Sustaining pastoral systems

Co-producing knowledge to sustain pastoral socio-environmental systems

Our new project launches January 2023 and is funded by NSF's Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems (DISES) program. This interdisciplinary project will examine 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 a) to understand the relationship among factors that influence farm transmission, continuity of pastoral practice, and the resilience of this landscape and its ecosystem functions, and b) to develop a process for the co-production of socio-environmental knowledge with pastoralists that improves scientific knowledge and strengthens local governance institutions. Pastoralists 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 FACE Foundation.

Our partners:

Euskal Herriko Laborantza Ganbara

Commission Syndicale du Pays de Soule

Basque Center for Climate Change (BC3)