Shepherding and Sustainable Tourism

Visit any travel website for Jordan, and you are likely to see mud-caked individuals at the Dead Sea, awe-struck tourists gazing at The Treasury in Petra, and enthusiastic hikers in the Dana Nature Reserve.

If hiking seems a bit too energetic, or you want to have an authentic taste of a traditional way of life, try shepherding in Dana!

Dana Cooperative‘s sustainable tourism projects provide additional income for some of the pastoralists (shepherds) within the local community.

The Cooperative uses its tourism projects as a way to educate international visitors to Dana about the local community’s culture and traditions. One of the activities that Wadi Dana Lodge offers its guests is the opportunity to spend time with a shepherd and his flock roaming the pastures around Dana village.

This is an ideal activity for those wanting to experience a slower pace of life or for families with young children. The shepherd follows his usual routine, but with a few human additions to his flock! 

The human members of his flock are delighted with the authenticity of their experience. They walk among the sheep and goats through Dana’s orchards and pastures; stop for tea brewed over an open fire; and (depending on the length of the activity) enjoy a lunch or dinner of chicken, fresh local vegetables and bread, also cooked over an open fire. They might even have the opportunity to milk a goat!

They are entranced by the sound of the shepherd’s flute, and slow down to experience the beauty and natural rhythm of the world around them, and the simplicity of the shepherding lifestyle.

We will come back to the simplicity because it tells only half a story!

One of the best things about community owned sustainable tourism is that the tourist, the host, and the environment benefit in a very visible way.

Tourists spending time with a shepherd have a unique experience and a chance to step out of their busy lifestyles and mindsets. They have an opportunity to experience and learn first-hand about a traditional way of life, and to spend time with animals and in nature.

The shepherd gains much needed additional income while carrying out his daily business and usual routine. In the local community, a shepherd is usually a youth. Shepherding is considered a low status occupation, and is low paid.

The interest gained from the international visitors increases the shepherd’s credibility and standing in the community, as well as his income. He has the opportunity also to see the value of his world through the eyes of a visitor.

Regular, additional income means that a shepherd can reduce the size of his flock. This reduces overgrazing on pasture land, and is especially important in Dana because of drought related to climate change.

All of this increases the likelihood that other youths will consider a career in shepherding, and so keep one of Dana’s traditional ways of life alive.

So what about the simplicity of the shepherding lifestyle? Shepherds are pastoralists, and a pastoralist lifestyle is hard. Pastoralists are poorly paid and undervalued, not just in Dana or in Jordan, but worldwide. There are often issues with access, use and management of their customary (common) lands, and of course the effects of climate change on available pasture land and water for livestock. The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected their mobility and ability to sell their products (milk, cheese, meat etc.).

So, the reality of the slow, simple lifestyle of the shepherding world experienced by the Dana tourist is just one side of the coin. It is a real, but incomplete picture.

This blog post is the first part of a two part series on pastoralism.

The next post in the series will be written by guest blogger Khalid Khawaldeh. It will look at the other half of the story. Khalid will explain about sustainability and pastoralism in the context of the Ata’ta Tribe and Jordan. The Ata’ta is the main tribe of the people of Dana. Khalid is the Dana Cooperative’s Sustainable Development and International Cooperation Manager, and is the Interim Coordinator for the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP).

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