As the “new rangeland paradigm” took shape in the 1990s, climatic variability in pastoral ecosystems was often discussed as “uncertainty”, and the essential mobility of pastoral systems was argued to be possible only with flexible land access rights. These context-specific principles have increasingly been globalized in analyses of diverse pastoral systems. While new understandings of the role of uncertainty and flexibility in pastoral systems have been unquestionably beneficial for particular contexts, uncertainty has been problematically embraced as intrinsically central to pastoral systems.
This paper combines a critical review of the literature and field work in Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley to bring into clear relief differences between variability and uncertainty, on the one hand, and mobility and flexibility, on the other. This allows us to see that livestock mobility is a strategy to cope with environmental variability in all pastoral contexts. Flexibility, however, is a strategy to cope with environmental uncertainty that is only present in a subset of pastoral contexts. Importantly, flexibility is not a required precondition for mobility. These realizations carry important implications for governance in pastoral settings. Due to the many challenges of building flexibility into property systems, pastoral land governance should be developed by looking for predictability, and efforts to maintain flexibility should be judicious and empirically well-justified.
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