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Agroecology fosters pastoral resilience

11/04/2018 -

Pastoralism can be considered as one of the best examples of agroecology in practice”, says Hassan Roba, himself a pastoralist and now working with the Christensen Fund, at the second International Symposium on Agroecology that took place at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, from April 3-5, 2018. Roba highlighted pastoralism as a low external input agroecological system that makes the most of the patchy and variable resources found in the world’s rangelands, to produce not only food, but also a range of other products and services.

Across East and West Africa, an estimated 50 million livestock producers support their families, their communities, and a massive meat, skins and hides industry based on animals that are fed solely on natural dryland pastures. Through practices such as clever and timely mobility, local knowledge and customary governance institutions, pastoralists overcome the challenges of their landscape and effectively exploit dry biomass.

“It would be foolhardy to say that pastoralism is a static production system – it is a very dynamic system and is adapting to changing realities and conditions on the ground,” asserts Roba. Following the elements of agroecology, pastoralists fuse traditional wisdom and new innovations to develop resilience. For example, in drought years pastoralists alter their herd composition to include more browsers than grazers to feed on plants and shrubs in the absence of grasses. At the same time, pastoralists help conserve important and adapted domestic animal genetic resources by carefully breeding their livestock. For example, the pastoralists of the Banni grassland in India maintain the original bloodline of their buffaloes and every buffalo marked and identifiable.

Pastoralists also rely on social relations and reciprocity to gain access to resources. For instance, crop-farmers and pastoralists in the Sahel have built an interdependent relationship where fodder is exchanged for organic manure, and recycling the available nutrients in the farming system.  Use of technology such as mobile phones and radios has made it easier for them to assimilate information and make resource use decisions over large areas. Robust customary institutions govern and mediate disputes arising from such communal resource use. FAO’s publication on Improving governance of pastoral lands incorporates these principles while developing guidelines for improved resource use and secure tenure.

Therefore, a transition to agroecology, as promoted at the symposium, calls for a renewed appreciation of existing pastoralist production systems. Despite their many benefits, pastoralists have been at the receiving end of adverse policies. Sedentarization, intensification, resource appropriation, the introduction of high-yielding hybrid breeds and a focus on improved production in the past years have hampered local pastoral production and their ability to adapt to their harsh environment. Pastoral resilience and climate adaptation can only be enhanced by supporting their traditional and local production system.

To watch a video of Hassan Roba's interview, click here.

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