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Professor Jeremy Swift

Outstanding Contributor to the Study of Nomadic Pastoral Societies, Past and Present Recipient of the IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples Lifetime Achievement Award

by Kathleen Galvin

Jeremy Swift’s main professional interests lie with nomadic pastoralists in and around the world’s great deserts. Jeremy, an economist, has worked on pastoral research and development in East and West Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia including China and Mongolia. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the pastoral Twareg in Mali, and has worked with many pastoralists across Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Central Asia. As researcher and policy adviser, Jeremy has worked to strengthen pastoral economies, livelihoods and education. He has explored how to ensure they are economically and ecologically sustainable, and on reconciling pastoralism with wildlife and habitat conservation. Overall, he has shown a strong commitment to understand and unveil misconstructions about the drylands and their socio-economic implications (e.g. Desertification Narratives, Winners & Losers. (J. Swift 1996 In: Leach M. and Mearns R. (eds) The Lie of the Land. Challenging received wisdom on the African environment, The International African Institute with James Currey Ltd, Oxford); Pastoralism and Mobility in Drylands. (GD Imperative-Challenge Paper UNCCD 2003); the Global Drylands Imperative (United Nations Development Programme, Drylands Development Centre, Nairobi, Kenya).

Jeremy graduated from Oxford University with bachelors and master’s degrees in English Literature.  He received his PhD in 1973 from Sussex University in development economics. Before taking his post as Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, in 1978, he worked for several other organizations.  He was at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature from 1962-1965. This was followed by a post at FAO, Rome from 1965-1969. From 1973 to 1977 he was a fellow of the Institute for the Study of International Organization, Sussex University. Jeremy retired from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK in 2004.

Jeremy’s work spans a wide array of important topics that scholars and students of pastoralism have engaged. His papers on drought and famine are some of the most important and include, Sahelian Pastoralists. Underdevelopment, Desertification and Famine, Annual Review of Anthropology (J. J. Swift 1977 6: 457 – 478); Why are Rural People Vulnerable to Famine? (J. Swift, 1989 IDS Bulletin 20(2):8-15), and; New Approaches to Famine, (J. Swift, 1993 IDS Bulletin). Out of this research he developed for the Kenyan government a district drought contingency plan (1985), the first in Africa aimed at a pastoral area, including an early warning system and a system of rapid response. It eventually became the national drought contingency plan for the whole of arid and semi-arid Kenya. In 2009, a year of a terrible drought in Kenya, he designed a drought contingency fund, implemented directly by districts and the Treasury, to ensure that Kenyan districts had the resources to implement the contingency plan rapidly when drought was declared.  

His work on development spans decades of commitment to pastoralism and the drylands. Some crucial publications include: Notes on Traditional Knowledge, Modern Knowledge and Rural Development, (J. Swift, 1979 IDS 10(2):41-43), and; Major issues in pastoral development with special emphasis on selected African countries (J. Swift 1988, agris.fao.org). Many scholars point to his work on economics as the more significant aspect of his professional work. Manuscripts include, The economics of production and exchange in West African pastoral societies. Pastoralists of the West African Savanna (J. Swift,1986. 175-190), and; Financial Services for Risk Management in Pastoral Systems. (J. Swift, 2002 Report for DFID/World Bank, IDS). 

He also worked in Central Asia from the 1990s. He wrote, Mongolian pastoralism on the threshold of the twenty-first century with Robin Mearns for the Commission on Nomadic People’s in 1993. Other works include, Pastoral institutions and approaches to risk management and poverty alleviation in Central Asian countries in transition with S Baas in 1999, and; Managing Pastoral Risk in Mongolia – A Plan of Action. (J. Swift and S. Baas 2003. FAO, Rome).

Recent commitments include since 2008 setting up and realizing the project ‘Education for Nomads’ with the Ministry for Northern Kenya. The project developed technical proposals and a national strategy to reach mobile pastoralists with a full course of primary education based on distance-learning and visiting tutors. Since 2011 he has been working closely with the British government to help understanding and resolving the crisis in Mali.

Jeremy’s work covers four decades, several continents where pastoralists reside and has produced over 125 scientific publications. His work spans the fields of interdisciplinary research and management; he has had numerous consultancies and evaluations; he has been a member of several professional international panels, including the US National Academy of Sciences panel on China Grasslands (1991-1992).  He has worked with many non-governmental organizations including OXFAM, ODI and ACORD. Jeremy has written a book on ecology [(The Other Eden: A New Approach to Man, Nature and Society (Dent 1974), and on the Sahara, called The Sahara (Time-Life Books 1975) and, as well as narrated a film on desertification for the BBC (Sahara: the Edge of Existence, 1975). In sum, Dr. Jeremy Swift has made major contributions to the fields of economics and anthropology, where he has promoted the wellbeing of pastoralists the world over.

The Commission on Nomadic peoples of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, in recognition of Dr. Jeremy Swift’s distinguished contribution to the study of nomadic peoples, presents Jeremy Swift with its Lifetime Achievement Award.