Sarah Robinson
+33 (0)5 61059442 / +33 (0) 780359360


Department of Zoology

University of Oxford

Zoology Research and Administration Building

11a Mansfield Road

Oxford OX1 3SZ


My work focusses on the interaction of biological, economic, and political factors on Central Asian rangelands and their use by wildlife and domestic livestock.

A particular area of interest for me is the determinants of livestock distribution and movement. Whilst bio-physical factors continue to influence the mobility and intensity of livestock production systems, economic factors have greatly increased in importance since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Land reform in the five republics has resulted in diverging property rights legislation, which also influences access to pasturelands and grazing patterns.

In Kazakhstan, domestic livestock share the steppe with the endangered saiga antelope. Following a disastrous mass mortality event in this species in 2015, I joined a multi-disciplinary team studying the causes of the die-off: documenting evidence of similar events from the past and in other ungulate species; examining statistical relationships between environmental factors and probability of a die-off; and mapping livestock distributions in the saiga range during the period of mortality. Mass mortality in the saiga antelope remains mysterious and I continue to collaborate with the team on interactions between climate, nutrition, exposure to livestock and vulnerability to disease in this endangered species.

I also work as a consultant for pasture management projects in Central Asia, advising in particular on property rights legislation and on issues related to land degradation. 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 training and capacity building for young researchers in developing countries who do not have access to quality education in research methods.


My current work at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies for the project ‘Revitalising animal husbandry in Central Asia: A five-country analysis’ looks at the economics of the livestock sector, comparing different livestock husbandry strategies in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. These systems all include livestock raising operations which differ significantly in their size, use of seasonal grazing, livestock mobility and level of intensification. The environmental and social factors driving these differences and the outcomes for farm economics, animal nutrition and performance will be explored together with teams of young researchers from the region. Results will help us to better understand the circumstances favouring extensive livestock production and identify those which may result in greater intensification of livestock production in the future.

Through my work with the German Development Agency (GIZ), I sit on the Working Group for Pasture Reform in Turkmenistan and work with lawyers and parliamentarians to design a Law on Pastures and associated byaws necessary for implementation. I also work for GIZ to support the Regional Pasture Network,, a bi-lingual knowledge sharing platform including an electronic library, newsletter and Facebook page promoting best practise in pasture management across the region. I currently provide technical support on pastoral property rights legislation and economics of land degradation in Georgia for the ELD initiative



BSc. Biology with European Studies, University of Sussex, UK and Université de Grenoble, France. First Class Honours, 1994.

Ph.D. Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Ecosystems Analysis and Governance Unit. Title: Pastoralism and Land Degradation in Kazakhstan, 2000.

Editorial Board: Pastoralism Journal

Research projects

2017-2019: Researcher at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies for the project ‘Revitalising animal husbandry in Central Asia: A five-country analysis’ funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. The project investigates the economics of livestock production systems under different strategies of herd mobility and nutritional management.

2015-2017: Visiting Researcher at Oxford, collaborating with the Royal Veterinary College of London and the Saiga Conservation Alliance for the NERC-funded project ‘Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica tatarica) mortality in Kazakhstan 2015: emergency investigation of disease outbreak to improve knowledge of drivers’. Research included an evidence review, spatial modelling of environmental risk factors associated with mortality events, and field research into livestock distributions in the saiga range.

2015 & 2017 (short inputs): Analyst for the Tufts University ‘Sudan Humanitarian and Resilience Programme’. Livestock GPS tag data was analysed in relation to NDVI and rainfall, in order to explore drivers of long distance migration in the Darfur region of Sudan.

2011-2015: Research associate at Imperial College London for the Leverhulme Trust project ‘Exclusion vs Mobility: limits to ideal free distributions in pastoralist systems’. Role included combining field data from interviews, with GIS and remotely sensed data to model factors driving domestic livestock movements in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

1998-2000: PhD student on the EU INTAS project ‘Land Degradation and Agricultural Change on the Rangelands of Kazakhstan’. The thesis covered the environmental and institutional factors which have affected wildlife and domestic livestock populations in Kazakhstan throughout the 20th century.

Technical support for rangeland management policy

Since 2014 I have provided technical support to the German Development Agency (GIZ), covering applied research on rangeland management in Turkmenistan and the economics of land degradation in Georgia (with the Economics of Land Degradation initiative). I have organised a number of conferences on Pasture Management and support a digital knowledge exchange platform on this topic for Central Asia and the Caucuses. Since 2006, I have provided inputs on pasture ecology and policy for projects in Central Asia for the Asian Development Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, German Agro Action and the Aga Khan Foundation.

Management of applied research programmes for development organisations

I have six years’ experience managing applied research programmes for rural development projects and mentoring young researchers in Tajikistan and Papua New Guinea, for the Aga Khan Foundation and Oxfam.


Kock, R., Orynbayev, M., Robinson, S., Zuther, S., Singh, N., Beauvais, W., Morgan, E. R., Kerimbayev, A., Khomenko, S., Martineau, H., Rystaeva, R., Omarova, Z., Wolfs, S., Hawotte, F., Radoux, J. & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2018). Saigas on the brink: multi-disciplinary analysis of the factors influencing a mass die-off event Science Advances, 4.

Robinson, S., Jamsranjav, C. & Gillin, K. (2017). Pastoral property rights in Central Asia Factors and actors driving the reform agenda. In: Elie, M. & Ferret, C. (eds.) Verte la Steppe?: Éditions de l'EHESS. 220-253.

Robinson, S. J. (2017). Chemical composition of Central Asian forage plants (dataset). NERC Environmental Information Data Centre.

Behnke, R., Robinson, S. & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2016). Governing open access: livestock distributions and institutional control in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan. Land Use Policy, 52, 103-119.

Robinson, S. (2016). Land degradation in Central Asia: evidence, perception and policy. In: Behnke, R. & Mortimore, M. (eds.) The End of Desertification? Disputing Environmental Change in the Drylands. Springer-Verlag.

Kerven C., Robinson S., Behnke R., Kushenov K. & Milner-Gulland E. J. (2016). Horseflies, wolves and wells: biophysical and socio-economic factors influencing livestock distribution in Kazakhstan's rangelands. Land Use Policy, 52, 392-409.

Kerven, C., Robinson, S., Behnke, R., Kushenov, K. & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2016). A Pastoral frontier: from chaos to capitalism and the recolonisation of the Kazakh rangelands. Journal of Arid Environments, 127, 106-119.

Robinson, S., Kerven, C., Behnke, R., Kashenov, K. & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2016). The changing role of bio-physical and socio-economic drivers in determining livestock distributions: a historical perspective from Kazakhstan. Agricultural Systems, 143, 169-182.

Robinson S.  Land degradation in Central Asia: evidence, perception and policy (2016). In Behnke R. and Mortimore M. (eds.): The End of Desertification? Disputing Environmental Change in the Drylands, Springer Earth System Science.

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.

Robinson S., Wiedemann C., Michel S., Zhumabayev Y. and Singh N. (2012) Pastoral tenure in Central Asia: theme and variation in the five former Soviet republics. In: Squires V. (ed.) Rangeland Stewardship in Central Asia: Balancing Improved Livelihoods, Biodiversity Conservation and Land Protection. Springer.

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. (2010).   Causes and consequences of regional variation in land reform in Tajikistan.  Journal of Central Asian Studies, Vol. IX No. 1: 16-36.

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, Vol. 19, Issue 3: 359-378.

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, 53, 3, 419-439.

Robinson S. and Milner-Gulland E. J. (2003). Political change and factors limiting numbers of wild and domestic ungulates in Kazakhstan.  Human Ecology, 31, 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 Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Edited by C. Kerven. Routledge Curzon Press, London. 128-145.

Robinson S., Finke P. and Hamann 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.


Sarah Robinson