‘“Business as usual” is no longer an option for a food-secure future. Pastoralism can be an innovative system: a time-tested, undervalued alternative to high-input and resource-intensive farming, and a valuable lesson for the much needed evolution towards ‘farming with nature’, with largely-untapped potential for income growth and employment in marginal areas.
Two main points are made. First, pastoral systems are emblematic of farming with nature: they have evolved to function with the natural environment and therefore with variability; for this reason, pastoralism has great potential in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals in a climate-change scenario where variability is globally on the increase. Second, pastoral systems have been looked at with the wrong lenses: conventional modelling and economic analysis of livestock production are locked into a view of the animal in isolation from the natural environment, and a view of variability as a constraint.
After almost a century of interventions, ‘poor understanding of pastoralism’ remains the most repeated cause of setback in pastoral development, often resulting in maladaptive practices that generate further misunderstanding in a vicious cycle. This paper starts from identifying an entry point in this entangled legacy, in order to help institutions effectively engage with the long neglected ‘first step’ of understanding the logic of pastoralism.