Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 489–500 | Cite as

Polarization in (post)nomadic resource use in Eastern Morocco: insights using a multi-agent simulation model

  • Gunnar DresslerEmail author
  • Falk Hoffmann
  • Ingo Breuer
  • David Kreuer
  • Mohamed Mahdi
  • Karin Frank
  • Birgit Müller
Original Article


Mobile pastoralist strategies have evolved over centuries and are well adjusted to the variable climatic conditions of semi-arid regions. However, economic, social, and climatic changes, as well as technical advancements such as truck transportation, have increasingly affected the livelihood of pastoralist households in recent decades. An increase in inequality has been observed between wealthy pastoralists with large herds and impoverished households that are experiencing decreasing herd sizes on the High Plateau in Eastern Morocco, for example. In addition, whereas wealthy pastoralists possess the financial means to use trucks to transport their herds across large distances, the impoverished households are mainly limited to ranges they can travel by foot. This phenomenon can be described as polarization: the emergence of two distinct socio-economic groups with respect to household livestock and monetary resources. The reasons that have led to this polarization, however, are not well understood at present. In this study, we present a multi-agent simulation model to examine the economic, ecological, climatic, and demographic factors driving this polarization. The model captures the feedbacks between pastoralist households, their herds, and the pastures that they use in a common property grazing system. Using this model, we are able to show that heterogeneities in household assets (livestock and monetary resources) are only one cause of polarization. Changes in ecological conditions and the impact of climate and demographic change can also cause polarization, even if households are completely homogeneous in their characteristics.


Agent-based model Social-ecological system Common property resource Pastoralism Global change Poverty trap 


Funding information

GD, BM, FH, and DK received funding by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF—01LN1315A) within the Junior Research Group POLISES. GD, BM, IB, MM, KF, and DK received further funding by the DFG (German Research Foundation SFB 586/3—2008) within the framework of Collaborative Research Centre 586 “Difference and Integration: Interaction between nomadic and settled forms of life in the civilizations of the old world” (Universities of Leipzig and Halle-Wittenberg, Germany) Sub-Projects A4 and E10.

Supplementary material

10113_2018_1412_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.5 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1501 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecological ModellingUFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental Systems ResearchUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabruckGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Social Development and Western China Development StudiesSichuan UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.École Nationale d’AgricultureMeknesMorocco
  5. 5.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research – iDiv Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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