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The present case study sets out the vital role that local knowledge plays in conserving biodiversity and ecosystem function in semi-arid rangelands. This study describes in detail the activities of the Wodaabe nomads, who strive to promote the prosperity of their herds through pastoral mobility and labour. The latter comprises many tasks such as driving animals to graze, watering animals at wells, feeding them minerals, searching for pastures. The relationship between the herder, his red Zebu cattle and the bush land (ladde) is marked on the one hand by cultural values such as the endeavour to leave the herd in good shape to his descendants; and on the other hand by Sahelian economic life in which the Wodaabe work to maximize herd fertility in order to gain animal wealth for market exchange and milk for household consumption.

The Wodaabe’s ecological analysis of the two landscape units that they occupy is discussed, and the quality of the grasslands is related to soil quality. Their consideration of the vegetative cycle of grasses illustrates the Wodaabe’s precise knowledge of plants, and the capacity of their scouts (pastoral sentinels) to predict the quality and quantity of grasses available for their livestock. Their indigenous knowledge, related to feeding schemes and the stage of the animals’ nutritional development is investigated, as well as the animal watering schemes. The application of Wodaabe environmental and pastoral knowledge to the pursuit of herding is reported, and the relevance of their knowledge to make a significant contribution to economic production of the region and to sustainable use of its natural resources and biodiversity is presented in the conclusions.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is committed to preserving biodiversity as a way to help people develop a sustainable livelihood based on their own resources. The assistance of FAO is channelled through various avenues and provides intergovernmental fora where biodiversity-related policies are discussed and relevant agreements negotiated and adopted by member countries, such as the International Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), established in 1983, which now numbers 165 countries, and the European Community. The International Plant Protection Convention, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, are parties to a legally binding agreement, adopted in 2001 by the Conference of FAO, which recognizes Farmers’ Rights along with Breeders’ Rights.

The new perception of balance and limitations of the ecosystems and traditional pastoral knowledge presented here adhere closely to the spirit of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) ecosystem approach. As stated in the report from the Fifth meeting of the Subsidiary body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) (SBSTTA/5/11, p.1): “The ecosystem approach is a strategy for integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. It is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization which encompass the essential processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems.” Twelve Fundamental Principles of the ecosystem approach have been developed by the Convention on Biological Diversity expressed in Decision V/6 Ecosystem Approach by the fifth Conference of the Parties, and this study is related in particular to principle Nr. 11 which states: “The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices”.

Nikolaus Schareika, with his respect for the knowledge, life and culture of the Wodaabe, brings home to all who read this case study, and see the beautiful images therein, a greater understanding of the value of their daily work and commitment to food security and pastoral development, now and for the future of their people and their land.

Peter Kenmore
Inter-Departmental Working Group on
Biological Diversity in Food and Agriculture

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