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Balancing livestock production and environmental goals

R. Mearns

The author is a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RE, UK.
Tel.: +44 1273 678774; fax: +44 1273 621202/691647;
e-mail: R.J

Note: This article is the second part of a revised paper originally prepared for the World Bank/FAO workshop on Balancing Livestock and the Environment, held in Washington, DC, 27-28 September 1996, as an associated event to the Fourth World Bank Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Development.
The author is grateful for the financial support of FAO and the World Bank for the preparation of this paper and for comments made by C. Bullock, C. de Haan, S. Maxwell, I. Scoones, D. Sheehy, B. Swallow, J. Swift, workshop participants and anonymous reviewers. None of these individuals or institutions is responsible for any errors which may remain. Part one of the paper appeared in
World Animal Review, 88: 2-14.


Les milieux dans lesquels on rencontre la plupart des systèmes de pâturage extensif ainsi que de culture et d'élevage intégrés se caractérisent par la multiplicité des usages et des utilisateurs, tous ayant des prétentions légitimes sur les biens et services environnementaux, mais qui ne peuvent être toutes compatibles en permanence. Le présent article étudie les moyens de renforcer, par des instruments de politique, le partage des avantages de l'environnement entre les utilisateurs multiples, dont les éleveurs. Il fait valoir que les personnes chargées de l'analyse des politiques devraient exposer ces multiples prétentions contestées sur l'environnement, expliciter les choix politiques qui interviennent dans la conception des mécanismes de partage des avantages, et rechercher ceux qui sont les plus prometteurs de solutions où «tout le monde est gagnant» ou tout au moins où «ceux qui ne gagnent pas, n'ont pas de regret».


Los medios en los que se encuentran la mayoría de los sistemas de pastoreo extensivo y de producción agropecuaria integrada pueden caracterizarse por la multiplicidad de usos y usuarios, todos con aspiraciones legítimas en relación con los bienes y servicios del medio ambiente, pero que no siempre son compatibles de manera permanente. En el presente artículo se examinan las maneras de potenciar, mediante instrumentos normativos, la distribución de los beneficios ecológicos entre usuarios múltiples del medio ambiente, incluidos los productores del sector pecuario. La tarea de los analistas de las políticas debe consistir en exponer esas aspiraciones múltiples que se tienen en relación con el medio ambiente, a fin de conocer las elecciones políticas que intervienen en la formulación de los mecanismos de distribución de beneficios y buscar las que ofrecen más posibilidades de soluciones positivas para todos, o por lo menos que no sean negativas para nadie.


Under the right conditions, livestock can be good for the environment. Focusing principally on extensive grazing systems and integrated crop-livestock systems, the first part of this article (Mearns, 1997) made the case that livestock production can play an instrumental role in supporting rangeland management, preserving wildlife and other forms of biodiversity, enhancing soil fertility and nutrient cycling and in directly promoting the amenity value of particular landscapes to other users.

This article discusses some potential policy instruments and institutional mechanisms for bringing about a closer sharing of environmental benefits between multiple users of the environment, including livestock producers. It focuses on co-management and decentralization of decision-making according to the principle of "subsidiarity", or ensuring that management decisions are taken by the appropriate stakeholders at the appropriate level. The discussion touches on issues of local participation, including the specification of benefits to be shared, equity, the role of government and the advantages and disadvantages of decentralization.
The general argument underlying the discussion runs as follows. First, institutional and policy frameworks need reform to give due recognition to the many significant environmental benefits afforded by livestock production under certain conditions (Mearns, 1997) and to allow livestock producers to deliver them unhindered. Various mechanisms are possible for internalizing environmental externalities besides efforts to extend the market, including facilitating collective action among user groups. Second, where changes in livestock production systems are required to enhance their potentially positive contribution to the environment or to reduce their negative impacts, the policy process should be concerned not just with what technical options should be applied but also with how technical and institutional reforms are brought about. The main types of policy instrument and other institutional mechanisms reviewed here include those for enhancing benefit sharing among local users; those for enhancing the sharing of benefits between local and non-local resource claimants, including integrated conservation and development projects and pastoral associations; and financial instruments, public subsidies and investments.


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Indigenous breeds of yak in Mongolia's Khangai mountains are well adapted to cope with climatic extremes
Dans les monts Khangai, en Mongolie, les races indigènes de yak sont bien adaptées aux conditions climatiques
Las razas autóctonas de yak de las montañas Khangai de Mongolia están bien adaptadas para hacer frente a situaciones climáticas extremas
Photos/Fotos: R. Mearns


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A high degree of livestock mobility in the arid rangelands of Mongolia's Gobi desert permits the sustainable exploitation of variable forage production
Sur les parcours arides du désert de Gobi en Mongolie, la grande mobilité du bétail permet l'exploitation durable de production fourragère variable
El alto grado de movilidad del ganado en los pastizales áridos del desierto de Gobi de Mongolia permite aprovechar de manera sostenible una producción forrajera variable
Photo/Foto: R. Mearns


Extensive grazing livestock systems and many crop-livestock systems are produced within multiple-use common property regimes. Insights from the theory of common property regimes tell us that, under the right conditions, collective action among users can internalize environmental externalities. Consider the "primary" function of common property regimes: the allocation of a stream of benefits among multiple users. Customary rationing mechanisms exist in many pastoral production systems to limit offtake and ensure sustainability, but it is not usually a question of limiting animal or human numbers, as is often assumed (Swallow, 1996). Instead, rationing takes such forms as rules of entry to or exit from the regime as a whole, often determined by social norms and codes of conduct; rules governing the use of water points; opening and closing dates for particular pastures; and rules regarding sound pasture use (Mearns, 1993; 1996a). Similarly, in Lesotho, the maboella regime governing the use of com-mon land around villages for grazing and the collection of dung, thatching grass, wild vegetables and medicinal plants by multiple users has been developed endogenous-ly to protect trees and other forms of plant cover (Swallow, 1996). Such forms of collective action require extensive and detailed local knowledge.

Common property regimes also provide a range of "secondary" functions besides allocation, including risk management, livelihood security and the exploitation of economies of scale and scope in production and collective action (Swallow, 1996). In many grazing systems, cooperative herding arrangements make the most efficient use of labour by exploiting economies of scale in production. Similarly, in crop-livestock systems, the integration of livestock and crop production, rather than simply interaction between the two, exploits economies of scope in production: it is more efficient to perform them both together. See Bayer and Waters-Bayer (1995) and Delgado (1978) for opposing arguments in favour of farmer-herder interaction owing to other labour-related transaction and opportunity costs.
Recent research also suggests that there are economies of scope to be gained from collective action, even where allocation of benefits to livestock production may not be considered the "primary" function of the regime (Mearns, 1996a), that is, limiting offtake of conditionally renewable resources may only be one of a number of objects of collective action. Others may include, for example, the processing and marketing of livestock products, or a wide range of social and ritual activities. Cooperation across a range of activities exploits economies of scope in collective action, since a minimum basis of "social capital" is required for each one to be successful, including trust and the capacity for endogenous rule-making and enforcement (Swallow and Bromley, 1994). Put simply, the "social capital" required for the sustainable and productive management of dynamic and risky environments would be undermined if it were not for cooperation in livestock production as well as in other spheres of economic and social life. It has been argued elsewhere that success in land reforms in areas of extensive livestock production in post-soviet central Asia is being hindered by a lack of "social capital", or relations of trust and reciprocity among stakeholders (Mearns, 1996b).


It is now widely suggested that the theoretical and practical benefits of collective action at the local level to achieve a balance between livestock production and environment can best be captured within co-management regimes (Swallow and Bromley, 1994; Western, Wright and Strum, 1994; Baland and Platteau, 1996; Leach, Mearns and Scoones, 1997). Such regimes aim to forge an effective partnership between the state and its constituent stakeholders, and the wide variety of potential users of environments used for livestock production. The state carries overall responsibility for arbitrating conflicting interests at the national level and facilitating negotiation between the multiple stakeholders. But the theoretical arguments above suggest that many practical management decisions and negotiations among competing users will need to be made at a local level, since they rely strongly on indigenous knowledge, flexibility in the face of variable and contingent conditions and interaction within small groups in which repeated interaction builds social capital.

Swift (1995) argues for the adoption of the principle of "subsidiarity" in the administration of grazing systems, i.e. that some administrative powers currently held by government, and which duplicate or undermine governance structures evolved at the local level, could be delegated to local groups, thus lightening the burden on government and leading to a more efficient administration and substantial cost savings.
The delegation of powers to the local level would aim particularly at:

Pasture land leasing in Mongolia

Since 1991 Mongolia has made the transition from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economy. Among the sweeping legislative reforms is a new land law, which contains various provisions that could stand to benefit pastoral livestock keepers substantially. Almost half of the Mongolian population are livestock herders, and livestock production is by far the major form of land use and agricultural output. Livestock and land management strategies are shaped first by the physical and biological constraints of the country's varied steppe, mountain and desert environments, which are largely non-equilibrial in character; and second by the institutional frameworks arising from the interaction between the central political regime of the moment and the customary institutions of herders themselves.
The new land law allows for land leases of up to 60 years to be issued to groups or to individual herders. These leases are likely to be taken up for those pastures over which there are more clearly alienable rights, such as winter pastures and hayfields. Most land will continue to be allocated by local administrations. However, a significant degree of de facto co-management already takes place, as local managers broadly recognize the rationality of herders' own knowledge and validity of their customary resource claims. The land law specifically recommends that grazing should follow traditional seasonal movements between pastures and also provides emergency reserve pastures. The land leases could potentially build on customary institutions based in cooperative herd and labour management at the camp and neighbourhood levels. Decision-making is explicitly moving downwards to the local level, away from centralized bureaucracies as it was under collectivization.
The apparent continuities of customary institutions may be deceptive, however. Widening income disparities in rural areas, combined with recent migration of people from towns into rural communities to take up herding but often without the requisite skills, are leading to an erosion of social capital within herding communities on which collective action in pasture management depends. The greater tenure security offered by the new land leasing arrangements may be the best hope for resolving these conflicts in the future.

Sources: Mearns (1993); PALD (1993); Mearns and Swift (1996).

For co-management arrangements to be successful in arbitrating among contested resource claims, it is clearly necessary for the full range of potential users to be recognized or anticipated. For example, careful attention to achieving subsidiarity in the interests of pastoral administration will be of little use if pastoralists' land claims are superseded by those of wildlife tourists rather than both being given credence and legitimacy by government. There are perhaps more documented examples of wildlife being given precedence over pastoralists than vice versa (Norton-Griffiths and Southey, 1995; McCabe, Perkin and Schofield, 1992; Brockington and Homewood, 1996), but opportunities are widely perceived to exist for achieving a better balance between the two.
A major challenge in identifying the share of benefits to be distributed via benefit-sharing mechanisms of this sort is that different users of a given environment may have fundamentally different views about the relative values of different outputs, about the appropriate role and number of livestock and even about what the environment itself should look like. These issues are inherently value-laden and cannot be defined objectively. Some views are bound to have more powerful adherents than others. What can be done through careful research, however, is to specify a range of scenarios with various combinations of outputs, from careful analysis of, for example, wildlife-livestock interactions. Each of these scenarios will necessarily be culturally constructed and will be undergirded by quite different power relations, but making them explicit must be the starting point for negotiation over their relative merits and demerits. This task, however, implies a fundamental shift in the relationship between research and the policy process.

Integrated conservation and development projects

A now common form of co-management for benefit sharing between livestock production and the preservation of wildlife biodiversity is the notion of integrated conservation and development projects, or ICDPs (Wells and Brandon, 1992; Wells, 1995; Western, Wright and Strum, 1994). All such projects rest to a greater or lesser extent on the following principles:

People can only be empowered in aspects of development, including local natural resource management to meet livelihood entitlements, that do not lead to overexploitation or degradation of the protected biodiversity. In practice, this is very difficult to achieve using economic incentives alone. Project-based approaches have inherent limitations that are often overlooked. Factors leading to loss of biodiversity include public ownership of extensive tracts of land, unmatched by government capacity to manage that land effectively; powerful financial incentives encouraging resource mining; and laws, policies and economic trends over which isolated rural communities have no influence (Wells, 1995). The "subsidiarity" or co-management approach rests on adoption as national-level policy, since it requires the possibility of change in the institutional and policy environment. This option is not possible at the level of individual, often short-term, pilot projects (see Toulmin, 1991).
Rather than adopt a project-based approach to balancing environmental and livestock benefits from the environment, many developing countries have adopted policies to encourage ecotourism. However, limited success has so far been achieved in this regard, owing to:


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High mountain pastures in Kyrgyzstan, central Asia, provide essential summer grazing and help relieve pressure on pastures in the foothills close to settlement areas
Les hautes montagnes du Kirghizistan, en Asie centrale, offrent des pâturages d'été essentiels, ce qui permet d'alléger la pression sur les pâturages des piémonts proches des zones d'établissement
Los pastos de alta montaña de Kirguistán, Asia central, proporcionan el pasto que es imprescindible en el verano y ayudan a aliviar la presión sobre los pastizales de las estibaciones cercanas a las zonas de asentamiento
Photos/Fotos: R. Mearns


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Qashqai nomads on their traditional seasonal migration in Fars Province, Iran, pass through the construction site of a controversial new scheme for sedentarizing pastoralists
Des nomades Qashqai traversent, au cours de leur traditionnelle migration saisonnière dans la province du Fars (Iran), le site de construction d'un programme controversé de sédentarisation des éleveurs
Los nómadas qashqai, en su emigración estacional tradicional en la provincia de Fars, Irán, pasan a través del lugar de construcción de un nuevo plan controvertido de asentamiento de pastores
Photo/Foto: R. Mearns

Pastoral associations

The principles of subsidiarity reviewed above imply new roles for pastoral associations. Following the dismal performance of ranching and range livestock projects between the 1960s and the 1980s, the World Bank shifted attention in the 1980s towards pastoral institution building (Shanmugaratnam et al., 1992). While these projects were based on broader premises such as integrated natural resource management, the enabling role of policy and institutional reforms and the importance of local participation, they still largely failed to facilitate a genuinely participatory process of self-development, embedded as they were in the authoritarian cultures of governments and project administrations (Vedeld in de Haan, 1994). They still relied heavily on the notion of spatial delineation of rangeland territories, even though customary land rights were given legal recognition as the subsidiarity principle suggests.

The implications for future pastoral development initiatives follow from those given above in relation to subsidiarity: focus attention on procedural law and longer-term political processes as well as the resolution of conflicts, civil security and drought preparedness rather than attempt to specify in detail which tenure rights should prevail over which resources. The implications for groups and for institution building are to accept that groups of various sizes are likely to federate together for certain purposes while separating for others. In all cases, however, the importance of developing long-term relationships and beginning from local priorities and understandings is paramount.


Beneficiary compensation payments. At the international level, the only operational programme through which contributions could be made to livestock producers to finance the incremental costs of biodiversity conservation and the protection of landscape amenity value in developing countries is the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The European Union already operates a similar financial mechanism for achieving benefit sharing between farmers and the environment. Although, as Norton-Griffiths and Southey (1995) note, the GEF was not designed with situations such as the one described here in mind, in principle there is no reason why it could not be used to finance such activities, provided a reasoned case could be made for the advantages of recognizing and further developing the role of livestock producer groups in biodiversity conservation. There is a need for further research in this respect, to specify clearly the nature of interactions between livestock produced under existing conditions in areas of high amenity or conservation value, to identify the range of options available for ensuring the most beneficial forms of benefit sharing and to provide costed proposals for any new incremental activities to be undertaken by livestock producers.

Taxation. Livestock production in variable environments should not be taxed as though it had a stable and regular set of outputs. Taxation systems currently in use tend to have perverse environmental and equity implications for benefit sharing of environmental goods and services. For example, head taxes on animals, which are common in West Africa, would be fair and efficient if applied progressively (i.e. a higher head tax on larger herd sizes), but this rarely happens and would be costly to collect. Sales taxes may disproportionately affect small herders who usually sell a larger proportion of their animals, and they would be especially burdensome in drought years when all herders sell more animals (Swift, 1995). Grazing fees discriminate against small herders. The important thing in dynamic environments is that, whichever the taxation system chosen, it be applied flexibly and that a moratorium on taxation be declared in the event of drought. Efforts to specify more comprehensively the total economic value of livestock production should provide a sound basis on which to reinvest tax revenues in livestock production systems, and could form an additional source of revenue for financing the incremental costs of establishing effective co-management arrangements.

Other instruments are discussed in the literature as means to enable pastoralists and other livestock producers to cope better with environmental risk and uncertainty, including insurance and credit (Swift, 1995), measures for rapid destocking and restocking, according to particular phases in the drought cycle (Toulmin, 1995), and investments in marketing, transport and communications infrastructure to facilitate rapid offtake when necessary (Holtzman and Kulibaba, 1995).

All such measures would help support the conservation potential of extensive grazing systems in arid and semi-arid areas. Rapid destocking (at supported prices) during the onset of drought, for example, would help protect forage for wildlife in the short term.

Policies that encourage extensive grazing systems are now being promoted as part of the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) of the European Community, and can benefit botanical diversity by increasing the area covered by species-rich grassland, heather and scrub. Alternative images of how the same landscape might look with and without support payment of farmers to extensify sheep grazing practices in the southern uplands of Scotland have been used in public surveys to assess the desirability and feasibility of such policy measures
Des mesures d'incitation aux systèmes de pâturage extensif sont maintenant mises en place dans le cadre de la réforme de la politique agricole commune (PAC) de la Communauté européenne, et peuvent favoriser la diversité botanique en augmentant les zones couvertes d'herbages riches en espèces de bruyères et de broussailles. Des images différentes d'un même paysage, selon qu'un paiement de soutien a été accordé ou non aux agriculteurs afin qu'ils aient recours à des méthodes de pâturage extensif des moutons dans les
Southern Uplands d'Ecosse, ont été employées lors d'enquêtes publiques destinées à évaluer l'utilité et la faisabilité de telles mesures
Ahora se están promoviendo políticas para fomentar los sistemas de pastoreo extensivo como parte de la reforma de la Política Agrícola Común de la Comunidad Europea, lo cual puede beneficiar la diversidad botánica gracias al aumento de la superficie cubierta de pastizales, brezales y matorrales. Se han utilizado imágenes alternativas del aspecto que podría tener el mismo paisaje, con pagos de ayuda a los agricultores y sin ellos, para dar un carácter extensivo a las prácticas de pastoreo de ovinos en las tierras altas meridionales de Escocia
H. Insh; Source/Fuente: Bullock and Kay (1997)


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Landscape 1. A landscape with levels of grazing at the higher end of current practice. There is very little heather or scrub and there is evidence of erosion on steep hillsides and in gullies
Paysage 1. Paysage où le pâturage est pratiqué au niveau le plus élevé des pratiques courantes. Il y a très peu de bruyères ou de broussailles et les pentes fortes et les ravines présentent des signes d'érosion
Paysaje 1. Paisaje con niveles de pastoreo en el extremo superior de la práctica actual. Hay muy pocos brezales o matorrales y es evidente la erosión en las laderas de las colinas y las cárcavas


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Landscape 2. In this scenario there has been a much greater level of extensification and some removal of stock. As a result, there is considerable regeneration of heather, trees and scrub
Paysage 2. Dans ce scénario, l'extensification a été accentuée, et une partie des animaux ont été retirés. Il en résulte une régénération considérable des bruyères, des arbres et des broussailles
Paysaje 2. En este modelo es mucho mayor el nivel de pastoreo extensivo y ha desaparecido parte del ganado. En consecuencia, hay una regeneración considerable de brezos, árboles y arbustos


Two cross-cutting themes or guiding principles emerge from new understanding and the lessons learned in efforts to accentuate the positive in livestock-environment interactions. They underlie all the technical and institutional options for bringing about a closer sharing of benefits between livestock producers and other claimants on the environment.

Informed decision-making

The first guiding principle is to make policy decisions on a more informed basis. The "new" thinking in range ecology suggests an urgent need for training of a new generation of range managers able to combine technical insight with socio-economic analysis. They need to have the ability to address the needs of multiple, competing users; facilitate participatory planning processes; and negotiate during conflicts; among many other technical skills (Scoones, 1996). For example, the quest for a simple carrying capacity number is inadequate for non-equilibrium, or even intermittent equilibrium, rangelands. A more sophisticated approach based on risk analysis for forage demand and supply is required, one which does not aim to produce a rigid scientific assessment appropriate for all producers at all times (Scoones, 1996), but instead accepts that stocking strategies and management practices will vary according to a multiplicity of desired outputs and environmental/amenity services. While vested interests and powerful constituencies will continue to oppose change, the persistence of outmoded concepts and ways of working are likely to frustrate attempts to balance livestock production and environmental goods and services unless training curricula are radically altered in agricultural colleges and universities throughout the world (see Leach and Mearns, 1996).

"Democratized expertise"

The second guiding principle relates to whose knowledge and whose version of reality counts (Chambers, 1996). Many of the instruments and mechanisms for achieving benefit sharing of environmental goods and services discussed in this paper call for new forms of professiona-lism among government officials and others responsible for implementing policies, programmes and projects (Chambers, 1996; Pimbert and Pretty, 1995). There is a fundamental need to recast the relationship between "research" and "policy-making", in order to make explicit the "plural rationalities" of all stakeholders (Thompson, 1993; Leach and Mearns, 1996). Much is now known about how to facilitate a genuinely participatory development process, but this urgently needs operational application.


The recommendations made in this article for bringing about closer benefit sharing of environmental goods and services in livestock production are summarized in the Table. Following the analytical frame adopted in the first part of this article (Mearns, 1997), the Table distinguishes the environmental goods and services provided under various forms of livestock production by the nature of their contribution to total economic value: ecological function values, direct use values and option values. Six potential types of mechanism for bringing about closer benefit sharing are considered: benefit sharing among local users (facilitating collective action); benefit sharing between local and other users (co-management mechanisms, or "subsidiarity"); beneficiary compensation payments; taxation; infrastructure development; and technology options. Some examples of specific instruments or mechanisms are described below following this typology.

Benefit sharing among local users: facilitating collective action

Benefit sharing between local and other resource claimants: co-management or "subsidiarity"

Summary of potential instruments and mechanisms for benefit sharing of environmental goods and services
Résumé des instruments et mécanismes potentiels de partage des avantages des biens et services de l'environnement
Resumen de los instrumentos y mecanismos potenciales para la distribución de los beneficios de los bienes y servicios ecológicos

Environmental goods and services suitable for benefit sharing

Benefit sharing among local users: facilitating collective action

Benefit sharing between users at different levels: co-management or "subsidiarity"

Beneficiary compensation payments




Ecological function values


Sustainable rangeland management







Preservation of wildlife biodiversity






Soil fertility enhancement/nutrient cycling





Carbon sequestration





Direct use values


Landscape amenity





Draught animal power




Household energy supply



Option values


Animal genetic resources





Taxation and infrastructure

Technologies to enhance natural resources


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