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The collaborative efforts of the group resulted in a number of multi-disciplinary publications:

South Africa - Economics, Crop Science and Anthropology

Rasch, S., et al., (2017), Multi-scale resilience of a communal rangeland system in South Africa, Ecological Economics, 131: 129-138

Resilience has either been assessed on system or individual scale so far. Ignoring the other scale may potentially change the interpretation of resilience in socio-ecological systems (SES). Thus, this paper argues that the co-evolution of both resiliencies must be studied to capture multi-scale complexity. We attempt to close this gap by assessing resilience at both scales of a village community in Thaba Nchu, South Africa. Villagers use a commonly managed rangeland for beef cattle production. An agent based model of household interaction coupled with a biophysical model of the rangeland measures the resiliencies of the SES towards a shock, a stress and a policy intervention. Currently, the SES remains in a stable attractor in terms of SES resilience. Household resilience, however, degrades in a process of structural change. A drought scenario shows improved SES resilience but structural change at household level accelerated. An increase in the number absentee herders increases the likelihood for SES collapse by eroding social embededdness. Finally, an introduced basic income grant demonstrates that the SES is able to cope with an increased number of appropriators. However, interaction of the policy intervention with an exogenous stress translates into an increased probability of SES decoupling.

Rasch, S., et al., (2016a), Cooperation and Collapse in a communual livestock production SES model - a case from South Africa, Environmental Modelling & Software, 75: 402-413

Institutional arrangements are considered necessary for successfully governing the commons. They are furthermore thought to be more effective if they are self-organized instead of being imposed. However, endogenous institutional arrangements, like local norms, are specific to a particular socio-ecological systems (SES). This paper presents a SES model of communal livestock producers in South Africa. Its bio-physical component accounts for the impact of biotic and abiotic factors on livestock population. The social agent based component models individual and socially determined behaviour, the latter being a social norm specific to the case. Model results show that cooperative agents obeying and sanctioning the norm reduces the likelihood of SES collapse in terms of livestock population crashes. However, cooperation among agents only emerges in times of ecological crisis where social reorganization is fostered. The crisis creates the opportunity for initializing a self-enforcing process of mutual cooperation. Model specifications are based on survey data and agents were parameterized according to individual household data. A sensitivity analysis shows that this empirical heterogeneity cannot be reduced without changing model outcomes.

Rasch, S, et al., (2016b), Reorganizing resource use in a communal livestock production socio-ecological system in South Africa, Land Use Policy, 52: 221-231

Livestock production on South Africa’s commons contributes significantly to the livelihoods of communal households, offering status, food, income and savings. Management innovations are generally top-down and informed by commercial practices such as rotational grazing in combination with conservative stocking. Implementations often ignore how the specific socio-ecological context affects outcomes and the impact on equity. Science now acknowledges that rangeland management must be context specific and that a universally agreed-upon recommendation for managing semi-arid rangelands does not exist. We present a socio-ecological simulation model derived from a case study in South Africa and use it to assess the socio-ecological effects of rotational vs. continuous grazing under conservative and opportunistic stocking rates. We find that continuous grazing under conservative stocking rates leads to the most favourable outcomes from the social and the ecological perspectives. However, the past legacy under apartheid and participants’ expectations renders its successful application unlikely because enforceability is not ensured.

South Africa - Rangeland-, Soil science, Anthropology and Economics

Linstädter, A., et al. (2016), Assessing the resilience of a real-world social-ecological system: lessons from a multidisciplinary evaluation of a South African pastoral system, Ecology and Society 21 (3):35

In the past decades, social-ecological systems (SESs) worldwide have undergone dramatic transformations with often detrimental consequences for livelihoods. Although resilience thinking offers promising conceptual frameworks to understand SES transformations, empirical resilience assessments of real-world SESs are still rare because SES complexity requires integrating knowledge, theories, and approaches from different disciplines. Taking up this challenge, we empirically assess the resilience of a South African pastoral SES to drought using various methods from natural and social sciences. In the ecological subsystem, we analyze rangelands’ ability to buffer drought effects on forage provision, using soil and vegetation indicators. In the social subsystem, we assess households’ and communities’ capacities to mitigate drought effects, applying agronomic and institutional indicators and benchmarking against practices and institutions in traditional pastoral SESs. Our results indicate that a decoupling of livelihoods from livestock-generated income was initiated by government interventions in the 1930s. In the post-apartheid phase, minimum-input strategies of herd management were adopted, leading to a recovery of rangeland vegetation due to unintentionally reduced stocking densities. Because current livelihood security is mainly based on external monetary resources (pensions, child grants, and disability grants), household resilience to drought is higher than in historical phases. Our study is one of the first to use a truly multidisciplinary resilience assessment. Conflicting results from partial assessments underline that measuring narrow indicator sets may impede a deeper understanding of SES transformations. The results also imply that the resilience of contemporary, open SESs cannot be explained by an inward-looking approach because essential connections and drivers at other scales have become relevant in the globalized world. Our study thus has helped to identify pitfalls in empirical resilience assessment and to improve the conceptualization of SES dynamics.

Kenya - Crop Science and Anthropology

Becker, M., et al., (2016), Land-Use Changes and the Invasion Dynamics of Shrubs in Baringo, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 10(1): 111-129

In the semi-arid savannahs around Lake Baringo, Kenya, the recent spread of bush encroachment by the invasive alien species Prosopis juliflora and the native Dodonaea viscosa has changed human–environment interactions. This article suggests how the spread dynamics of Prosopis and Dodonaea have operated. It also describes the strategies Baringo's peoples have adopted in the face of this dramatic bush invasion, relates these dynamics to current invasion theory, and analyses possible implications for Baringo's social–ecological systems. It is suggested that recent increased climate variability has triggered changes in land management and livelihoods around Lake Baringo, paving the way for bush encroachment and species invasion. The extent and speed of these changes has exceeded the capacity of local communities to adapt their productive systems, destabilizing the socio-ecology of the dryland savannahs around Lake Baringo and placing them in imminent danger of collapse.

Kenya - Anthropology and Crop Science

Greiner, C., et al., (2013): From Cattle to Corn: Attributes of Emerging Farming Systems of Former Pastoral Nomads in East Pokot, Kenya. In: Society & Natural Resources 2(12): 1478-1490.

Crop cultivation under rain-fed conditions is a recent innovation among the formerly pastoral-nomadic Pokot in north-central Kenya. We have examined the socioecological dynamics of land-use change from an interdisciplinary perspective. The patterns of transition to agropastoralism are closely related to both the biogeophysical attributes of the area and the economic characteristics of the households. While the use of advanced agronomic practices in the highlands is associated with annual maize grain yields of >2 Mg ha?1, unfavorable climatic and edaphic conditions, as well as the limited agronomic knowledge of the newcomer farmers in the lowland and mid-hill zones, make field crop production there an opportunistic, spatially scattered, and rather erratic land-use strategy. The accelerated transition to crop cultivation and the spatiotemporal differences in sedentarization between zones contribute to a fragmentation and shortage of land, which results in growing interhousehold inequalities and increasing conflicts within Pokot society.

Kenya - Anthropology and Geography

Greiner, C., Sakadapolrak, P., (2013), Rural-urban migration, agrarian change, and the environment in Kenya: a critical review of the literature, Population and Enivironment, 34 (4): 524-553

The nexus between migration dynamics and environmental change has drawn the attention of many researchers in the recent past. While the majority of studies focus on the impact of the environment on migration decisions, less emphasis has been placed on the feedback effect of migration on the environment in rural sending areas. This article provides a critical review of this relationship by focusing on the rich literature on rural–urban migration of smallholder households in Kenya and its effects on rural environments. The article argues that there are distinct relations between migration, agricultural change and the environment. These are mediated in varying degrees by flows of remittances, loss of labor, socioeconomic stratification, gender dynamics, and cultural factors. Overly generalizing assumptions about these relations, however, fail to grasp their complexity. We propose employing a translocal perspective to enrich future analysis and enhance the understanding of migration–environmental interactions.

Greiner, C., Sakapolrak, P. (2013), Translocality: Concepts, Applications and Emerging Research Perspectives,  Geography Compass 7(5): 373-348

The employment of translocality as a research perspective is currently gaining momentum. A growing number of scholars from different research traditions concerned with the dynamics of mobility, migration and socio-spatial interconnectedness have developed conceptual approaches to the term. They usually build on insights from transnationalism while attempting to overcome some of the limitations of this long-established research perspective. As such, translocality is used to describe socio-spatial dynamics and processes of simultaneity and identity formation that transcend boundaries—including, but also extending beyond, those of nation states. In this review, we trace the emergence of the idea of translocality and summarise the characteristics that different authors associate with the term. We elucidate the underlying notions of mobility and place and sketch out fields of research where the concept has been employed. On the basis of our findings, we conclude by proposing key areas where a translocal approach has the potential to generate fruitful insights

Greiner, C.; Sakdapolrak, P. (2016): Migration, Environment and Inequality: Perspectives of a Political Ecology of Translocal Relations. In: Schade, J., Faist, T.; McLeman, R. (Eds). Environmental Migration and Social Inequality, Springer, Cham, pp. 151-163.

Research into the relationship between environment and migration—particularly how the environment influences the decision to migrate—has gained currency in the last decade. However, the growing body of recent environmental-migration literature exhibits an under-theorized and depoliticized notion of the environment. Furthermore, migration is usually perceived as an emergency response, a one-time movement, neglecting the often inherent circularity and continuous effects of migration. In this chapter, we introduce the concepts of translocality and political ecology as a means to address this lapse. We also propose a political ecology of translocal relations as a framework for research into the migration-environment nexus. This to be an important issue in this time of mounting and often reductionist debates.

South Africa - Rangeland-, Crop- and Soil Science

Linstädter, A., et al., (2014), Are there consistent grazing indicators in drylands? Testing plant functional types of various complexity in South Africa’s grassland and savanna biomes, PLOS ONE, 9, e104672

Despite our growing knowledge on plants’ functional responses to grazing, there is no consensus if an optimum level of functional aggregation exists for detecting grazing effects in drylands. With a comparative approach we searched for plant functional types (PFTs) with a consistent response to grazing across two areas differing in climatic aridity, situated in South Africa’s grassland and savanna biomes. We aggregated herbaceous species into PFTs, using hierarchical combinations of traits (from single- to three-trait PFTs). Traits relate to life history, growth form and leaf width. We first confirmed that soil and grazing gradients were largely independent from each other, and then searched in each biome for PFTs with a sensitive response to grazing, avoiding confounding with soil conditions. We found no response consistency, but biome-specific optimum aggregation levels. Three-trait PFTs (e.g. broad-leaved perennial grasses) and two-trait PFTs (e.g. perennial grasses) performed best as indicators of grazing effects in the semi-arid grassland and in the arid savanna biome, respectively. Some PFTs increased with grazing pressure in the grassland, but decreased in the savanna. We applied biome-specific grazing indicators to evaluate if differences in grazing management related to land tenure (communal versus freehold) had effects on vegetation. Tenure effects were small, which we mainly attributed to large variability in grazing pressure across farms. We conclude that the striking lack of generalizable PFT responses to grazing is due to a convergence of aridity and grazing effects, and unlikely to be overcome by more refined classification approaches. Hence, PFTs with an opposite response to grazing in the two biomes rather have a unimodal response along a gradient of additive forces of aridity and grazing. The study advocates for hierarchical trait combinations to identify localized indicator sets for grazing effects. Its methodological approach may also be useful for identifying ecological indicators in other ecosystems

Kenya - Economics and Water Resource management

Kuhn, A., et al., (2016), Simulating the viability of water institutions under volatile rainfall conditions - The case of the lake Naivasha Basin, Environmental Modelling & Software, 75: 373-387

This study views the Lake Naivasha Basin in Kenya's Rift Valley as a hydro-economic system with slowly emerging basin-wide water management institutions. Possible institutions face two interlinked challenges. Firstly, large scale horticultural activities as a core economic activity in the basin require substantial and regular amounts of irrigation water, abstracted from the lake and its aquifer. The lake level and thus irrigation water availability reveal a falling trend over the last two decades, which calls for institutions aimed at restricting further expansion in water use. Secondly, the region is characterized by volatile weather conditions where periods of average and above average rainfall have alternated with prolonged droughts for centuries. That leads to highly volatile water inflows into the lake. The two challenges combined thus call for water management institutions that support sustainable water use in both the short and the long run. This study therefore investigates the effect of water institutions already existing or proposed by local stakeholder organizations on preserving target lake levels against a background of highly volatile water availability which negatively affects the economic viability of institutions. To take the absence of functioning basin-wide coordination mechanisms for water allocation into account, we employ the solution format of Multiple Optimization Problems with Equilibrium Constraints (MOPEC) in our integrated hydro-economic model. Stochastic scenario simulations with the model reveal that compliance to water regulations and thus the viability of water institutions in the Naivasha Basin would require very high penalties which are not likely to be accepted by users.

Kenya - History and Anthropology

Anderson, D.M., Bollig, M., (2016), Resilience and Collapse: Histories, Ecologies, Conflicts and Identities in the Baringo-Bogoria Basin, Kenya, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 10(1): 1-20

The concept of resilience is now applied across the natural and social sciences to provide a means of examining and understanding adaptation and transformation over a longer time period, in response to environmental, economic, cultural, or political shocks or adverse events. This essay introduces a collection of 10 studies that analyse resilience in the context of the Baringo-Bogoria basin, a predominantly savannah ecological zone in Kenya's northern Rift Valley. Framed by the adaptive cycle model, the studies span a history of 200 years, but also detail current challenges to the social-ecological system of the region. Resilience has allowed the communities of Baringo-Bogoria to adapt and transform in order to maintain production systems dominated by cattle pastoralism, with intensive agriculture in niche locations. The authors suggest that the most recent challenges confronting the peoples of this region – intensified conflicts, mounting poverty driven by demographic pressures, and dramatic ecological changes brought by invasive species – have contributed to a collapse in essential elements of the specialised cattle production system, requiring a re-orientation of the social-ecological system.


Workshop in 2015

Next to our regular meetings, the group met for a workshop in Naivasha, Kenya, in 2015. Individual groups presented their newest findings, past cooperations were reflected upon and future visions were formulated. Partners from Kenya and South Africa joint the lively discussions on resilience, collapse and reorganisation in socio-ecological systems. The group also conducted a two day field trip to the research areas near lake Baringo in Kenya.