Covid-19 and Pastoralism
COVID-19 and Pastoralism in a Context of Rupture and Structural Reforms in Benin: Learning from Uncertainty Management from Below
This project, financed by the DFG, examines the social and economic implications of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and of the knowledge and perception of these phenomena at the margins of the infectious events. These margins include large parts of the African continent, which have among the lowest infection rates worldwide. For analysing such dynamics, the project focuses on pastoralists, a group that is also living in the shadow of globally circulating information flows. Pastoralists are an interesting case: they are seen as experts in dealing with uncertainties, while their livelihoods have come under serious pressure in many parts of Africa. The core question of this project is whether – and if so how and to what degree – pastoralists are affected by a virus that is causing havoc in completely different parts of the world. The project therefore seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the pandemics, not from its centres but from what is assumed to be its periphery. To examine the current dynamics, the project draws on approaches from anthropology and the sustainable livelihood framework, using ‘uncertainty’ as central theoretical concept and analytical lens. As women are often seen as carrying the bulk of the burden of pandemics, gender is used as a further lens. Empirically, the project seeks to scrutinise how the pandemic is experienced, interpreted and managed by pastoralists in different parts of Northern Benin. Therefore, ethnographic research will be conducted through two case studies – (1) pastoral households and (2) pastoralist women’s associations – in two regions of Northern Benin. The project uses a mixed-method approach comprised of participant observation, open and standardised interviews, digital communication and situational analysis. Drawing a much more nuanced picture of how and with what consequences this ‘global’ pandemic evolves at its edges and how pastoralists who are experienced in dealing with uncertainty perceive the outcomes of the pandemic will help to clarify the scope of the pastoralists’ adaptability. This knowledge is important in how it might affect the future of pastoralism in this region, but also in how it might contribute to a better understanding of the globalising effects of crises which started in China, Europe or elsewhere.