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Family Farming Knowledge Platform

Pastoralism & Family Farming

Several hundred million pastoralists manage rangelands coving one third of the terrestrial land surface. They live in the world’s harshest environments and produce food where no rain-fed crops can grow. Pastoralists are typically involved with herding livestock including cattle, goats, sheep, camels, yaks, llamas, buffalos, horses, donkeys and reindeer. They produce meat, milk, eggs and non-food products such as hides, fibre and wool. Pastoralism is practiced on all continents and is mainly found in dry, cold and mountainous areas. In such challenging territories pastoralism presents the best livelihood strategy to provide food, income and employment.

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In many countries, livestock sales, meat, milk, hair and hides contribute to more than half of the agricultural GDP. Tourism is gaining more importance. Pastoralists nourish not only their own communities; also those living in farming areas, urban centres and coastal regions benefit from the trade and value chains of pastoral products.

Pastoralist use and preserve livestock breeds that are adapted to the environment. Livestock grazing provides essential eco-system services. Their animals fertilize crop fields; they help sequester carbon, support ecosystems and control bush encroachment that prevents fires. Pastoralism maintains biodiversity and landscapes.

Pastoralists rely on livestock mobility and communal land for their livelihoods. They build on a rich legacy of traditional knowledge, social relations and land tenure systems to access rangeland, produce food and seize market opportunities. Mobility is essential for adaptability and resilience strategies of pastoral communities. It allows them to adapt to changing environments, to cope with climate variability and to mitigate crisis situations.

Pastoralists face a long list of threats: conflicts and violence, blocked migration routes and water points, loss of grazing land, the expansion of farming into the best grazing areas, a lack of services such as schools and health care that are adapted to their mobile livelihoods. Pastoralist communities are often misunderstood, marginalized and excluded from decisions that affect them.

FAO is working together with pastoralist organizations and other international organizations in various areas to support pastoralist communities. FAO’s work includes technical assistance, political advocacy, capacity building and knowledge sharing. FAO’s Pastoralist Knowledge Hub, a pastoralist-driven coordination and knowledge platform launched in April 2015, brings together international organizations to coordinate their work and knowledge on pastoralism.

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