A Case for Migrant Shepherds


Today, I found an article by Michele Nori, aligning to my thoughts on migration and shepherds entitled:

‘Migrant Shepherds: Opportunities and Challenges for Mediterranean Pastoralism’ by Michele Nori. found in the Journal of Alpine Research, Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine, 105-4 | 2017, Varia 2017.

for the full article under the Creative Commons license, please see: https://journals.openedition.org/rga/3554

It seems like I am on the right track in terms of acknowledging the expertise and necessity of ‘shepherds from elsewhere’ continuing their profession in other countries than their homeland. This is to keep the mountainous areas healthy, environmentally sustainable (from desertification, flooding, etc.) and alive with expertise. The author, Michele Nori, writes of difficulties for shepherd migration in a number of Mediterranean countries, such as policy/government support in terms of labour conditions, fair and adequate wages, and need for training schools for valorization and attracting younger generations. He also writes that language and “ease of communication’ seem to be very  important factors for immigrant shepherds in choosing where they go, although in The NL choice for some migrants is not always an option. But language training seems supported in The Netherlands.

This article references the valuable input of shepherds in mountainous areas, so I wonder how this could have the same effect in a flatland like The Netherlands?

Quotes from the article with highlights by myself:

‘…Their (immigrant shepherds) presence makes it possible to keep the pastures of the Alps, Epirus, Apennines, Pyrenees and so forth alive and productive, and this flow reproduces patterns of a generational renewal associated with an ethnic substitution that has characterised Euro-Mediterranean pastoralism over the past century.’ Michele Nori, Migrant Shepherds: Opportunities and Challenges for Mediterranean Pastoraliasm, p.2, section 2

‘There are also very specialised sectors where immigrant communities play a relevant
role. This is the case in livestock farming, where the presence of the foreign workforce is
increasing in both quantitative and qualitative terms. With their commitment and know how, these immigrant workers allow EUMed livestock productions to remain at a level of global excellence. In Italy, for example, immigrants make a strategic contribution to the value chains of Parmesan, Fontina and Pecorino cheeses.’ Nori, Migrant Shepherds, p.4, section 7

‘France is a notable exception in the Mediterranean context in terms of being an
enabling environment for extensive livestock farming: The labour conditions, rights
and wage levels are significantly higher here than in other countries in the region. It
is the outcome of years of political struggle, as well as social and economic
investments. In France, an important process of generational renewal took place in
the 1970s with the arrival of urban citizens who sought in shepherding an
alternative lifestyle. By contrast, political and local authorities saw in this
phenomenon an opportunity to revitalise territories that risked abandonment. In
1972, a pastoral law was approved (Decree 72-12), which sought to facilitate access to
land, provide incentives to organise pastoral operators, and create the conditions for
public investments – and thus contribute to developing an appropriate framework to
improve shepherds’ working and living conditions alike (Charbonnier, 2012). Today
in France, a prospective shepherd can find training opportunities in one of five
specialised schools in the country, and his/her wage might be two or three times
that of the same worker in Italy, Spain or Greece.’ Nori, p.7, box 2, In the Case of France

‘However, the important contribution of foreign communities to generational renewal is
not new to Mediterranean pastoralism, which has already witnessed the Sardinians
colonising abandoned pasturelands in central Italy, southern Spanish herders moving to
graze the Pyrenees, northern Italian shepherds moving to Provence and Switzerland, the
moves of the Vlachs and Arvanites flock and shepherds throughout Greece, and Kurdish
shepherds in several regions of Turkey (Lebaudy, 2010; Meloni, 2011). These com-munities have contributed substantially to keeping the pasturelands of destination countries populated, alive and productive. In this regional logic, it is not surprising that immigrants who work as shepherds come from other parts of the same Mediterranean ecosystem, as mobility and migration are factors embedded in and characterising pastoral systems. Together with historical and geographical patterns, language and ease of communication are important elements in migrants’ decision making, even on rangelands. This is the rationale underpinning shepherds’ flow from Piedmont to France (regions of Occitan language), Moroccans in France, Romanians (mostly) in Italy and Spain, and Vlachs in Greece.’ Nori, p.9 section 15

‘The transition from manual labour to entrepreneurship and livestock ownership in this
sector shows very low rates for migrants, which undermines the incoming population’s
ability to contribute to the future and sustainability of pastoralism. This rationale
underpins the recent dynamics of ethnic replacement that characterise the foreign
workforce in certain regions as a result of changes in the political and administrative
framework. In the case of Provence, in southern France, it is interesting to note the
gradual change in the origins of foreign shepherds. In fact, it is widely acknowledged that foreigners have long been employed in local flocks, though from different areas: from Italians and Spaniards at the beginning of the century, to Maghrebis from Tunisia and Morocco after the war, to the recent inflow of Romanians.’ Nori, p.10 section 17

‘Modern pastoralism faces various degrees of unpredictability and risks that relate not only to ecological and climatic factors but also (more and more) to those originating in the political, commercial and administrative spheres. Paradoxically, modern society is increasingly appreciating the products and services of pastoralism (quality proteins, organic production, biodiversity, ecosystem services, landscape and culture, etc.), but flocks and shepherds are decreasing all over the countryside. Nevertheless, this practice remains a very important asset to tackle climate change, as well as desertification patterns affecting marginal territories in the Mediterranean (Nori and Davies, 2007).’ Nori, p 10, section 18

The large presence of foreigners in pastoralism – and in forestry – is a clear indicator of the importance of the immigrant workforce in the sectors that are vital to keeping mountain territories alive and productive, as well as managing natural resources and protecting the population against hydrogeological risks (such as fires, floods, landslides, etc.). In these situations, immigrants not only participate in productive agro-silvopastoral activities but also represent an overall strategic resource for the sustainability of mountain societies, providing a critical contribution to repopulate remote villages and most marginal communities (INEA, 2009; Kasimis, 2010; Osti and Ventura, 2012; Corrado, 2012). Despite socio-cultural divergences in certain cases, the impact of immigration in these areas is rather positive, as competition in the local labour and land markets is limited because shepherding is not an attractive profession to local workers, and flocks make productive use of land that would otherwise be abandoned.’ Nori,  p. 11, section 20

‘The migration phenomenon is not new to the pastoral world, since mobility represents a
pillar of this practice, and generational renewal through ethnic substitutions has already
characterised pastoralism in other areas and periods (refer to Table 4). This perspective
makes it possible to consider Mediterranean pastoralism as a regional system, where
mobility affects flocks, as well as shepherds and their families, at different levels and in
different places. This recalls Braudel’s definition of the Mediterranean as a mosaic of all
the existing colours that merge and mix through territories and eventually combine to
form a dynamic image, where sheep and goats come to represent a typical element of the
landscape. In order to capitalise on these migratory flows, there should be consistent
efforts to improve the viability of pastoralism and the attractiveness of mountain areas
and to facilitate the integration of foreign workers accordingly. This in-migratory
phenomenon represents an invaluable opportunity to deal with rural depopulation
trends, generational renewal flaws and the overall socio-economic desertification that
affects much of the rural areas in EUMed, while also representing a good opportunity to
contribute to managing migratory flows.’ Nori, p. 11, section 21.

‘In such a context, it would therefore make sense to better articulate and coordinate
migration policies with those relating to the agricultural and labour markets. The
recognition and appreciation of the technical capacities of these workers represent the
first necessary steps to integrate such a policy framework in order to provide adequate
investments in enhancing training and entrepreneurial skills to adapt immigrant
shepherds’ capacities to the challenges of the local sector. In this respect, the presence of
foreign shepherds could be encouraged in pastoral schools in France (5) and Spain (5), through an approach of active citizenship, where everybody gets appreciated for what
he/she contributes to the surrounding society. Similar training efforts are also being
discussed in Italy and in Greece. But it will be necessary to work towards improving the
social status and economic conditions of these workers by enhancing transparent and fair contractual relationships, while reducing precariousness and improving living and
working conditions. Thus, sustainable pastoralism will not only be the result of a system
of aid and subsidies but also require a broader political framework, including a review of agriculture, professional and migration policies, together with ad hoc initiatives and
investments.’ Nori, pgs 10-11, section 22

featured image: https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/603w3e/transhumance_ways_of_the_vlach_shepherds_in_the/

top image: Transhumance et la Mediterranee, http://www.transhumance.org/documentation-et-telechargement/



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