Sarah Robinson
+33 (0) 5 61059442

Imperial College London
Division of Biology
Silwood ParkCampus

The topic which interests me most is the interaction of biological, economic, and political factors on pasture management and use by humans and their domestic livestock. In particular I am interested in the role which property rights and land tenure legislation plays in the management of these systems.  Central Asia is especially fascinating in this regard because the five republics have adopted diverging policies regulating pasture use since independence in 1991; I would like to follow change over time in these countries as the impacts of policy decisions become apparent, firstly on human pastoral communities, and then on the ecological system itself. I would also like to understand better the way in which scientific thinking on pasture management is understood and applied by international organisations and national governments, and in particular how this affects the process of pasture code development. Again, this process has been remarkably different in the five republics as different political and organisational landscapes have evolved.

My second area of interest is the application of applied research to the field of international development.  I have run a number of research programmes for international organisations including impact assessments; studies for programme design; and in-depth research on various topics to inform policy dialogue with developing country governments.  An aspect of this work which motivates me is the training and capacity building for young researchers in developing countries who do not have access to quality education in research methods.


My current research focuses on factors driving the spatial distribution of domestic livestock in Central Asia. Policy makers in national governments or institutions such as the World Bank often refer to economic theories of resource access when developing legislation governing pasture access; policies are often grounded in ideas of open access and the tragedy of the commons, and more recently, on theories of common property resource management. However policy makers often fail to consider the high variability of semi-arid pastures in time and space and the need for livestock mobility in order to effectively make use of resources under changing conditions. Conversely, ecological theories of Ideal Free Distribution and Density Dependent Habitat Selection (DDHS) consider how animals distribute themselves over a resource in space according to the scarcity and abundance of resources.  There is a need to reconcile the economic benefits of exclusive resource control with the benefits of free movement for sustainability of pasture use and livestock productivity.

The main aim of our current research is to investigate these parallels and contradictions between economic theories of land access and ecological theories of DDHS by comparing the extent of departure from DDHS amongst domestic herds in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which have quite different land tenure systems and economic policies.  We intend to do this using data on vegetation, herd size and location, and socio-economic information collected from shepherds between 1996 and 2006; and also through new field data collection. We plan to build spatially explicit models of the rangeland systems in question and use them to predict expected distributions of livestock in time and space according to DDHS. We would then like to compare model results with actual livestock distributions and use our socio-economic data to explore the factors driving deviations from distributions generated from forage-related factors alone.

Funding: the research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.


My PhD focused on pastoral systems in Kazakhstan. I looked at the effects of post-Soviet economic transition on herd sizes, livestock movement and feed provision. I then used rainfall and vegetation data to estimate the capacity of the pasture resource to support livestock at different sites and seasons and to determine geographic areas which may have been overstocked in the Soviet period; this information was then used to investigate the ways in which political and economic changes may be affecting livestock impacts on the pastures.

I have subsequently worked as a consultant on pastoral systems and environmental management in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the Asian Development Bank, German Agro Action, DFID and the FAO.  I also examined the impact of land reform legislation on grazing patterns and livestock mobility in the Tajik Pamirs for the Aga Khan Foundation.

In addition to research on pastures, I have also spent a number of years running more general research programmes for organisations working in International Development. In Tajikistan I managed a research and policy group in the Pamirs for the Aga Khan Foundation; we conducted a number of large household income and expenditure surveys, and used the data to investigate the statistical relationships between poverty and access to resources such as land; and to investigate income mobility patterns over time. In Papua New Guinea I ran a research unit for Oxfam’s Highlands Programme; this involved supervision and mentoring of national researchers to design, undertake and publish research. Topics included benefit sharing in natural resource extraction projects, intergovernmental financing for climate change and the determinants of performance of community managed water supply systems. We also used participatory research techniques and hospital data to examine the prevalence and underlying causes of intentionally inflicted injury in PNG. Lastly, l have also conducted research on aid policy for the European Commission, attempting to quantify potential savings from application of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.


Robinson S. and Whitton M. (2010). Pasture in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan: common resource or private property? Pastoralism, Vol. 1, No. 2, July 2010.

Robinson S., Whitton M., Biber-Klemm S. and Muzofirshoev N. (2010). The Impact of Land reform Legislation on Pasture Tenure in Gorno-Badakhshan: From Common Resource to Private Property?  Mountain Research and Development; Vol. 30, Issue 1: 4–13.

Robinson S., Higginbotham I., Guenther T. and Germain A. (2008).   Land reform in Tajikistan: consequences for tenure security, agricultural productivity and land management practices. In The Socio-economic Causes and Consequences of Desertification in Central Asia.  Edited by R. Behnke. NATO Science Series, Springer.

Robinson S. and Guenther T. (2007) Rural livelihoods in three mountainous regions of Tajikistan.  Post Communist Economies, Volume 19, Issue 3.d

Robinson S., Milner-Gulland E. J. and Alimaev I. (2003).  Rangeland degradation in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era: re-examining the evidence. Journal of Arid Environments, Vol. 53. Issue 3: p419-439.

Robinson S. and Milner-Gulland E. J. (2003). Political Change and Factors Limiting Numbers of Wild and Domestic Ungulates in Kazakhstan.  Human Ecology, Vol. 31, No.1: 87-110.

Robinson S. and Milner-Gulland E. J. (2003). Contraction in livestock mobility resulting from state farm re-organisation. In From State Farm to Private Flocks: Prospects for Pastoralism in Kazakstan and Turkmenistan. Edited by C. Kerven. Routledge Curzon Press, London.

Robinson S., Finke P. and Hamaan B. (2000).  The impacts of de-collectivisation on Kazakh pastoralists: Case studies from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the People’s Republic of China.  Journal of Central Asian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 2: 2-34.

In Papua New Guinea: Kopi M., Hinton R., Robinson S., Maiap S. and Guman Y. (2011) Insecurity in the Southern Highlands: the nature, causes and consequences of violence in Hela Region. State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper 2011/3. Australian National University, Canberra.


Sarah Robinson