Learning From the Pastoralists of Our Time



“Pastoralists have a rich understanding of the environments that they manage and have developed sophisticated systems of resource management that conserve biodiversity. “

Where does this “rich understanding” derive from?

From what I have perceived it is rooted in the life-systems of these people. Their entire existence is reliant on the earth around them and synchronically the earth is reliant on them—the steward not only takes but also gives.

It wasn’t all that long ago, when humanity knew that their survival was earth dependent and somehow in the mix of modernization we have lost in a big way our daily connection with the earths provisions which we cannot live without…we have forgotten to reconcile our taking of resources with a bountiful giving back in exchange. 

The cultural shifts throughout time have started as bands, to tribes, to chiefdoms and then to states.

The most interesting thing is that with each phase within the cultural shifts inequalities began to take shape, as well as, a disregard for the question of cause and effect on our environment. As humanity has progressed into the whale of technological advances we have pulled ourselves further and further away from the organic relationship between humanity and earth. Bands began as truly egalitarian from the start, then as humans transgressed into tribes the inequalities between age and gender began to slowly take shape, then as we moved to chiefdoms great class divisions formed causing a greater gap between poor and rich because of centralized and hereditary leadership… lastly states (I am not referring to the states in the U.S. this in reference to states as a category of human advancements) exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, inequalities were pronounced in many forms and farming began to slowly burst into irrigational settings alongside the industrial revolutions which brought forth the use of grand scale machinery, which phenomenally changed our world.

Yes, there are pros and cons and my goodness would my day ever be different without our technology but I believe it is now time to reflect on what we have and how we can use our technology, our understanding of the past and foreseeable inferences of our future and ask ourselves, “what can I do to bring myself back to a purist perspective next to natures side as a steward within the context of my modern day life?”

This is why the pastoralist communities that are still actively living in sync with nature can be an active and current example of preservation.

So… what exactly is a pastoralist? You might ask?

Pastoralists are tribes that still practice their form of sustainability in our world today as active communities that live off of and tend to the land in their local regions. They generally focus their resources on tending to livestock, animal husbandry, and do not usually live fully sedentary lifestyles unless they are forced by governmental restrictions on the land.

Some current examples of active pastoral tribes that still practice pastoralism today are that of the Mursi, Nuer, Ariaal, Yanomami and Ngandu tribes from the continent of Africa. They are known for their pastoralism and as expert horticulturists.

Pastoralists use wild plants such as fruits, seeds, tubers, barks, gums and leaves for consumption and also for medicinal purposes.  An example of this is in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where there are approximately 1,280 plant species that are recognized and used for holistic medicinal means.

In dominating western societies there has been a growing popularity of herbal remedies. This trend is usually for good reason, as more and more people are growing disillusioned with the modern health system. Unfortunately, this has simultaneously resulted in growth of a demand from the global market for ancient herbs from around the world. There is a commercialization that is taking place in regards to holistic remedies and once sacred pastoralist practices are now being exploited and recognized by others outside of the pastoral community which leads to increased gathering of certain plants and have led to a near point of extinction for some. The pastoralists stoutly practice moderation and fully recognize the flow of healthy give and take, recognizing that our resources are not for the raping and consumption of humans in order to gain and use, it is for the taking for pure life-line reasons of nutrition and for the giving for pure reasons of maintaining that nutritional source.  They are not in it for the money, for the business, for the capital gains… our worlds are starkly contrasted and WE have MUCH TO LEARN. Our dry bones need to wake up!

We have much to learn from the practice of pastoralism. The exasperation of certain plant resources is only one small example of how our earth is being exploited in order to gain power and money and to feed the material trends of societies… there are many other examples of how our un-attachment with nature leads us to use up our natural resources without truly taking into account the repercussions of our present and most importantly our future generations. I want to create a heritage for my offsprings. I want to provide for them now and also for their future…don’t you?

Let us learn from the mentality of these people…

When the pastoralists find new areas for their livestock to graze or when using current areas they take into consideration how their livestock will affect the environment, this is an essential common understanding in regards to their future livelihood; something that our modern day farmers should pay attention to. Not only do the pastoralists find resources for the “now” but they also keep in mind all of the “tomorrows” that are ahead. When the plant biota being grazed are in the phase of seed production they take this into consideration and mobilize or strategize their grazing patterns in order to not harm the reproduction life cycles of the plants.

They are very sensitive about over-grazing, they believe in the practice of “just enough” Depletion of the land is not even a consideration… alternating their territories in order to graze effectively but without repressing the environment.

This practice equates to bountiful plant life, healthier livestock, and nutrient rich milk; “grass fed” has never been so real as it is within the pastoral livestock! 😉 

Trees are sacred to the pastoralists.  The local trees which the pastoral tribes are familiar with in the drylands that they live provide them with much needed shade, fruit, material for constructive use and for fire fuel.  Pastoralists rarely cut down these trees and rarely plant, however, they create sustainability by taking and making use of the fallen branches, or they practice the act of pollarding trees in which they prune the tops of trees to maintain a trees height, which makes the trees fuller and healthier – making use of the needed resources and at the same time sustaining the life of the tree.

What I want to bring to the table is that pastoralists have keen ecosystems knowledge of their environment and are very capable representatives to tend to sustainability and land management in their region.  When you have a people that rely with the whole being of their lives on the natural resources that surround them, you have a people that are phenomenally connected with nature. When government systems encroach on the land and create boundaries in which they must limit their area to practice pastoralism, not only do these people suffer from such stipulations but the land also suffers from the lack of eco-systems management that the pastoralists know full well how to manage…nothing compares to that of the heart of a people who work with the land, for the land and survive from the land. 

We are so far removed from what it feels like to rely fully on the land in order to live!

There is nothing more intelligent, more wise, more sophisticated, more intellectually bright than recognizing our natural resources and the exploitation of those sacred gifts.  The earth does not have a voice without it’s people.  As a creationist I believe in a true give and take cycle that is meant to exist between humanity and our world.

I have to admit my heart aches when hearing other people of faith that scoff at environmental efforts from their couches and simply digress to saying things like, “We are all just heaven bound anyways, these people are wasting their time…I have my eyes on heaven…and not of earthly things…”

I disagree with this because I believe in living life on earth as it is in heaven, I believe in progressing in that direction, I believe that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free for we are all one”.  It is everyone’s responsibility to give our earth a moment of thought and a lifetime of action.  The earth and all that is within it only knows how to give and give and give.  We humans are the ones bestowed to take, we take and take, yet may we also in return give and give. Balance is key.

Nature is not just here for us, it is not simply a gift to look pretty for our pleasure. I am certainly in awe of the beauty of the earth and my spirit is filled with peace when I am immersed in it. Yet, something to remember is that the earth was not created simply for us to look at and to take from…it goes both ways, I believe that the plan was to work together. It is common sense to realize that our patterns effect everything.

what I want to do right now is hear from you because realistically this is a very long blog post and if you made it this far, my hope is that you will engage with me.  Please share your thoughts on this post topic. Please let me know ways (little or big) in your own life that you can or have incorporated thoughtful give and take stewardship values within your personal or regional eco-system? The trick is how to artfully incorporate this frame of mind and value for our resources into our modern life-styles.  What might we need to personally change, what might we need to add, what simple ways can we simply alter practices within an already formed habit such as composting rather than putting food into a garbage disposal. Simple eco-system valued practices that would not weigh down on our time constrained lives… that right there is a start, right? That is where I am beginning. I could calculate my footprint on the earth and there is much that I should change, let’s begin with steps, sometimes baby steps…to form life-changing, earth revolutionizing habits!

Lastly, it should not simply be the labeled “radicals” that strive to make a difference… if you feel called to take care of people, then remember that caring for our planet is part of that equation.  If you feel it is important to provide a happy and healthy life for your family, then remember that nurturing your planet is part of that equation. If you enjoy eating food, remember that tending to nature is part of that equation!! It IS our livelihood… If you love hiking or camping, or outdoor adventures; if you love wildlife and rivers, and scenic explorations, if you love clean air…then remember taking an active role to be the voice for a voiceless earth is part of that equation… If you value quality of life then acting as a steward for our earth is most definetely part of that equation…

For me personally, from my faith stance as a creationist, from that perspective the great artist and creator who formed this beautiful gift of life is part of that equation and to me I am losing myself in whom I was made to be as a beloved human if I do not pay attention to our connection with this planet, because for me that connection calls out to a God who created such magnificence and how could I ever forget that.  I find that key point my most motivating influence within my personal life choices.
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is mankind that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?…You make him to rule over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet…All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” Psalm 8:3-9  …May I honor the works of our creators hands.

Let’s hear from you! …and thank you and love and peace be with you.

(Resources:  Information on pastoralists resourced and reiterated from WISP Policy Bried No. 5
knowledge as the basis for land management ” Barrow, E., Davies, J., Berhe, S., Matiru, V., Mohamed, N., Olenasha, W., Rugadya, M. {Su, Eth, Som}(2007): Pastoralist’s species and ecosystems knowledge
as the basis for land management. IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office. Policy Brief No. 3 (of 5). Nairobi, 4 p.
For further information, including details of how to join the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, please visit the website at: http://www.iucn.org/wisp)


Potatoes Taught Me Faith…

dirt I dig you potatos

There are hidden treasures below the surface…sometimes we merely need to dig a little while in order to find them…

So often this year, I have just stood there and stared at my garden after watering it. Sometimes after I get out of my car from wherever it was that I had gone, I step out and just gaze. I get wonderstruck in the effort of gardening and begin to daydream. As a first time gardener I want to do more than I do, but I don’t always know exactly what is specifically needed within each step, I am in the midst of learning tricks, so sometimes I revert to the job of simply peering into each bed and musing over it’s growth… it’s more of a fascination really.

A lot of times, it seems that it is after I have already finished something that I find that there is a “better” way that I could have done it. I planted potatoes on a whim.  They were not part of my original list of vegetables to plant in my garden beds.  One afternoon my nose lead me to a smell of rotting potatoes in the pantry, organic Yukon Golds wasting away.  They weren’t quite obsolete in value though; I noticed that all over the spuds there were sprouts protruding outwards.  Instead of composting them I decided, why not take a chance and plant them.

I loosened the soil with my hands and cut the potatoes into halves or into thirds.  Then placed them below to see what might happen.  After a couple of weeks the hibernating potatoes brought forth into view from the depths of the soil these adorable little green leafy plants! I was thrilled! I wondered though; will these be void of fruitfulness when all is said and done. Sure, the potatoes might grow up into these large and robust looking plantae, but what will I find within the soil after the growing season is finished, will it simply be a flourishing amount of greenery, or will there be a hiding harvest to be discovered?

I have heard that you need to purchase actual seed potatoes and that I shouldn’t use the grocery store bought ones because they may not yield any new potatoes.  I had also read that it is good to have your potatoes in acidic soil with a pH level of 6.0 or below and that one should add alfalfa meal, soybean meal or another high-nitrogen organic fertilizer. Lastly, I read that you should not plant your potatoes in soil that contains manure because this can create rough patches on the skin. All of this may be true and is very helpful information, however, I of course read all of the above after I had planted my “faith” potatoes.

I call them faith potatoes because against all odds and against the grain of conventional directions I planted them and I continued to hope that below the surface something was happening…

My garden beds have manure in it. My sprouting Yukon Golds were from a local grocery store,  I have no idea what my soils pH level is because I haven’t gotten around to testing the soils balance. I did not add a single dosage of organic feed to the soil.  I simply took the sprouted potatoes, planted them, and watered them.  Yes, I did sing them a song or two. My plants love it when I sing to them…

After a while my lovely potato plants, well more like miniature bushes because they grew so high and green and wide, they began to flower. Little dainty white flowers with a yellow center.  Again, I admired all that I could see; the flowers and the lush green foliage. Yet, I continued to hope and wonder what might be happening below the surface.  By this point I had read all of the do’s and don’ts of potatoes and I had discovered that I had accomplished a lot of the don’ts… My expectations were not extremely high at this point, but I waited and I wondered that possibly, just maybe, we might be getting some of our very own potatoes from this earthen patch.

Months had gone by, the plants continued to visibly grow untamed, tall and wide. Then today, a hot Saturday afternoon in July, we arrived home from a fantastic time at our local farmers market and all 4 of us did that thing that I tend to do. We climbed out of the car and just stood there and stared at the garden, watchful and hopeful.  My husband began to look at all the tomatoes that are finally showing up.  Then as I was introducing him to all of the green cherry tomatoes he began pushing his hands into the soft soil below one of the potato plants.

“Careful Josh, you might hurt the babies!” I warned him. I was thinking that if there was anything reproducing beneath the soil that they were still so young; vulnerable little spudlings that needed to stay within the dark cocoon of the earth…  And then…dirt I dig you potatos2

Out of the dirt rose beauty… Out of the unknown he starts pulling out these baseball sized golden potatoes, bright, fresh and gleaming; all covered in rich dirt. My children squealed in delight.  I gasped in shocked excitement. It was an amazing experience to see these edible treasures come forth from a place that I could not see that will now feed my family …

Beneath the soil things were happening that my eyes could not perceive…life was forming in the spaces of mystery.  There is a precarious line in life of visual-factual understanding and faith-understanding.  I have always thought faith was strange, because I feel like I have faith and hope; I feel like I can believe in what I cannot see…yet that doesn’t mean I didn’t ever doubt. Although, I was always taught to never doubt… However, without doubt how can one have faith? If there isn’t anything to wonder about, if there was never any reason to question things than faith would not exist…it would merely be factual and the guess and the mystery would be gone…

Here I am tonight with a bowl full of potatoes in my kitchen. Soaking them in vinegar water, cleaning all the dirt from their skins; like a baby birthed from the mysterious womb and then washed, cleaned and wrapped into the arms of her mother.

All I can say is I have faith in potatoes… potatoes taught me faith and that is good enough for me. I have learned that there are rules and tips and guidelines that will show you how to do something based off of what others have already done, but there are times when nature shows off it’s wild side, free and fertile; nature wants to thrive…all living things want to grow…it is the elemental connection that we all have, we all want to be and feel alive! Thank you Creator for this humble harvest.