Enhancing food security in pastoral areas through pastoralism and mobility

The CFS 40 was held in Rome Italy from 7th to 11th October 2013 under the theme "constraints to smallholder investments, biofuels and food security. During this year's event WISP was invited to be part of the plenary at a side event on  "Sustainable, Equitable and Viable food Syatems: civil society messages for the international year of family farming and beyond"

Naroo Plains

Mobile pastoralists are a large and significant minority, and often an ethnic minority, in many countries around the world. Pastoralists constitute an estimated 16% of the population of the Sahelian Zone of Africa, but in a few countries such as Somalia and Mauritania, they are the majority of people. In parts of southern Europe, and even more in central Asia following de-collectivization, there is an on going resurgence of transhumant pastoralism.

Pastoralists depend on marginal resources whose availability is dependent on seasonality. They have however for centuries developed mechanisms to be able to exploit these marginal resources to their benefit. The dependence on marginal resources by pastoralists is as an adaptive mechanism not only in dryland areas, but also in the mountains and cold areas where these communities are found.

The governance regime of natural resources in drylands is usually linked with the environmental challenges and constraints faced there, as well as with the production tools available. When the local traditional systems are disrupted, sound environmental management is too, leading to food crises and degradation. However, local governance is usually seen by central governments as a competitor, and they are often weakened or eradicated. The reason why pastoralists systems are doing poorly is because the traditional ways of managing resources are undermined and poorly understood. Understanding the underlying logic of traditional governance systems helps designing better regulating schemes for productive activities in drylands

Pastoralism is a socio-cultural and economic way of living that is reliant on the rearing of livestock and often sustained through national and regional migration. Mobile pastoralists have for centuries managed their ecosystems and livelihoods through elaborate systems of governance based on customary rules and regulations, the authority of customary institutions and sustainable animal rearing practices. The adaptive capacity of pastoralists is often cited as central to their ability to construct resilient livelihoods in the drylands.

Despite this, pastoralists are also consistently among the most vulnerable people in the countries where they live. Their food security is closely related to rights and access to grazing lands and is impacted by different policies or development strategies at regional, national and local level. Pastoralists are particularly vulnerable to climate change, urbanization and large-scale land acquisition and land use change.

Pastoralists have always managed their land and resources in a communal way. This has enabled them to deal with the highly variable climate in which they are faced. Managing their land and resources in this way helps them spread the risk and help in making the most out of their production systems.

Pastoralist livestock have unique traits that make them suitable for the harsh environment in which they are found and have always been a part of the pastoralists’ identity. This unique genetic trait of pastoralist livestock has been important in ensuring continued productivity even in harsh weather conditions where other livestock would never thrive. Therefore the imposition of high input high output  technologies advocated for in trying to address food security in pastoral areas are not sustainable since these exotic breeds would not stand periods of harsh weather.

Drylands are frequently perceived as low income generating areas due to their low plant productivity per area. However, their unique biodiversity and the logic of their traditional uses allow the production of high value products ranging from pharmaceutical compounds to livestock commodities that actually make the income of their inhabitants high. Livestock production is very linked to the adaptive capacity of local ecosystems that local breeds have. Dryland inhabitants also hold very significant assets that provide good revenue. However, the food security strategies try to make them self-sufficient replicating completely out-dated autarchic economic models that were never applied in pastoralist areas. For instance food security for pastoralists should be centred in ensuring they get the best value out of the products that can be produced in these areas.

Although mobile pastoralism is the most viable form of production and land use in most of the world’s fragile marginal lands, it is increasingly under threat from legal, economic, social and political disincentives and barriers to mobility of livestock. Key policy gaps include regulation of transhumance, production investment, mobile (or otherwise appropriate) service delivery, conflict resolution, decentralisation and democracy adapted to mobile populations, alternative and complementary income generation opportunities and “exit strategies” for some pastoralists.

Biodiversity an important component of pastoral ecosystems plays a fundamental role in the diversification of income for pastoralists, as much of their income is derived from it. The modernization of pastoralist livelihoods in developed countries has had the valuation of nature-derived products, such as the huge cheese industry in France, and their role as custodians of High Nature Value landscapes, of biological corridors and of very valuable ecosystem services, as fundamental elements. Social consideration for pastoralists, particularly among conservationists, has increased, and their income has grown thanks to the increased acknowledge of the services they provide.

Any attempts to address food security in pastoral areas would require a keen consideration on the mobile nature of these communities since altering this would result in adverse consequences for the ecosystem and the people in it.

Go to top