Pastoralism and the Restoration Agenda

Rangelands are currently neglected in the growing global restoration agenda, yet they are a major store of carbon and offer great possibilities for achieving environment and development goals in parallel. A conference on “Pastoralism and Rangeland Restoration” in June 2019 will contribute to shaping global dialogue on the value of rangelands and the opportunities to contribute to global environmental goals through investments in sustainable pastoralism.

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Pastoralism and the Restoration Agenda

Chris MAGERO, Jonathan DAVIES and Razingrim OUEDRAOGO

Rangelands are currently neglected in the growing global restoration agenda, yet they are a major store of carbon and offer great possibilities for achieving environment and development goals in parallel. A conference on “Pastoralism and Rangeland Restoration” in June 2019 will contribute to shaping global dialogue on the value of rangelands and the opportunities to contribute to global environmental goals through investments in sustainable pastoralism.

Globally, there is a growing interest in land restoration driven primarily by the opportunity to mitigate the impact of climate change. Studies have revealed that land degradation has already impacted more about 24% of land (3.5 billion hectares) over the past 25 years, affecting more than 1.5 billion people around the globe, most of whom live in developing countries. The Global Landscape Restoration community have already committed to restore more than 1.5 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide[1].

In drylands, where majority of rangelands occur, the soils already stores more than one third of the world’s soil carbon with the potential of holding up to 70 tonnes/ha of soil carbon under improved management as shown in some studies[1]. This is significant. Land degradation in rangelands can lead to a significant losses of soil organic carbon and accelerate the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere contributing to climate change. It can also lead to the loss of land productivity which leads to loss of livelihood opportunities and exacerbate poverty. However, through conservation and sustainable land management, rangelands can contribute to addressing climate change and sustainable development.

Rangelands are at the centre of pastoral livelihoods providing human and livestock populations with food, fodder, shelter and water. Pastoralism, which is defined as “extensive livestock production in rangelands”, has been proven to be the most efficient way of utilizing highly variable rangelands resources. Pastoralism often entails the movement of people and livestock along traditional transhumance routes that cut across different climatic zones primarily driven by the distribution of resources. This kind of mobility is linked to the management of risk and uncertainty in drylands and allows for timely access to water and grazing resources, while limiting livestock losses especially during droughts.

Land degradation directly impacts the ability of pastoralists to cope with these uncertain conditions. Land degradation and depletion of groundwater and soil moisture is highly correlated. Degraded land is often manifest in poor soil structure, eroded impermeable surfaces and lack of vegetation cover that disrupts water and carbon cycling that are essential for maintaining healthy rangelands. Where land is extremely degraded, the frequency and severity of droughts experienced increase regardless of the rainfall amounts.

Despite the important role of rangelands in global and national economies, they have been neglected when it comes to discussions pertaining land restoration. A large part of the restoration agenda revolves around forests which are thought to be much more threatened by degradation compared to other landscapes. Rangelands however are also experiencing a significant amount of threat from degradation and with costly consequences on water and carbon cycles. This kind of degradation not only affects livestock and crop production but has a knock-on effect on rangeland livelihoods.

Furthermore, there is a risk that increased forest protection will push the spread of crop farming into rangelands.  Expansion of crop farming into rangelands has already been shown to be a major factor of land degradation. Soil disturbance due to tillage leads to the release of soil organic carbon and land clearance also leads to reduced vegetation cover that ultimately disrupt ecosystem function. Rangelands may also be threatened by attempts to afforest them in pursuit of restoration targets which can have devastating economic and social consequences. Expropriation of rangelands for national development agenda in many cases does not take into consideration rangelands’ complexity. With the current momentum on landscape restoration, contrived perceptions of rangeland as wasteland leave them vulnerable for appropriation to large scale tree planting to achieve restoration targets which could undermining their functions as ecosystems.

At the heart of sustainable rangeland management is good governance. Poor governance is in many cases hampering the ability for sound decision-making and dispossessing communities off their rights on rangeland resources. Governance within rangelands plays a key role in ensuring resource use efficiency through good management, controlled access to grazing and maintenance of wet and dry season grazing

areas. Loss of land productivity due to degradation to is leading to increased conflict as the competition over resources increases. Restoration of good governance requires that decision-making is made at scale and that it is based on both indigenous knowledge and modern science and empowers communities to make the best choices based on the best available information.

Inattention to rangeland restoration predisposes livelihoods and biodiversity to further risks and increases vulnerability to climatic change. A lot of ground has been covered by addressing forest degradation, but rangelands remain largely at risk. Despite that, rangelands are not attracting a fair share of the restoration investments. This may be because they are often misconstrued as unproductive with little or no ecological or economic value which limits any meaningful investment to their development.

Rangelands need to be recognized for their uniqueness and their potential to address issues of climate change through restoration. Restoration of rangelands can secure multiple benefits generated by the ecosystem services and address land degradation at the same time. Land degradation may also be alleviated through incentives that catalyse appropriate investment in sustainable rangeland management. This would also include defining land tenure rights in rangelands.

In order to advance this agenda, IUCN will organise a conference on pastoralism and rangeland restoration in June 2019.This event will contribute to shaping global dialogue under the UNCCD, CBD and UNFCCC on the value of rangelands and the opportunities to contribute to global environmental goals through investments in sustainable pastoralism.  The event will take place in Burkina Faso in June 2019. If you wish to collaborate in this event, either by contributing knowledge, policy engagement, or sponsoring participants please contact [email protected]

 

[1] Center for International Forestry Research. 2010. The Dry Forests and Woodlands of Africa. edited by Emmanuel N. Chidumayo and Davison J. Gumbo.

 

 

[1] http://www.bonnchallenge.org/commitments

 

 

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