which occurred in Mesolithic southwest Asia around 9000 B.C. after a long and gradual process of growing association and mutual benefit, changed the course of human history. In fact, says M.L. Ryder, in introducing his monument to this happy partnership, "It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the history of man is the history of sheep."

Certainly, it is at least partly thanks to the sheep that the history of man has been recorded, since parchment was made from sheepskin. Sheep can supply man's needs for food, clothing, fuel, and skelter and have been known to carry loads and pull carts. Sheep bones have been made into many useful tools and other articles, including games and musical instruments; they have even been used in divination. Tents, as well as clothes, can be made from wool and felt, and dung and tallow give light and heat. The food products of the sheep include a great deal more then pecorino cheese and roast lamb. Sheepmilk yoghurt, well known in the Near East, has found its way to Western supermarkets. Scottish haggis, though of decidedly limited consumption, stands as testimony to the infinite culinary variety the sheep inspires. Most important, sheep meat is the only meat that is not taboo to any people in the world.

Infinite variety is the key to the study of sheep too. Merely to call Ryder's book interdisciplinary is to do it an injustice. It is a splendid melange of livestock husbandry (which the author teaches at the University of New England in Australia), biology, history, archaeology (both scientific and art historical), anthropology, sociology, history of religion, history of art, literature, geography, folklore, and linguistics. The author's purpose - "to combine evidence from all possible sources on the history of the association of sheep with man, and the changes in sheep wrought by him" - has resulted in a long and richly documented volume which aims specifically at providing historians and prehistorians with scientific background and scientists with a historical perspective. The curious researcher from almost any discipline will find some point of intersection of his own field of study with sheep, but the going can be a bit heavy for the casual reader with a few general questions, though he is likely to find at least a reference to what he wants in the 27-page bibliography. The reader whose only interest in sheep is that he likes to fall asleep counting them (another sheep-man connection) may want to study the fascinating section on counting systems, and before long he will be wondering whether he is dreaming of Merinos or Scottish Blackfaces.

The unique attribute. A book that attempts to cover a dozen millennia and six continents faces problems of organization. The principal unifying theme is the author's own research on ''changes in the fleece wrought by man", wool being "the truly unique attribute of sheep, of prime importance in the history of man from ancient Sumer to modern Australia." He has, accordingly, chosen to combine chronological, geographical, and topical approaches, none of which the reader should take too literally as there is much overlapping. The first of the three main divisions of the book, "Ancient Times", addresses the general biology of sheep (including what separates them from goats), prehistoric sheep and their diffusion, sheep of ancient civilizations, and sheep of the early Middle Ages. The second, "The Middle Ages to Recent Times", takes a geographical arrangement, with chapters on the Near East and North Africa; Asia, Eastern, Western, and Northern Europe; Africa; and the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. The third section, called "The Association of Man with Sheep" (but, of course, that is what the whole book is about), contains chapters on sheep husbandry, sheep products (these chapters are, forgivably, rather Britannocentric), and the "sheep legacy", by which is meant "the legacy of modern breeds and their biological relationships, as well as the legacy of sheep in folklore, language and literature". Since the same topics turn up in different parts of the book and the readership is heterogeneous (the anthropologist's vocabulary is not that of the livestock specialist), a glossary of special terms would have been extremely useful and would have made the size of the book less overwhelming, but the style is clear enough and most terms are defined at least once.

A detailed tabular list of illustrations gives type of fleece, horns, and face in nearly three hundred representations of sheep in Western and ancient Near Eastern art. There is, however, no list of the other graphic material, which includes scores of scientific illustrations and tables (for example, of breeds and their characteristics) and some representations of sheep in non-Western art, for example, cave paintings of fat-tailed sheep in Zimbabwe, a seventeenth-century Indian painting of a four-horned piebald ram, and an eighteenth-century Chinese mirror painting showing spotted "hair" sheep. There is also a wealth of illustrations (many of them photographs) of sheep breeds, sheep products, and sheep husbandry activities and equipment from all times and all places.

Nomads and transhumants. For Ceres readers, the most relevant section will probably be that on the Near East and North Africa, where the sheepman connection is most keenly felt, since "for centuries sheep have formed an integral part of the cultural and social heritage of the region's population." Seventy per cent of the sheep in the region are kept in either nomadic or transhumant husbandry, and the tiny percentage of the human population involved "gives no indication of the economic importance or the variety of systems employed. Far from being aimless wandering, nomadism forms a highly efficient human adaptation to adverse conditions." Ryder stresses the difference between nomadism and transhumance. Nomads have no fixed abode: "True nomadism can be defined as the regular movement of whole families with their livestock in constant search of grazing and water." The movement may be constant, but it is not random or aimless. Transhumants, on the other hand, have a fixed abode for part of the year and practise seasonal migration with their flocks, as between mountains and lowlands, "at set times, following established routes". Ryder is sympathetic to nomads, who have suffered prejudice and political opposition deriving from poor understanding of their way of life. He cites FAO studies that "have created the more enlightened view that nomadism is highly rational, taking human occupation into increasingly severe environments. It is not an unsatisfactory alternative to settled agriculture, nor is it a half-way stage to something better.... All in all nomadism represents a most remarkable human adaptation to extremely adverse environments."

It is all very well to call a book Sheep and Man, but women too have always had an active relationship with sheep and sheep products. The sobriquet "distaff side" did not attach itself to the female sex for no reason (Carthaginian women were buried with their spindles), but spinning and weaving are not the only jobs women have done. Ryder presents, but not systematically, evidence for girls' and women's work in many areas of sheep husbandry, including, of course, shepherding. (But not only: in the Middie Ages, as difficult and athletic an activity as shearing was performed by a "shepster", or female shearer.)

"Has the sheep come to the end of the road?" asks Ryder in his epilogue. The short answer is No: "... compared with other livestock the sheep has a greater potential for survival in difficult circumstances. It already requires a lower input in terms of energy and labour, and its role as a universal provider in harsh environments everywhere throughout history has been amply demonstrated. Sheep can live in marginal areas unsuitable for cultivation, ranging from sub-polar vegetation through temperate mountain pasture to the scrub of tropical deserts." Answers can be found for such problems as exist. That is, breeds raised mainly for meat could be made to produce more wool too. The caveat is that examples of breeds that have declined because they have proved uneconomic must be maintained "as a base from which to make developments which cannot be foreseen today."

Maureen B. Fant

Development policy: overestimating the capacity to change things

Room for Manoeuvre: An Exploration of Public Policy in Agriculture and Rural Development, edited by E.J. Clay and B. B. Schaffer. Gower, Farnborough, 1985, 209 p., $13.50.

Radical critique of development politics is not new. For a long time it was based primarily on Marxist or "dependency"-oriented studies, stressing the close relationship between the "development business" and the interests of the dominant classes in the industrialized countries. In the last couple of years radical criticism has also emerged from a quite different perspective: neoliberals attacking the inefficiency of state intervention which distorts the salutary effects of market forces, distracts resources from productive use, and inflates an unproductive bureaucracy. In contrast to the often rather academic character of these approaches, this book, edited by Edward Clay and the late Bernard Schaffer, promises a radical critique of development politics from an insider's perspective and ideas on how to detect and use the largest "room for manoeuvre" given in particular situations for pursuing objectives which are in themselves mostly uncontroversial (fulfilment of basic needs, increase of productivity, equitable land reform).

In an introductory chapter, the editors explain their concern "to analyze public policy on development as the process and practice of what governments actually do, to explain the linkages between intentions and outcomes". For them the basic problem is the widely followed "common sense" or "mainstream" model of public policy, which represents public policy as a dichotomous linear process of two distinct but sequential phases, the process leading to the decision for a particular policy and its implementation land the problems related to it). This implies the fiction of an independent decision-making process oriented exclusively toward particular development objectives. The gaps between intentions and outcomes then appear to be due to difficulties of implementation, thus apparently removing all responsibility from policy-makers' shoulders. The target-group approach is seen as a logical supplement to the described policy model: trying to improve the situation of a specific social group, planners and politicians tend to base policies on highly selective data and problems and thereby to isolate the target group from the social development of which it forms part. Several case studies elucidate particular problems and contradictions of the mainstream model. Percy Selwyn's analysis of agricultural budgets in Mauritius shows that budgetary allocations hardly imply any real policy decision but tend to be self-perpetuating: "Those in society who would benefit from a re-ordering of priorities in expenditure may have little information on what is required, and may in any event have little political influence." Edward J. Clay demonstrates that the establishment of "Special Planning Units" related to problems of foodcrops and nutrition in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka might theoretically have contributed to a strengthening of the planning process, but in practice had little impact on agricultural development as they had not been integrated into the regular political process. Rural women constitute one of the most typical target groups in recent years. Florence McCarthy points out - commenting on such a programme in Bang ladesh - that "with women treated as a separate issue much that could be done to stabilize inputs onto the rural areas becomes fragmented." The role of women is isolated and is entrusted to "urban-based women, who... know nothing about rural women".

Perfect solutions, Stephen Biggs - in a survey of common themes in agricultural policy - stresses the inadequacy of the dominant "normative institutional engineering approach" to policy formulation, which proposes abstractly perfect solutions to social problems without considering the specificity of each local situation. Taking the example of a rural credit scheme in Bangladesh, which serves landless labourers and poor rural women, Biggs shows that the cautious evolution of such a scheme out of a locally conceived and initiated action research project can help to promote the situation of the rural poor. Two case studies on multilateral institutions {Martin Evans on change in the strategy of the Asian Development Bank; Diana Hunt on the experiences of the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Kenya) indicate that here the gap between policy formation and implementation tends to be even larger as a result of the tension between their international character and the attention paid by member states to their own national sovereignty. Thus, basic-needs-oriented concepts were at least in part converted back into across-the-board assistance (Evans) or aid for middle and rich peasants (Hunt).

The third part of the book focuses on "The Languages and Practice of Public Policy". A shorter contribution by Raymond Apthorpe stresses the need for a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach recognizing the existential character of development problems. The concluding article by Bernard Schaffer - which occupies about a quarter of the book - summarizes the different aspects of critique of the "mainstream" model and indicates ways toward an alternative treatment of public policy, drawing on the results of the preceding case studies and supplementing them with other examples. To me, his most interesting criticisms were:

- on the compartmentalization of a social whole into apparently independent sectoral realities;

- on the decisionality of the model suggesting that well-considered, rational decisions have been taken, when, in fact, alternative strategies were excluded long before (as in the case of the "decision" to drop atomic bombs on Japan in 1945);

- on the manifold escapes from responsibility, frequently based on the pretence that the results of carefully carried out academic studies did not leave any other choice than the "chosen" policy.

Alternative models. Nevertheless, I finally finished reading the book with a certain sense of frustration. In contrast to the extensive criticism of the "mainstream" model, few indications are given of alternative policy models to enlarge the "room for manoeuvre". These parts of the Schaffer article remain vague. The alternative model has to have an inclusive character; the attempt to make their own strategy unassailable has to be replaced by the "willingness of the institutions to be involved with their critics" and to organize the "process of alternative participation". I agree. But what does that mean with respect to existing political structures and - even more fundamental - what does it mean for the potential of development politics to modify prevalent historical tendencies in favour of particular social objectives?

I suspect that one reason for the vagueness of the proposed alternative model is to be found in an incomplete analysis of the state of affairs. The editors never arrive at the question why, after all, the mainstream model has dominated development planning. In a short joint conclusion, they emphasize "that the whole life of policy is a chaos of purposes and accidents. It is not at all a matter of the rational implementation of so-called decisions through selected strategies". - This could be the clue to the whole problem: development planning tends to overestimate its capacities to change the "normal" course of history, to have an impact on what would have happened without the planning effort - even seemingly successful strategies quite often just successfully anticipate historical tendencies. This would suggest, first, looking for some kind of development tendencies hidden behind the "chaos of purposes and accidents" and then detecting the crossroads where appropriate political intervention could possibly push the course of events into the desired direction.

Wolfgang Hein