Pastoralist Knowledge Hub

European herders urge governments to recognize pastoralism

European pastoralists' organizations sign declaration urging governments to recognize the special nature of pastoralism

29/06/2015 -

More than 50 pastoralists from 17 European countries met in Koblenz, Germany, to promote the recognition of pastoralism in Europe. The assembly was jointly organized by the European Shepherds Network and the German shepherds’ association, Bundesverband Berufsschäfer e.V.

The assembly was one of the seven regional meetings coordinated and financed by the Pastoralist Knowledge Hub, based at FAO.

Eighteen pastoralist organizations signed the Koblenz-Ehrenbreitstein Declaration urging governments and policymakers to recognize and value the special nature of pastoralism and its products.

The declaration explains why pastoralism makes Europe a better place. Pastoralists produce high-quality products such as meat, milk, cheese, wool and hides. They protect the environment by preserving valued ecosystems and keep rural areas vibrant through a rich cultural heritage.

The delegates outlined how they benefit the local and national economy. Many keep their animals on land unsuitable for growing crops: the Scottish islands, the Pyrenees in Spain, and the Carpathians in Romania and Poland. A delegate from the Netherlands grazes his sheep on dykes to prevent the growth of bushes and trees that would damage the structure. Shepherds from Germany explained that they maintain ecological diversity and traditional landscapes. That attracts tourists and boosts the economy in areas such as the Eifel mountains.

Although they live in different countries and speak different languages, many pastoralists face the same difficulties: they are losing grazing land, are not consulted in when political decisions are made, face increasing bureaucratic requirements, and fear losing their cultural identity. Saami reindeer herders from northern Scandinavia described how their livelihoods are threatened by logging to feed a paper factory. Shepherds complained about new rules forcing them to ear-tag their animals: expensive, unnecessary, and inhumane as the tags can rip out and injure the animal.

The pastoralist organizations urge governments and policymakers to set measures to assure fair prices for pastoralist products, to stop the loss of grazing land and to designate and protect a European network of transhumance trails.

The assembly urge that pastoralists be involved in revising the rules of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy. This should recognise historical grazing land, open forests and rocky areas as pastures that are eligible for subsidies and value the environmental benefits of grazing, such as in preventing fires.

The pastoralist representatives agreed to formally establish a network of European pastoralists and to develop a coordination mechanism for current and new member organizations.

The 3-day meeting took place at Ehrenbreitstein, a historical fortress above the city of Koblenz, on 26-28 June 2015. On the first day the pastoralist representatives described where they came from and discussed in small groups the common challenges that they face.

The second day featured presentations by researchers, FAO and the European Commission, as well as a podium discussion. The presentations centered on pasture use and the role of pastoralism in sustaining landscapes and natural resources. How the Common Agricultural Policy covers pastoralism in Europe was debated.

Activities on the final day were open to the public. They included demonstrations of sheep-shearing and wool-processing, a sheepdog show, and an exhibition of sheep breeds. Visitors could inspect and buy wool, garments, meat, sausages and other goat and sheep products. Ulrike Höfken, the minister responsible for the environment and agriculture in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, welcomed the exhibitors and participants, and opened the exhibition.


European pastoralist gathering of the Pastoralist Knowledge Hub - June 2015 - Koblenz, Germany