Sustaining pastoral systems

Co-producing knowledge to sustain pastoral socio-environmental systems

This transdisciplinary project, funded by NSF's Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems (DISES) program, examines linkages between climate change, land management, landscape, and policy to understand how to sustain small-scale pastoral systems in a changing world. Pastoral systems cover nearly 60% of the global landmass and support as many as 500 million people (Manzano et al. 2021). Sustaining them is critical to both human livelihoods and ecosystem services.

Our work is located in the northern Basque Country (southwestern France), where the pastoral system has developed over more than a thousand years. Like other pastoral systems worldwide, the Basque area faces increasing pressure. Socially, the region is experiencing a decline in the number of farms and farmers and a transition to more intensive agriculture. Environmentally, farmers have observed increases in average temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns that mirror climate forecasts for the region. Furthermore, as European Union policies shift to incentivize climate mitigation and food system sustainability and security, there will be new influences on decision-making and management that will have direct implications for the landscape and its people.

Pastoralism in the Basque region remains robust relative to other areas in Europe, despite facing many of the same challenges.  We believe it potentially holds lessons for the maintenance of small-scale pastoral socio-environmental systems around the world. Thus, our overarching goals are:

Farmers have been full partners in the design and development of this project since its inception, which was made possible by seed grants from NSF and the Thomas Jefferson Fund, a partnership between the French Embassy in the United States and the FACE Foundation. We recently received funding to extend this work to Spain and Norway, in a project that began May 1, 2024.

Interested to learn more? Check out the talk I gave on the project in the Rachel Carson Center's Lunchtime Colloquium, and follow the project on Instagram.


The project team:

Coralie Artano (Xiberoko Zindikata)

Brian Burke (Appalachian State University)

Agustin del Prado (BC3)

Iker Elosegi (Euskal Herriko Laborantza Ganbara)

Beñat Eppherre (Cattle raiser)

Elena Galan (BC3)  

Sebastien Inda-Gallur (Xiberoko Zindikata)

Pierre Jaragoyhen (Sheep and cattle raiser)

Rebecca McCulley (University of Kentucky)

Simon Maraud

Pablo Manzano (BC3)

Tom Mote (University of Georgia)

Guillermo Pardo (BC3)

Hélène Rolland (Sheep raiser)

Anne Sourdril (CNRS, France)

Aaron Thompson (University of Georgia)

Jennifer Thompson (University of Georgia)

Meredith Welch-Devine (University of Georgia)

Our institutional partners:

Euskal Herriko Laborantza Ganbara

Commission Syndicale du Pays de Soule (Xiberoko Zindikata)

Basque Center for Climate Change (BC3)