'Where's the map?': integrating ethnography with maps to understand the complementarity between pastoral mobility and border formation

Elisabeth Kago Ilboudo Nébié, Colin Thor West, Todd Andrew Crane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The resettlement of herders in pastoral zones is often criticized for hindering pastoral mobility, which is essential to survival. We integrate narratives of conflict and environmental change with maps to demonstrate the complementarity between pastoral mobility – porous borders – and border demarcation – rigid borders. We use evidence from the Sondré-Est Pastoral Zone in southern Burkina Faso, where herders were voluntarily resettled near agricultural villages following the droughts of the 1970s. Over time, however, farmers encroached on the borders of the pastoral zone and surrounding grazing areas declined. This increased land-use disputes. Tensions were exacerbated by the fact that these communities kept maps as community secrets. We re-created the administrative boundaries of the pastoral zone to map land-use/land-cover changes and conflict hot spots. The maps show that conflicts happened along porous borders where agricultural fields encroached. Herders called for a clear demarcation of the border of the pastoral zone to preserve exclusive access to resources within it. Simultaneously, they also wanted to maintain shared access to other resources outside the pastoral zone. The herders' desire for both border clarity and some form of flexibility underlines the complementary between both processes, especially in times of resource scarcity and land-use conflict. The mystery around the maps helps sustain ambiguity that is key for pursuing both goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)795-818
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Political Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Burkina Faso
  • GIS
  • Sahel
  • farmer-herder border conflicts
  • land-use and land-cover change
  • pastoral mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Political Science and International Relations


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