What can we learn from Ethiopian pastoralists?

Creating value in a sustainable way

When people make their living by herding and raising livestock, this is called pastoralism. This is of great important for many people worldwide. It is a livelihood that supports 20 million households and roughly 240 million individuals, practiced in 25% of the globe and providing 10% of the world’s meat production (FAO, 2001). Pastoralism heavily depends on common-pool natural resources; grazing land, pasture and water. Pastoralism is mostly practiced in the world’s dryland, where the availability of resources needed to sustain pastoralism; grazing land, pasture and water, are very scarce, seasonally variable and heavily affected with climate change (FAO, 2001). Climate change, such as recurrent droughts, is increasingly putting pressure on pastoralism by making the availability of pasture and water resources very scarce. Pastoralists production systems are generally regarded as an adaptive livelihood system to resource scarcities. Pastoralists tends to make adjustments in their production system to cope with scarce natural resource and reduce burden on their environment. For example, they change their herd size, herd composition, mobile grazing pattern based on the availability of pasture and water.

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Pastoralism is primarily seen as a subsistence oriented livelihood system. However, recent studies indicated that marketing theories can also be generalizable and positively contribute to pastoralists’ performance. A study by Ingenbleek, Tessema, and van Trijp (2013) on Ethiopian pastoralists indicated that market orientation positively contributes to livelihood performance and ecological sustainability. More market oriented pastoralists were also found to be more cooperative to common resource dilemma by adjusting their herd size based on the availability of pasture and water. So perhaps, marketing can learn from pastoralists to become more ecologically sustainable.

In customer values creation process, firms’ marketing practices often gets critics of encouraging unsustainable consumptions such as overfishing, deforestation, intensified use of pesticides and fertilizers that inevitably stresses our environment. The influential marketer Kotler stated that marketing’s assumptions of infinite resources and zero environmental impacts have exacerbate the side effect eco-costs of marketing practices. But there is growing acknowledgment that firms’ value creation processes have environmental effects and resources are also finite. Marketers are increasingly facing pressure from both increased consumers’ awareness and governmental regulations to consider environmental constraints and serve the long term well-being of the society (Fuller, 1999). Thus, marketing needs to find ways to adapt firms’ value creation processes to environmental constraints. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of inquiries into the practical role of marketing theories in adapting value creation process to environmental constraints.

My study aims to draw lessons from pastoralists in Ethiopian by empirically testing the role of market-driven capabilities in adapting value creation processes to common-pool resource scarcities. The study will examine how pastoralists create value using scarcely available common-pool resources. I will also examine the effect of marketing capabilities on sustainable resource utilization and the role of market-driven capabilities in successfully dealing with resource scarcity. The coming years, I am going to collect data using surveys, interviews, focus groups and field observations on these issues.

The study is promoted by Prof.dr.ir.J.C.M. van Trijp and Dr. Paul Ingenbleek, Marketing and Consumer Behaviour Group, Wageningen University and expected to be completed within four years.   

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