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Media Perceptions and Portrayals of Pastoralists in Kenya, India and China

Part of the Springer Earth System Sciences book series (SPRINGEREARTH)

Abstract

Resilient food systems require policies that let people use their own adaptive capacity. Pastoralists use mobility to take advantage of pasture and water that are patchily distributed in space and time. Pastoralism can therefore strengthen food security, livelihoods and economic prosperity. However, policy makers, donors and the public rarely acknowledge these benefits. This is partly because development and media narratives paint pastoralism as something bad that must change. This paper explores how the media portrays pastoralism in Kenya, China and India. In Kenya, pastoralists feature mostly in ‘bad news’ stories of conflict and drought. They appear vulnerable and lacking in agency. Stories rarely mention the benefits that pastoralists bring. In China, the media presented pastoralists as the cause of environmental degradation and as (generally happy) beneficiaries of government investment and settlement projects. In India, newspapers portrayed pastoralists with more pity, as vulnerable people whose livelihoods were at risk. Overall coverage of pastoralism in India was rare, however. Journalists surveyed there said pastoralists are “invisible” to editors. In each country, important topics such as climate change, the economic value of pastoralism and the links between mobility and resilience, were under-reported. Most articles about pastoralists failed to quote these people. Improved media coverage of pastoralism is part of the institutional capacity that is needed to support resilient food systems. Improved eco-literacy among journalists and editors can help strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities and national food systems alike, and will become more important as climate change takes hold.

Keywords

  • Media narratives
  • Development narratives
  • Kenya
  • India
  • China
  • Pastoralism
  • Drylands
  • Climate change

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Acknowledgements

This research was undertaken when the author was employed at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The chapter here is an adaptation of Shanahan (2013). As such, the chapter benefits from discussions between the author and the following participants in a workshop in Kenya in 2012: Jeremy Swift, Saverio Krätli, Ced Hesse, Gongbuzeren, Hu Jingping, Li Wenjun, Srijit Mishra, Ravindra Adusumilli Wassan, Kamal Kishore, Ilse Koehler Rollefson, Lila Buckley, Victor Orindi, Izzy Birch and Michael O. Odhiambo. Ria Sen assisted with the initial testing of coding system used in the article content analysis. The research presented here, and the writing that explains it, were funded by the Ford Foundation within the context of the IIED project ‘New perspectives on climate resilient drylands development’. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ford Foundation.

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Shanahan, M. (2016). Media Perceptions and Portrayals of Pastoralists in Kenya, India and China. In: Behnke, R., Mortimore, M. (eds) The End of Desertification? . Springer Earth System Sciences. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-16014-1_15

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