Mobile pastoralists all over the world are the subject of an unusually large number of myths and misconceptions. These misconceptions have led to inadequate, often hostile, development policies and interventions which have erected major barriers to sustainable land management and have entrenched pastoral poverty. In order to achieve the twin goals of WISP, rangeland environmental sustainability and pastoral poverty reduction, it is therefore necessary to overcome anti-pastoral prejudice and bring an end to damaging policy and practice.
In recent years there has been a growing consensus that pastoral poverty is rooted in the social, economic and political marginalisation of pastoralists. It is widely accepted that in rangeland environments, mobility is a pre-requisite for effective natural resource use, and it is understood that failure to support mobility of pastoralists has resulted in service delivery failure. Yet the underlying, and usually under recognized, reality is that pastoralism is also a conservation strategy that can make best use of rangelands both in space (in terms of accessing extensive ranges) and time (making best use of seasonal grazing). Questions remain unanswered over the role that pastoralists could play in conservation, given a more supportive policy and legal environment. WISP will contribute to closing this knowledge gap through a series of studies by national partners and sharing of best practice from the development and environment sectors.
It is important to note however that the project neither supports “turning the clock back” nor “freezing” pastoralists in their current state. Tremendous losses of rangelands have occurred in the past, which simply negates such a strategy. Whatever the future of pastoralism, it has been shaped by many distinctive twentieth century influences, which confound a return to some prior or imagined condition. Such influences include, for example, losses of prime grazing land to cultivation, gazetting of pastoral lands for conservation and political, economic and social marginalization. It is possible nonetheless to ensure that appropriate policies, legal mechanisms, and support systems are in place to enable pastoralists to enhance the economic, social and ecological sustainability of their livelihoods. WISP’s role is to facilitate this process by gathering and managing knowledge, developing advocacy tools, building capacity to influence policy, supporting advocacy processes and networking to enhance learning and strengthen policy debate.