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During the decades between 1960 and 1980, cultural anthropology primarily made use of ecological and economic analysis in order to contribute to a scientific understanding of pastoral nomads in the world’s arid and semi-arid regions (see Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980). This approach helped to elucidate behaviour observed within pastoral cultures by relating it to external ecological and economic factors like rainfall distribution, herd reproduction rate, the labour demands of herding, or market prices. Anthropologists showed that the seemingly irrational behaviour under study appeared perfectly logical when seen as an adaptation or response to the predicaments of nomadic peoples.

Since the 1980s, the development of the concept of local knowledge (Brokensha et al. 1980; Richards 1985) has enhanced the study of pastoral nomads (elements of local knowledge research can also be found in earlier works; for an overview see Niamir 1990; on the Wodaabe, Bonfiglioli 1981, 1984). By investigating the local knowledge of herders, an important shift of emphasis has been achieved. While formerly nomads were viewed in a passive and static role, only reacting to external conditions and behaving according to accepted cultural schema, they are now seen as active decision-makers. As pastoralists, they are wilful and knowledgeable actors, motivated but not determined by cultural values, economic goals, or unpredictable events. They are actively and creatively shaping their surroundings - sometimes experimentally - and when confronted with the results or consequences of their own work, decide autonomously how and when to react.

When dealing scientifically with local indigenous knowledge, a note of caution is necessary. A scientific account of local knowledge is interesting either because it shows how human knowledge relates to human dealings in the world (and vice versa), or because it exposes the cognitive processes by which knowledge is created, appropriated, stored and accessed. In the latter case the researcher deals with the cognitive status of knowledge, i.e. is it language-like or not language like? (Bloch 1991); is it applied by putting separable and singularly stored concepts and sentences together, or is it contained within whole performative acts, like cultivation or driving animals to pasture? (Richards 1993).

In order to answer these questions, a scientific model of cognition would have to be devised (e.g. Strauss and Quinn 1994, who adopt the model of serial- and parallel- processing from information technology to represent different forms of human cognition). Research is possible, however, even when these questions have not yet been answered. But it must be made clear that what is presented as indigenous knowledge in a written account is an abstraction of processes that, in their original place, need not have a textual and serial form.

Thus, the arrangement of sections in this case study is not to be understood as a model of a serial and verbalized reasoning process of the Wodaabe herders. It is only one of several possible ways (see Schareika 2003a for another) to introduce the reader to a foreign knowledge system and its application.

Another possible way is shown in Figure 1 below; which represents in a simple graphical synthesis some of the causes and effects directly related to the risk of loss of biodiversity in grasslands. Similar graphs have been developed for all biodiversity case studies.

Note on orthography:

It was not possible in the following text to represent the implosive b and d used in the Fulfulde language with their corresponding characters. For this reason, they are written in the same way as their plosive counterparts, i.e. b and d. The implosive y is given as ý.

Figure 1: Drivers-Effects framework; a simple graphical synthesis of the causes and effects as portrayed in the text.

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