Pastoralism | UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
Sachin Gupta
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3


The study of pastoralism is one among the interesting topics in studying the
evolution of human society in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. In order to understand
pastoralism, one needs to cover different dimensions of all the aspect of life i.e.
economic, social and ecological dimension of human survival. The holistic approach
in studying the subject brings a better understanding of the subject and so one
needs to keep an open mind for diverse perspectives of the content.
Ever since Adam Smith, different classifications of economic organization have
been made about hunters, pastorialists and agriculturalist. Since the beginning of
human being, man needs to feed themselves for their survival. They passed through
different stages like hunting-gathering, pastoralism, horticulture and agriculture
etc as a mechanism for getting their essential needs for their livelihood. And the
surrounding environment and the available resources provide the essential food
for survival. These activities enable them to grow the human civilization.

Ecology and Subsistence

“Somewhere around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, one or more groups of humans in
one or more locations discovered that they could control and domesticate certain
species for human consumption. Thus, instead of having to roam in search of their
food sources, they could bring the sources “home” to them. This is sometimes
referred to as the “Neolithic” or New Stone Age revolution, and it was revolutionary
not only for how humans worked and provided food but for every aspect of their
cultures and social relationships, as well as for the species they fed on. The
revolution of domestication actually culminated in not one but two new economic
system. The first we will describe as pastoralism. Pastoralism, originating from
the word “pasture”, is the production of food predominantly from the exploitation
of domesticated animals. It is what might conventionally be called “herding” or
“ranching”. Thus, the primary “work” to be done was tending and exploiting –
milking, breeding, and slaughtering – such animals as cattle, sheep, goats, llamas,
horse, pigs, and other smaller creatures, depending on the locally available species.
In the vast majority of these societies – and they were spread across the world,
from grasslands of east Africa to the mountains of Central Asia and the plains of
North America – the ownership and control of herd animals was the prerogative of
men. Women and children might do the day-to-day work of tending the animals –
milking the cattle and so on – but it was men who decided when one would be
slaughtered or traded or sold for some purpose. Thus, in terms of production and
even more so by control of production, pastoralism was a man’s world, and the
gender division of labor devolved into a gender inequality. Men’s status was much
higher than women’s in typical pastoral societies. Men accordingly tended to be
the heads of family and household; again, women might wield real “domestic”
power in the home, but their political power was limited compared to men.” (Jack
David Eller, 158)

Looking back to the hunting-gathering stage, human being depends directly on the
natural environment resources for getting the basic need by collecting or gathering
the naturally grown leaves, fruits, roots, etc from the surrounding grown vegetation,
and also from hunting, trapping and fishing activities. The nomadic people like
the Eskimos, the pigmies, the bushman, the Australian aborigines are some of the
examples of people who carried out such activities. With the advancement of human
knowledge and skills, human being started taming wild animals and started a semi
nomadic life. They started growing vegetation and domesticated animals like sheep,
goats, pigs, horse, etc. However, they move from one place to another along with
the herds of their animals in search of fodder, vegetation and water. Thus they
became herders.

Pastoralism, as a means of livelihood by using of extensive grazing on rangelands
for livestock production, is an important economic and cultural way of life for
between 100 and 200 million people throughout the world. Many pastoralists can
be found in Africa; however pastoralism is also practiced in dry and sub-humid
lands in the Middle East, South and East Asia, South America and Europe. It can
also be mentioned that in sub-Saharan Africa about 16% of the population relies
on pastoralism, and in some countries, such as Somalia and Mauritania, pastoralists
represent a majority of the population.

2.2.1 Definition

Pastoralists are the people who have strong relationship with herding for their
livelihood. Most of the pastoralists are inhabited in the places where potential for
crop cultivation is limited due to the lack of rainfall, steep terrain or extreme
temperature like desert, etc. They are semi-nomadic or nomadic in nature due the

search of water, fodder, and pasture for grazing their herds. They have different Pastoralism
types of livestock like sheep, goats, cattle, horse, yak and camels in Central Asia,
Buffalo in South Asia, llamas and alpacas in South America, and reindeer in the
Pale arctic region. Close association with their animals is the most important
characteristic of pastoralist community. At the same time, the pastoralist identity
is also based on their strong association with their livestock that shape key elements
of their social and ritual life. So, pastoralism is a highly complicated activity that
needs to hold the balance amongst human population, animal population and natural

The Basic Types of Pastoralism defined by Sutton Mark Q and Anderson E.N,
2010, in their book entitle “Introduction to Cultural Ecology” is as follows:
Types Nomadic Semi nomadic Semi sedentary Herdsman husbandry
Sedentary animal husbandry Major Features Almost all of the
resources produced are derived from animals and their
products, with some trade for other products. The bulk of the
resources used come from animals and their products,
supplemented by some horticulture, hunting, gathering,
and trade Animals and their products provide many of the
resources used, but horticulture, hunting, gathering, and trade
are very important Animals are important but
farming the dominant activity Animals are
important but farming the dominant
activity Mobility and settlement Pattern
Highly mobile, seasonal round with few permanent
settlements Generally mobile, seasonal round but
with some of the population remaining in permanent or semi
permanent villages Some mobility by specialized task
groups, most of the population in settled villages
Animals are raised in pastures distant from the main
agricultural centres, task groups tend animals and move
them seasonally Animals raised in a static location
Examples Saami Maasai Navajo Basque, ranchers
in the United States Dani, dairies in the United States
Primary Pastoral Systems Pastoral Components of Larger Agricultural Systems

Ecology and Subsistence

For the survival of human being, man always exploits the available resources like
plants and animals from their surrounding environment either in wild state or in a
state of domestication. Herskovits has mentioned different economic systems of
non-literate people. They are as follows:
Sl. No. Economy Foods
1 Food gathering Plant (wild)
2 Hunting Animals (wild)
3 Herding Animals (domesticated)
4 Agriculture Plant (domesticated)
In order to avoid over exhaustive exploitation of the available resources for further
uses, they maintain certain habits that are culturally taboo to them. For example,
the Eskimos become food gatherer and taboo eating the flesh of sea mammals
during the summer season. The pastoralist avoids eating meat when they get enough
food and they became gatherer in order to preserve their economy for the lean
season. They gather wild roots, nuts, seeds, and berries, and also trap or hunt
small game animals or fowls. They also dried fruits, roots, seeds, meats so as to
meet the need of their survival. In Europe, North Africa, etc. wheat, oat, barely are
the important crops. Rice is predominant in Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia. However,
maize, millet, yams and cassava are the important crops cultivated in Africa.
With regards to the resource management like the fertility of the soil, pastoralists
have directly or indirectly helped in maintaining the soil fertility of their
neighbouring village farmers. In fact, pastoralist are requested by the local farmers
to hold their herds of cattle overnight in their field so that they could get the
animal excreta (dung & urine) as a organic manure deposited in the field. Such
amount of urine and droppings left during those short stay of night offer sufficient
fertilizer to enrich the soil before tilling their field for cropping. Some of the
important pastoralist communities in India are Rabaris and Bharwads of Gujarat
and Rajasthan in the desert region, the Gujjars and Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh,
the Dhangars in Maharastra, Konare in Tamil Nadu, etc.
2.3.1 Tragedy of Common
This is the major challenge among the resource management problems within the
pastoralist community. Everyone eyes on the common property resources like the
land shared by pastoralist that eventually have pressure due to over grazing and
ruin. So, such human disorganized management led to desertification and depletion
of the natural resource. In fact, it is a kind of major threat to the ecological balance
in Nature. Due to this, there is also major climatic change. And also, due to the
rapid urbanization and privatization, there are huge pressures on both the pastoral
land as well as the livelihood of the pastoralist community.
Human beings have been depending on various tools and techniques for their
survival in the history of mankind. Fire was tamed and the techniques of hunting
and fishing were also developed with the changes of time. Man learns how to use
river and other waterways as means of transport and also developed the knowledge
of using wheel. He also learns the techniques of pottery making for various usages
in their domestic life. The domestication of plants and animals led the agricultural Pastoralism
activities for them to earn their livelihood. Such activities made them to discover
the uses of animal labour with the uses of plough for tilling field, bullock carts for
transportation. Then with the discovery of metal working and further improvement
of wheel technology, sailing vessels, irrigation, better farming techniques and the
more efficient employment of domesticated animals led to the betterment of human
being. Subsequently, improvement of cattle herding also took place with the wider
connection across the neighboring areas. Herskovits Melville J (pp 81) had
mentioned four criteria of domestication:
1) Restricted habitat
2) Regular supply of specific foods
3) Protection against weather and predatory animals and
4) Controlled breeding.
Herskovits Melville J also pointed various techniques to control domestication
like building of fences, or cages, or makes other devices to keep their animals
from roaming. Making barns and other kinds of shelters that protect animals from
weather, and watches to see that wild animals do not prey on them. Also avoid
casual mating in order to develop and prevent the continuance of the pure lines
and control quality of the domesticated animals. They also devised cooking
techniques, drying of food material, making of clothes from animal furs or skins.
Mobility among the pastoralist is a pattern of movement for exploiting more than
one environment for finding grasses, fodders, and water. Such movement creates
the people living in the arid region to support their livelihood during the food
scarcity season. So, in search of the fodder, vegetation and water, the pastorialists
move from one place to the other. Such requirement of grazing for their herds
often compelled them to frequent shifts of locations i.e. a nomadic way of life.
Nomadic Pastoralists is a type of food-producing strategy with its main base relying
on the intensive management of herds for their primary products of meat and skin,
and for their secondary products such as wool, milk, blood, dung and transport.
Due to different socio-economic and ecological factors, this movement pattern
helps in managing the herd. So, the members of the household move along with
the herd and engage themselves in their cattle management during their seasonal
On the other hand, the nature and extent of their movement varies from on one
region to another and so regular seasonal migration happened for the sustenance
of their livelihood. Thus, the term “trance humans” is often used for such seasonal
migrations along with their herds in search of water and pasture land for grazing.
Some pastoralist communities sometime settled for longer period and take up certain
secondary activities like horticulture to supplement their livelihood. Such mobility
follows the migratory track through the arrangement of local authorities who have
control over the land resources. It is accessed through membership of kin group
corporation but their live stocks are owned and managed by individual. The fission
and fusion of their group depends on the availability of grassland for grazing their
herds. Mostly during the scarcity of grazing land, the group divided and headed to
different direction in order to avoid the conflict and competition for the pasture.
Pastoralist communities often have an area with an approximate radius of 100-500
km. Long dependence induce pressure on the same grassland due to regular
overgrazing. Burning is an important mechanism of revitalizing pasture land.
Burning of pastures is believed to have an impact on soil fertility, the quality of
yield and help reducing unnecessary weeds and bushes.
Ecology and Subsistence
2.5.1 Cross-border Pastoralism
Frequent movement for the search of pasture for new grazing and trading of their
goods is the main nature of pastoralist community. They travel many places and
sometimes crossed the border in search of the grazing land for their herd. During
their travel, they also have small trading for domestics goods like spices, clothes,
grains, etc. and also sometime indulge in smuggling activities. Due to such
undocumented trading between the border villages, there is loss of tax revenue
and foreign exchange revenue in the country.
On the other hand, such cross-border informal interactions among the people also
enhance the solidarity and maintain good relations among the people. It also helps
in maintaining the food security within the border villages during the natural
calamities like food scarcity period flood, famine, etc.
Pastoralist communities, like any other simple society, are egalitarian. The disputes
are solved by their elders and sometimes the dispute within the group led them
separate among themselves. The cattle are considered to be their property and
their social and economic status also defined by number of cattle they have and
they also use them as a medium of exchange. Transferring of animals from on
individual to another happens as a gift, loans or marriage payments. Such exchange
mechanism serves them to develop their social relationship within their
Different adaptation process occurred in different socio-cultural and ecological
environment and so there is no strict social organization pattern associated with
the pastoralist community. However, most of the pastoralist people are often
considered to be in the “Tribe” as their major source of organizing labour and
expenses are from within the family. Majority of them inherit their property through
their lineage. The possession of such animal property enables to retain social
structure and maintain social relationship within the group to control their juniors
who inherit property for the need of marriage payment as bride wealth. Due to the
lack of centralized administration with the group and strong social security, the
herding animals being easy to be stolen and driven away, raiding and cattle stealing
that cause warfare with their neighbouring people became a common issue in the
pastoralist community. And also due to frequent mobility, the group happens to
split and re-group themselves depending on the availability of resources and their
nature of social relationship within the group.
On the other hand, the pastoralist has a very strong symbiotic relationship with the
neighbouring farmer or land owners. This is due to the fact that the pastoralist
provides precious excreta (dung and urine) of the animals in their field to enrich
the fertility of the soil or land and in return the farmers give money to the pastoralist.
So, the seasonal movement of the pastoralist along with their herd coincides with
the agricultural cycle of the farmers. Hence, pastoralists visit the farmer before
sowing of their seed i.e. in beginning of monsoon. In addition to this, pastoralists
plan and follow the roads and villages defined by their ancestral route? and tradition
in order to avoid overgrazing of the available pasture and conflict within the groups.
Pastoralist communities follow different form of exchanges of goods and services.
There is some degree of specialization, and exchanges are affected that are personal,
direct, and specific. Such specialized form of exchange also happen among the Pastoralism
advanced societies. The barter system i.e. direct exchange of goods for goods
becomes more important. In addition to this, exchange of goods with the money
also happen when there is market facilities. So, face-to-face trading of goods for
goods is the most prevalent form of exchange among these communities. Bargaining
may or may not be present as the situation demands. For example, North and
South America perform intertribal exchange like Tewa of the Southwest trafficked
corn, corn meal, and wheat bread for the buffalo hides of the Comanche, or the
Choroti of the Chaco bartered dried fish for maize, red paint, and necklaces.
However the value of the object may be fixed by negotiation depending on the
availability and demand of the commodity. For example, among the Solomons, a
bundle of six or seven carrying baskets is traded for a basket full of taro.
With the advent of new economic policies, planning and development programs
both at the state and the centre, the transformation of socio-economic conditions
and livelihood of pastoralist is inevitable. During different Five Year Plans in India,
strategy for community development through integrated tribal development
programme and tribal sub-plan have provided scope for uplifting the socio-economic
conditions of different primitive tribal communities including pastoralist. In addition
to economic conditions, the changes in environmental and ecological conditions
have too exerted pressure for the traditional pastoralists to look for other alternatives
like small scale business, seasonal wage earning, engaging in settle agriculture,
Despite all above conditions, the transformation among pastoralist is relatively
limited and there is no specific developmental strategy for the pastoralist.
Pastoralist makes a significant contribution to the economy of developing countries,
both in terms of providing employment and income opportunities and in supplying
nutrition to the poor. Pastoralist and their animal have developed a very long term
mutually benefiting relationship. The pastoralists provide their animals with
protection from predator, a balanced supply of food, health care and assured
producing their progeny. And in return animals provide meat, milk, dung, wool,
labour, and other services and the companionship and the transportation of people
for better living. Pastoralist requires vast grassland for grazing their herds.
Besides, India is having a large number of pastoral communities that have very
low socio-economic and political profile. They have been sidelined, paying no
attention by the government policies, local businessmen, neighboring farmers, etc.
even though their large contribution towards the national economy by producing
milk, meat, leather, dung, and other products. The biggest challenge ahead to the
pastoralist community is the shrinking of the pasture resource base due to
establishment of national parks and sanctuaries, expansion of agriculture into
marginal areas, etc. have crippled the traditional livelihood of pastoralist community.
Consequently, the pastoralist are involved in long standing conflicts with forest
authorities and many of them have bitter experience of forceful expulsion from
their common traditional grazing areas.
The future of pastoralist in the present situation is sometimes in dilemma. With
the rapid growth in urbanization and industrialization, the pastoral land turns into
the urban zone or industrial zone. In addition to this, due to Green Revolution and
the growing consumption of chemical fertilizers, the cropping patterns of the village
Ecology and Subsistence
farmer have changed and the dependence of cattle dung for fertilizer also lessens.
Such changes in cropping patterns led to the changing attitude of the farmers
towards the pastoralists. Many agricultural communities also have huge
encroachment for agricultural land in the grassland areas which was used earlier
by the pastoralist communities as a grazing field. The symbiotic relationship
between the local farmers and the pastoralist communities becomes less functional
and ultimately the pastoralist communities are unwelcome to their village.
Sometime, conflict arises between the farmers and the pastoralists about pastoralist
movement with the herds while crossing the neighbouring villagers.
Also, with the establishment of national parks, wild life sanctuary, construction of
heavy dams, wide roads construction also bring another challenge to the pastoralist
community. Subsequently, many of the pastoralists are forced to shift their
traditional way of earning livelihood of herding to some other mechanism. So,
there is an urgent call for government intervention for up-lifting the socio-economic
life of the pastoralist community.
Pastoralism is the form of agriculture in which domestic animals are emphasized,
sometimes to the exclusion of other resources. Pastoralists are people whose
livelihood depends mainly on the raising of domestic animals including cattle,
camels, goats, sheep, yaks, horses, and donkeys, which are used for milk, meat,
wool, hides, transport, and trade; in addition, many pastoralists cultivate crops or
have long-standing trading relations with agricultural neighbors. In pastoralism,
humans and animals have formed a long-term mutualistic relationship where animals
are guaranteed reproduction and protection and humans get food and other products.
Three major types of pastoralism can be defined. These are nomadic, seminomadic,
and semisedentary. Two other forms, herdsman husbandry and sedentary animal
husbandry, are pastoral components of larger agricultural systems. The primary
components of any pastoral system include use and maintenance of pastures, the
types of animals (grazers or browsers) herded, composition and size of herds, and
the movement of herds.
Pastoralists occupy savannas, arid deserts, high plateaus, or sub-arctic forests and
tundra where rain-fed agriculture is difficult or impossible. They also occupy
large tracts of communally-shared land and utilize kinship ties for mutual herding
and defense. Their herds are often large, in poor condition, but hardy enough to
survive periodic drought and sparse vegetation. Many pastoralists practice some
agriculture; they may also supplement their pastoral diets with wild plants, game,
fish, grains and other food commodities purchased by the sale or trade of livestock,
milk products, and hides. Some pastoral societies engage in long distance trade,
such as the Tuareg of the Western Sahara, while others such as the Maasai practice
localized livestock-keeping in semi-permanent settlements (Fratkin et al. 1994).
Pastoralists have undergone substantial social change, in response to pressures
from national governments to sedentarize, and to the problems of population growth
and environmental decline. With the advent of new economic policies, planning
and development programs both at the state and the centre, the transformation of
socio-economic conditions and livelihood of pastoralist is inevitable. The future
of pastoralist in the present situation is sometimes in dilemma. With the rapid
growth in urbanization and industrialization, the pastoral land turns into the urban
zone or industrial zone.
Pastoralism 2.11 REFERENCES
Carol, Ember R. and Melvin, Ember 1995. Anthropology. Prentice-Hall of India
Private Limited, New Delhi.
Eller, Jack David. 2009. Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives.
Routledge Publication, New York London.
Ferraro, Gary P. 1992. Cultural Anthropology. West Publishing Company, St. Paul,
New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
Fratkin, E., K. A. Galvin, and E. A Roth. (eds.) 1994. African Pastoralist Systems:
An Integrated Approach. Boulder: Lynne Rienner publishers.
Keesing, Roger M. 1981. Cultural Anthropology: A comparative Perspective. CBS
College Publishing, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo.
Sutton, Mark Q. and Anderson, E.N. 2010. Introduction to Cultural Ecology.
Altamira Press, Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK.
Suggested Reading
Daniel, J Miller. 1999. Nomads of Tibetan Plateau Rangelands in Western China –
Part Three: Pastoral Development and Future Challenges. Rangelands, 21 (2):
Homewood, K. M. and Rodgers, W.A. 1984. Pastoralism and Conservation, Human
Ecology. Vol. 12 (4): 431 – 441.
Smith, Andrew B. 1984. Environmental limitations on prehistoric pastoralism in
Africa. The African Archaeological Review, 2: 99-111.
Sample Questions
1) Write a short note on Pastoralism.
2) How is pastoralist different form other simple societies?
3) Write a brief note on the socio-economic relationship of pastoralist with the
neighbouring communities.
4) Describe pastoralist mechanism of avoiding overgrazing of pasture and their
management of natural resources.