The Social Ecology Package investigates the production strategies, principles and logics of action of livestock farmers/pastoralists in different rangeland systems of today’s  Namibia. It examines how these logics developed and how they reflect different human-animal- environment-relationships.

The project builds on the understanding that livestock keepers in different livestock husbandry systems exert different levels of control over their production environment and over the components of the livestock system they operate. The degree of control exerted depends on a multitude of factors, and the management practices they employ reflect the level and quality of control they seek to exert.

Whether in stationary or mobile systems, whether on private or communal land, the livestock population or herd is the system component over which livestock keepers usually have full managerial control. In the short term, management decisions on e.g. grazing, feeding, watering, movements, veterinary treatments, cullings, sales, loans and acquisitions influences and is influenced by the animals’ or herd’s direct interactions with the “environment”. Through breeding, livestock keepers influence the genetic makeup of their animals and the composition of their herd - i.e. by taking decisions of how many and which animals should reproduce when, and which animals mate with each other. This breeding management influences the animals’ characteristics and capabilities to interact with the environment in the medium and long term.

All these management processes have continually shaped the human-animal-environment interactions. Particularly, breeding strategies reflect to a large extent how people i.e. the livestock keepers wish to influence their animals’ or herds’ capabilities to interact with the environment in future, by influencing the characteristics of their livestock populations to enhance structural coupling, i.e. influencing senso-motoric features of the animals to be able to make use of the resources of the environment. Against this background, the Social Ecology Package will comparatively describe and analyse cattle production systems in today’s Namibia with their human-animal-environment interactions, their management practices, and cattle populations:

  • for local cattle husbandry and breeding practices and those introduced during the colonial period (starting from 1884) based on archive material, historic literature, and if possible oral history
  • for today's mobile (agro-)pastoral , and stationary cattle farming systems north and south of the veterinary cordon fence.

We hypothesize, that systems south of the fence descend from those severely influenced and / or completely overturned or replaced by the colonial intervention, while the systems north of the fence stem from those with considerably less colonial influence on their management and breeding strategies. The approach attempts to characterize animal-human-environment relations in different cattle systems in Namibia since colonization. In interaction with today's actors of the livestock system in Namibia, critical reflection is made on how these developments are reflected in current prevailing breeding and land use strategies and ultimately in the characteristics of livestock populations.


Social-ecological research analyses the influence of human actors on natural processes in ecosystems (e.g. Janssen et al. 2007). Livestock systems are understood as goal-oriented human activity systems (Checkland 1981), in which livestock keepers carry out goal-oriented management actions based on their observations, knowledge and opportunities (Kaufmann 2007; Halliday/Glaser 2011). Thus, human actors play a crucial role in regulating and in transforming systems (Spaargaren et al. 2012). We use an actor- and action-oriented analytical approach based on second-order cybernetics (Foerster 1982) to explain the interactions between animals, humans and the environment in order to explicate information flow and processing underlying management practices used for regulation and transformation of the systems. 

Mobile cattle husbandry (agro-)pastoralism and stationary cattle farming systems exist in today’s Namibia. These system types follow different production rationales (logics of actions). In the stationary systems, the production conditions are - as far as possible - adapted to the needs of the animals. Therefore, system regulation extends not only to the animals, but to a larger extent to the production environment. Through the use of inputs (e.g. supplementary feeding, pasture improvement, health prophylaxis), livestock farmers aim to influence production conditions to better fit to the requirements of their livestock. This makes it possible to keep animals with a higher genetic yield potential. In contrast, livestock keepers of mobile livestock systems enter into a different productive interaction with the heterogeneous and variable environmental conditions typical of arid areas with the aim of producing a steady stream of animal products and services from a seasonally pulsating ecosystem (Krätli/Schareika 2010; Kaufmann et al. 2016). Consequently, they rely on animals with different characteristics, which comprise capabilities to productively interact with heterogeneous and variable, seasonally pulsating, environments.

We assume that different production strategies, both immediate land use and long term breeding and strategies, manifest themselves in corresponding differences in the human-animal-environment relationships, which in turn become manifest in the phenotypic and genetic characteristics of the animal populations.

The work programme of the social ecology part of the package includes the analysis of secondary data, extensive empirical field investigations on recent land-use and breeding strategies, and the coordination of the cooperation between the German and the Namibian science and practice partners.

1. A study of literature and archive documents serves to analyse the transformation of cattle farming in Namibia during the colonial period from a socio-ecological, and an animal science perspective. Archive material of the colonial school in Witzenhausen (e.g. diploma theses and correspondence of colonists with the school) identified in the history package of this project will be analysed for apparent approaches to practical cattle farming and breeding, as will be livestock and animal husbandry teaching materials, textbooks and scientific literature from the early 20th century, and ethnographic studies of pastoralist societies in sub-Saharan Africa from the same period.

2. Extensive field investigations in contrasting locations in Namibia will use a multi-method approach that includes narrative interviews to establish farm and breeding history, guided interviews to establish breeding management and animal resource characterisation, visualised spatio-temporal recording of land-use management, and participatory photography to contextualise human-animal-environment interactions. The information thus gathered will be used to comparatively analyse the more recent and ongoing transformation of human-animal-environment interactions in the contrasting cattle systems.