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The role of livestock in dryland management


Drylands refer to arid and semi-arid areas characterized by low, erratic and inconsistent rainfall and a negative balance between rainfall and evaporation. The main feature of the drylands is related to their instability in terms of growing conditions for vegetation and thereby also in terms of carrying capacity for humans, livestock and wildlife.

Livestock play an important role in dryland management.  Livestock production is the main activity developed to sustain livelihoods in these low productivity and unstable environments. Pastoral systems are particularly adapted to these conditions and have been able to fully exploit these characteristics through constant mobility in areas that would otherwise remain unutilized. 

Mobility is a highly efficient way of managing the fragile ecosystem of dryland characterized by sparse and fragile vegetation and relatively low fertility of dryland soils. Dryland ecosystems may be more ecologically resilient, as long as some degree of livestock mobility or resource-use management is maintained.  

 In pastoral areas, livestock are often one of the few assets owned by the poor and as such play a significant role in their livelihoods. One of the main interactions between the poor and the environment in drylands is through their high dependence on common property grassland resources. 

Pastoral systems are however undergoing rapid changes. The survival and viability of pastoral systems strongly relies on mobility, which is increasingly being threatened by other forms of land uses that constrain the inherent flexibility of pastoral systems.

A poor understanding of the dynamics of pastoral systems has resulted in inappropriate policies such as constraining herd mobility that have undermined pastoral development.

Policies that promote sedenterisation have been widely pursued in the past, with serious environmental and social consequences. Government policies have failed to protect key pastoral resources, such as wetlands, dry season reserves and livestock corridors, from encroachment by external agents such as farmers, investors and national parks. 

Consequently, access to grazing routes, watering points and livestock corridors are increasingly restricted, destabilizing the entire ecosystem.  In pastoral systems, there are close interactions between livestock and the environment and therefore any changes and constraints within the system are likely to have strong environmental implications. 

In the drylands, pastoralists and wildlife have co-existed for hundreds of years. However, competition for scarce resources such as grazing and water resources is increasing, and threats to biodiversity as well as the potential for conflicts between wildlife and livestock owners is increasing as pastoralists move into new areas and/or live in the vicinity of protected areas.

The main factors driving this transformation are increasing demographic pressure, the expansion of cultivation, and the reduction in rangeland resources and expansion of protected areas.  

The main environmental issues in the drylands are:

  • livestock-induced land degradation and  potential desertification
  • biodiversity loss
  • water resource degradation
  • recurrent drought and climate change

LEAD’s approach in addressing the issues

The Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative approach to all identified livestock and environment hotspots in the drylands include a number of activities, which are aimed at:

  • supporting the adaptation of pastoral systems to a changing context such as markets, access to resources, climate change and insecurity.
  • developing benefit sharing mechanisms for sustainable use of biodiversity, water management and carbon sequestration aimed at reorienting behavior towards sustainable and adapted management of these fragile agro-ecological areas.
  • supporting the decision making process through the development of tools that strengthen the understanding of the livestock-environment issues within the context of the drylands and support main-streaming of the issues in policy and national action plans. 

The Initiative has sought to achieve the above goals through the implementation of 4 projects in two world regions where pastoral systems are of importance – sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  The projects comprise of:

  1. The regional project:  Information system for pastoralism in the Sahel (Système d’information pour le pastoralisme au Sahel - SIPSA)
  2. Livestock-wildlife-environment interactions in Chad (Completed)
  3. Novel forms of livestock and wildlife integration adjacent to protected areas in Africa – Tanzania (Ongoing)
  4. Livestock-environment interactions in watersheds – India (Completed)  
  5. Improvement of the management of pastoral resources in Chad - Pilot Phase
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