DISES: Co-producing Knowledge to Sustain Pastoral Socio-environmental systems: System Feedbacks, Future Scenarios, and Adaptive Responses

Grants and Contracts Details


DISES: Sustaining agrarian socio-environmental systems: Critical feedbacks between agroecology, culture and identity, and governance across generations PI: Meredith Welch-Devine, University of Georgia The Socio-Environmental System: The contemporary socio-environmental system of the Pyrenees mountains of southwestern France has been established through thousands of years of interaction between Basque pastoralists and biotic and abiotic components of the landscape. These interactions have created a landscape characterized by highly productive high-altitude grasslands, forest patches, and a rich diversity of plant and animal life and a socio-economic system based on transhumance (the seasonal rotation of sheep from lowland farms to upland pastures), collective management of the commons, and mutual aid. Basque culture was and is central to both the landscape and socialscape, providing a language, worldview, norms, and social relations that enable—and pressure—people to sustain this agrarian system. The Basque region faces challenges characteristic of many rural communities around the globe: the population is in decline, costs are rising more quickly than profits, and many young people no longer wish to remain in agriculture. At the same time, a changing climate and policy mismatches are likely exacerbating trends of farm consolidation and abandonment, and while economic determinants of intergenerational farm transmission have been well studied, we know relatively little about the environmental and cultural factors that influence the likelihood of succession for individual farms and, by extension, the sustainability of the socio-environmental systems in which they are embedded. The research will combine ecological and ethnographic methods that build on long-term collaboration with Basque farmers to examine: 1. changes in below and above ground ecological communities and their response to (a) the decline of transhumance and traditional grazing and land management regimes, (b) climate change, and (c) some farmers’ efforts to resume traditional methods; 2. changes in farmer strategies regarding land management, herd management, generational farm transmission, and collective institutions for mutual aid and commons governance, in response to (a) changes in the landscape, (b) changes in the policy and economic context, and (c) other demographic and cultural changes; and 3. future trajectories of ecological and socioeconomic change. Intellectual Merit and Generalizability: This work will enhance our understanding of drivers and iterative feedbacks agrarian socio-environmental systems that are critical for food provisioning and other ecosystem services, examining governance strategies and policy approaches that can support and sustain these systems. Because the challenges faced by farmers in this region are emblematic of those in rural regions across the globe, we anticipate that findings here will be broadly applicable. Most notably, this research will deepen our understanding of the sustainability and resilience of agrarian systems by identifying the environmental and cultural drivers of successful farm succession and post-transfer transformation. These questions are important for the sustainability of food systems generally and are especially important for continuing the human–non-human feedbacks that have produced and sustained anthropogenic landscapes. Broader Impacts: This work builds on 15 years of ethnographic fieldwork in the region, as well as two intensive workshops with researchers and farmers conducted in the past 18 months. Farmers have been full partners in shaping the research directions, and this proposed project offers the opportunity to explore the process of collaborative scientific research, contributing insight to improve co-production of knowledge with non-scientific partners. Furthermore, forecasts developed in the course of this project will themselves be used in participatory work with farmers to develop generational transfer and policy strategies to help actualize preferred scenarios.
Effective start/end date1/1/2311/30/27


  • University of Georgia: $184,874.00


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