Reimagining invasions: The social and cultural impacts of Prosopis on pastoralists in southern Afar, Ethiopia

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Abstract

Whilst the environmental impacts of biological invasions are clearly conceptualised and there is growing evidence on the economic benefits and costs, the social and cultural dimensions remain poorly understood. This paper presents the perceptions of pastoralist communities in southern Afar, Ethiopian lowlands, on one invasive species, Prosopis juliflora. The socio-cultural impacts are assessed, and the manner in which they interact with other drivers of vulnerability, including political marginalisation, sedentarisation and conflict, is explored. The research studied 10 communities and undertook semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. These results were supported by interviews with community leaders and key informants. The benefits and costs were analysed using the asset-based framework of the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework and the subject-focused approach of Wellbeing in Development. The results demonstrate that the costs of invasive species are felt across all of the livelihood capital bases (financial, natural, physical, human and social) highlighted within the framework and that the impacts cross multiple assets, such as reducing access through blocking roads. The concept of Wellbeing in Development provides a lens to examine neglected impacts, like conflict, community standing, political marginalisation and cultural impoverishment, and a freedom of definition and vocabulary to allow the participants to define their own epistemologies. The research highlights that impacts spread across assets, transcend objective and subjective classification, but also that impacts interact with other drivers of vulnerability. Pastoralists report deepened and broadened conflict, complicated relationships with the state and increased sedentarisation within invaded areas. The paper demonstrates that biological invasions have complex social and cultural implications beyond the environmental and economic costs which are commonly presented. Through synthesising methodologies and tools which capture local knowledge and perceptions, these implications and relationships are conceptualised.

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Rogers, P., Nunan, F., & Fentie, A. A. (2017). Reimagining invasions: The social and cultural impacts of Prosopis on pastoralists in southern Afar, Ethiopia. Pastoralism, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13570-017-0094-0

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