Skip to content


TRA_MED – Mediterranean Transhumances

Immigrants shepherds in Mediterranean pastoralism

In third millennium Europe, agricultural activities are increasingly carried out by foreign workers, who contribute their skills and experience to a sector that has been showing limited attractiveness to new European generations – despite the fact that food production and land management represent are two basic functions of any society and civilisation. While such phenomenon is visible throughout the European Union it has a particularly relevance in the Euro-Mediterranean context, where agricultural represents a main pillar of the socio-cultural and economic identities, and the region has only recently turned from and area of emigration to one of immigration.

Pastoralism represents a specific case of this phenomenon, with a significant and growing presence of immigrants on European pasturelands, especially during the period of seasonal transhumance. Such dynamic is common to southern European countries – Italy, but also Spain, Greece, France and Portugal – as pastoralism is a longstanding and traditional activity in the Mediterranean setting.

The recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – which involves about 40% of the total EU budget – allocates an increasing emphasis on the proper management of mountainous areas, agro-ecologically fragile territories and their biodiversity – often inhabited and operated by pastoralists, who contribute importantly to maintaining these marginal territories alive and productive through their socio-ecological services. In addition to typical quality meat as well as dairy products provided by pastoral systems, often with organic and geographic certification, increasingly demanded by consumers, these territories provide as well important opportunities for the tourism market which benefits from local natural resources management.

While we thus face a growing societal demand for the services as well as the products of pastoralism, this is not reflected by improving living and working conditions of shepherds in neither economic, nor social terms. Current dynamics rather indicate that local rural youth tends rather to opt out from the sector and look for urban-based livelihoods and professions – leaving thus pasturelands exposed to a lack of generational renewal.

In such context an increasing presence of immigrant shepherds is reported. The shepherds who come to provide their workforce on Euro-Mediterranean pastures often originate from pastoral communities in other parts of the Mediterranean region, Morocco, Albania and the Balkans, but also from other countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova. The living and working conditions of these immigrant shepherds are often extremely difficult and precarious, but cases of virtuous contracts and dignified conditions are also reported.

The research initiative ‘Mediterranean Transhumances’ is concerned with assessing ongoing dynamics affecting pastoralism in the Mediterranean, so to provide a more effective understanding of the opportunities, the risks and the difficulties related to the increasing presence of immigrants in this domain. The aim is to contribute to the development of appropriate policies at local as well as at European level.

French – Italian – Spanish