Pastoralist Knowledge Hub

Supporting pastoralists’ knowledge practices and management systems for biodiversity

The Pastoralist Knowledge Hub’s panel session at the World Biodiversity Forum

19/03/2020 -

Pastoralism is a livestock production system that relies heavily on the continued service exchanges with its ecosystems. A close link exists between pastoral peoples, the ecosystems in which they live, and the animals that they breed. Despite the numerous challenges faced by pastoral systems (agriculture expansion, urbanization, disruption of livestock corridors and mobility routes, etc.), pastoralists have traditionally managed rangelands sustainably and delivered a number of positive benefits for biodiversity. Therefore, it has a significant role to play in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

In order to bring to light the paramount role of pastoralism in biodiversity, the Pastoralist Knowledge Hub (PKH) organized a panel session at the World Biodiversity Forum, which took place in Davos (Switzerland) from February 23-28, 2020. Thanks to the complementary backgrounds and knowledge of the panelists, the session highlighted some of the practices and knowledge systems applied by pastoralists to conserve biodiversity.

Among the panelists, Ilse Köhler-Rollefson and Jesús Garzón (both researchers and pastoralists) pointed out how pastoralism supports and nurtures biodiversity at many different levels and scales. They highlighted that pastoralism is the only way of systematic food production that does not replace native vegetation with crops, connects ecosystems by transporting seeds over long distances, deposits manure on fields, and does not require herbicides and insecticides. They also explained that pastoralists are creators plus guardians of the livestock breeds that are best adapted to remain productive during climate challenges.

In particular, transhumance plays a key role in the face of climate change and for the conservation of biodiversity. Through flexible land tenure systems, pastoralists are able to optimize the variability of resources, as well as the health and productivity of both their herds and landscapes. In Europe, for instance, transhumance takes on a dimension of exceptional importance, as it allows the sustainable use of large areas of our territory – otherwise condemned to desertification and abandonment – as promoted by the European Commission’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Pius Loupa and Luca Battaglini contributed to the session by bringing interesting insights from national case studies – respectively the Karamoja cluster (Uganda) and the Northern-Western Italian Alps. In Karamoja, pastoralists have been facing numerous challenges for instance, conversion of dry season mobility routes and grazing areas into large agricultural crop lands, mineral extraction, charcoal production, indiscriminate opening up of protected areas boundaries, non-native plants, negative perceptions on pastoralism, poor policy environment. Despite that, they have developed local strategies – such as localized natural resource sharing agreements with their immediate cross-borders neighbors – to ensure protection of diverse shared natural ecosystems as number one priority.

As far as it concerns the Northern-Western Italian Alps, pastoralists can be defined as landscape ambassadors, and pastoral systems represent examples of resilience and adaptation, necessary to maintain and recover grazing lands. In this regard, new collaborative models to support livestock productions and their intrinsic biodiversity are needed. Indeed, the pastoralist ecosystem approach – going from the choice of breeding autochthonous breeds to local knowledge practices – should go with the transfer of innovations, including through education projects.

The anthropologist Santiago Carralero brought into light the human aspect relating to the link between pastoralism and biodiversity, by focusing on the traditional pastoral practices of yak herding in the High Asia region. He illustrated how pastoralism can not only maintain, but even increase biodiversity, when it is carried out in a traditional way following the different indigenous practices. Indeed, High Asia yak herding has been for centuries one of the most respectful forms of human-animal relation, becoming an integral part of the natural systems they belong to. Yaks have transformed inhospitable areas in agro-pastoral regions, increasing biodiversity with their mobile style of life and seed-dung-contained.

Finally, Gregorio Velasco (coordinator of the PKH) reviewed the main available tools for evaluating the role of pastoralism in biodiversity, by pointing out their advantages and limits. He presented a to-be-implemented project, aiming to create an adapted tool to assess the contribution of pastoralism to biodiversity. The development process of such a tool envisions strong and effective participatory processes in its preparation, dissemination and implementation. In addition, Gregorio stressed that the knowledge products will serve not only as outputs in themselves, but also as a means to create a platform for dialogue, capacity building and advocacy.

This panel session represented a prominent landmark in the process of improving our knowledge on the ecosystem approach of pastoralists – an approach recognizing that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems. Supporting this approach and implementing pastoralists’ indigenous knowledge practices and management systems is crucial for the future of biodiversity.