In many countries, pastoralism has historically been practiced in areas that are now partitioned by international boundaries. This is a major barrier to sustainable resources management and to pastoral development. However, there are examples from around the world of efforts to facilitate transboundary movements and transboundary ecosystem management by pastoralists. Herd movements are central to pastoral cultures and play an important role in shaping identity and promoting social cohesion.
Pastoralism in its various forms occupies about one-third of all land on earth, providing high-value livestock products while simultaneously protecting a vast area of natural heritage. One of the key central features in many pastoral systems is herd mobility, which enables strategic use of heterogeneous resources and is the basis of the overall productivity and resilience of pastoralism.
Pastoralists cross international borders for a number of reasons, including to utilize heterogeneous and ephemeral resources, pursue trade and opportunities for livelihood diversification, and escape from risks and threats. Transboundary movements may have social and cultural reasons, for example to connect families or to participate in traditional events and meetings. Cross-border movements also generate economic and social ties, strengthening not only communication but also the capacity of pastoralists through exchange of knowledge and information. Cross-border movements have also sometimes been used to seek security and shelter. Rangeland ecosystems are often divided by national boundaries, and cross-border movements may be part of the seasonal cycle of pastoralists, providing access to dry- or wet-season grazing resources, or to winter or summer pastures. These resources may only be used periodically, for example as a buffer during a drought or blizzard, but their value during such periods can be extremely high, and the nature and strength of pastoralists’ claims over them differ accordingly. When access to seasonal resources is curtailed, not only are pastoral risk management strategies weakened, but the rangeland resources themselves risk becoming degraded through the breakdown in patterns of rest and recovery.
There is growing scientific recognition of the positive role that livestock management can play in protecting grassland ecosystems and increasing understanding of the importance of herd mobility.
Pastoralists face a number of barriers to transboundary resources management, the most obvious of which is the outright closure of frontiers. Frontiers may be nominally closed without use of a physical barrier, but in some cases a wall or fence is erected to ensure the closure is enforced. Closure of borders, or restriction of movement across borders, has frequently led to changes in herding practices and has undermined pastoralism in a number of ways, from restricting access to vital resources to narrowing the gene pool.
According to a recent report by FAO and IUCN, transboundary movements are made by pastoralists between many countries, despite facing numerous obstacles. Many governments are opposed to these movements, and in some cases they are opposed to all forms of pastoral mobility. However, the scientific and economic case for both pastoral mobility and transboundary movements is compelling, and a number of governments recognize its importance. This generates interest in establishing fair and effective mechanisms to regulate and support transboundary mobility. Developing transboundary agreements is a complex task because of the nature of the overlapping rights and responsibilities of resources users either side of a boundary. It is even more complicated where pastoralists do not have secure tenure either side of the border; weak government support for pastoral tenure in one country may amplify the challenge of reaching transboundary agreements. Securing rights either side of a border should therefore be carried out with appropriate sensitivity to historical rights and claims, in order to ensure equitable outcomes and mitigate conflict.
Herd movements are central to pastoral cultures and play an important role in shaping identity and promoting social cohesion.
To enable and secure transboundary pastoralism, states should take the lead by promoting bilateral and regional dialogue. Transboundary pastoralism can also be enhanced through policy support at the national or subnational level, and lack of bilateral dialogue does not have to be an insurmountable barrier. Consultation of pastoralists is of paramount importance in developing transboundary agreements, both to ensure the suitability of regulations and to strengthen compliance. Appropriate processes of consultation and participation are required to develop and implement legal arrangements. Pertinent legal solutions need to be identified according to the local and national context. Where agreements are reached, governments and development partners should commit to their implementation, and this requires sustained investment and public support.
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