Press release | 05 Feb, 2007

Nomadism benefits the economy, new study shows

New report on the economics of nomadism reveals importance of this traditional lifestyle to the income of developing countries and international trade

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Photo: Danièle Perrot-Maître

Nomadic lifestyles contribute up to 80 percent to the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of African countries and have a much greater importance in national economies and international trade than is commonly believed.

This is the main finding of the new “Global Review of the Economics of Pastoralism”, a scientific study published by the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, a joint programme of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“Pastoralism can be up to ten times more productive than commercial ranching under the same conditions,” said Jonathan Davies, co-author of the study and coordinator of the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism. “However, pastoralists often have been deprived of their rights in favour of ranches .”

The study found that mobile pastoralism – or nomadism – in several countries may be the most economically viable land use system for the world’s drylands while contributing to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.

In Mongolia , pastoral livestock are responsible for one third of GDP and are the second largest source of export earnings, accounting for 32%.

Pastoralism not only contributes to national economies but produces several internationally traded goods. In China , 78 million cashmere goats produce 65-75% of the world’s cashmere fibre. In Ethiopia , the leather industry, dominated by pastoral production, is the second largest source of foreign exchange after coffee. In 1998 alone, leather and leather goods worth US$41 million were exported, primarily to Europe, Asia and the Middle East .

Our study shows that investments in the sustainable herding of nomads will not only help overcome their poverty, but also hugely benefit the national economies,” said Richard Hatfield, who authored the study with Davies.

Despite these facts, very little is known about the economic benefits of pastoralism. As a result, nomadism is often seen as a traditional and backward way of life that will soon disappear. These misconceptions have led to legal, economic, social and political disincentives and barriers to mobility of livestock and have entrenched pastoral poverty.

“Now that we have clear evidence of the economic importance of pastoralism, we call on governments to remove existing barriers and provide incentives for sustainable land management,” says Ed Barrow of IUCN’s Eastern Africa Office.

The Indian government has already reacted by allowing the sale of camel milk, a by-product of camel breeding. The income should substantially improve the livelihoods of the Indian camel herders, ” he added.

Notes to Editors  

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Kenya: Jonathan Davies , Global Coordinator of the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, Tel: +254 (20) 890-607; Fax: ++254 (20) 890-615;; Web:

In Switzerland: Carolin Wahnbaeck , IUCN Media Relations Officer, Tel: +41 22 999 0127; Fax: +41 22 999 0020;; Web:


Please contact

Link to full report:

“The Global Review of the Economics of Pastoralism” by R. Hatfield and J. Davies. Prepared for the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism. The World Conservation Union (IUCN); Kenya 2007

The World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism

The World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism (WISP) is an advocacy and capacity building project that seeks a greater recognition of the importance of sustainable pastoral development for both poverty reduction and environmental management. WISP enables pastoralists to sustainably manage drylands resources and to demonstrate that their land use and production system is an effective and efficient way of harnessing the natural resources of the world’s drylands. It is a Global Knowledge Management network, funded by the Global Environment Facility, implemented by United Nations Development Programme and executed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

More information can be found at:

About the World Conservation (IUCN)

Created in 1948, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) brings together 83 States, 110 government agencies, 800 plus NGOs, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

The Union is the world's largest environmental knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The Union is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.

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