Human Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 351–365 | Cite as

Biophysical Variability and Pastoral Rights to Resources: West African Transhumance Revisited

  • Leif BrottemEmail author
  • Matthew D. Turner
  • Bilal Butt
  • Aditya Singh


This paper focuses on a conundrum that has dominated the literature on pastoral mobility and institutions in dryland regions of the world, where livestock production is the main livelihood system. High spatiotemporal variability of rainfall and forage resources are seen to require flexible rules and porous social boundaries to facilitate pastoral mobility—characteristics that run counter to conventional views of the requirements for effective common property institutions. We seek to explore this paradox by investigating the spatiotemporal variability of forage availability (using satellite derived vegetation indices as a proxy for green forage) in four transhumance zones (“transhumance sheds”) in Mali, West Africa. For each transhumance shed, three characteristics with important institutional implications are evaluated over an eleven-year period between 2000 and 2010: the inter-annual variability of forage phenology, seasonal changes in connectivity of green forage patches, and the degree to which key forage locations exist in the form of consistently early green-up and/or late senescence. Periods of vegetation green-up and senescence, which determine the timing of transhumant livestock movements, are found to be sufficiently regular from year to year to be governed by conventional institutions. Seasonal changes in the north-south connectivity of green patches are sufficiently rapid for customary systems of sharing of pasture information to be effective (rather than more technologically sophisticated systems of pasture information). Moreover, transhumance sheds contain key pastoral forage sites, which because of their consistently early greening or late senescence, are strong candidates for territorial protection from alternative land uses such as agriculture. These findings support local herders’ views of transhumance as composed of regular patterns of herd movements along prescribed corridors between key pastoral sites. The seasonal regularity of key pastoral resources has been obscured by an overemphasis on environmental unpredictability that characterizes dryland systems at certain spatial and temporal scales. This paper suggests that policies directed at improving pastoral resource governance must focus instead on securing pastoralists’ access rights to movement corridors, specific pastures and water points.


Pastoral mobility Transhumance Resource access Sudano-Sahelian West Africa NDVI Spatial analysis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leif Brottem
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew D. Turner
    • 2
  • Bilal Butt
    • 3
  • Aditya Singh
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceGrinnell CollegeGrinnellUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Department of Forest and Wildlife EcologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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