Samburu pastoralists in Isiolo County in northeastern Kenya, herding their cattle and goats home. Kabir Dhanji, ILRI

A Month, a Year and a Decade in Support of Sustainable Rangelands and Pastoralism

By, Mireille Ferrari, Communications Manager, CGIAR Research Program on Livestock

It’s been a good month for rangelands and pastoralism.

On 1 March the United Nations General Assembly designated 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a global call to action to reverse the degradation of up to 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded land, including rangelands, in an effort to combat climate change and preserve biodiversity.

Also this month in Nairobi, Kenya, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution to strengthen global efforts to conserve and sustainably use rangelands and to protect the way of life of millions of pastoralists whose social, cultural and economic livelihoods depend upon their continued use of rangelands. Also included is acknowledgement of ongoing efforts for a UN-designated international year of Rangelands and Pastoralists.

If this is news to you, you are not alone. Though there are an estimated 500 million pastoralists in the world, they are among the world’s most politically and socially marginalized people. The rangelands they call their home cover nearly two-thirds of the earth’s land surface.In the face of increasing land pressures, climate change and growing economic and population burdens, pastoralists and their habitat are under duress.

What most people don’t realize is that pastoralists contribute significantly to local, regional and national economies through their livestock, while their movement patterns and customary ways make them natural stewards of their environment. In addition, rangeland ecosystems provide critical services such as preserving biodiversity, carbon sequestration, food and water security, sustainable tourism and opportunities for socio-economic development that would benefit local communities.

One way of defining and illustrating rangelands of the world. Source: Terrestrial ecoregions of the world: a new map of life on Earth. Bioscience 51(11):933-938.; Natural Earth.

Securing land tenure rights and access to resources whilst ensuring the sustainable development of rangelands for traditional pastoral systems are key focus areas for the Rangelands Initiative of the International Land Coalition (ILC). The global component is a partnership coordinated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), working together with the FAO Pastoralist Knowledge Hub, UN Environment, the International Union for Conservation (IUCN), World Resources Institute, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Rangelands Partnership and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). There are also regional rangelands initiatives in Asia and Africa. The Initiative connects ILC members and partners, mobilizes capacities, and influences policy makers and other key stakeholders in order to make rangelands more secure for local rangeland users.

The recent resolution on sustainable rangelands and pastoralism at UNEA is a result of ongoing efforts by the Rangelands Initiative and partners to build momentum for the declaration of an International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. A dedicated year would open up opportunities to promote understanding of the complexities of rangelands at multiple levels. The call for the International Year has been made by Mongolia, a country where 70 percent of its landmass is made up of rangelands and pastoralism is a primary way of life.

A pastoralist in Mongolia milking a yak in wintertime. Mongolia has over 16 million animals and 70,000 herder households. ILRI

Another key event at UNEA was a ministerial breakfast meeting, organized by the International Support Group for the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. In his opening speech, Mongolia Environment and Tourism Minister, Tserenbat Namsrai, cited the need to recognize the importance of rangelands and pastoralism in countries like Mongolia, “that still support a nomadic lifestyle and a strong dependency on husbandry and pastureland.” A key priority is to “work on land entitlement for herders & empower their role as users and protectors of rangelands.”

The meeting also provided a platform for the launch of the UN-led gap analysis report: A case of benign neglect: Knowledge gaps about sustainability of pastoralism and rangelands. The report is a direct response to the call from a previous UNEA resolution in 2016 for a gap analysis of environmental and socioeconomic information and the provision of technical support for promoting pastoralism and rangelands. Findings confirm the need for UN agencies, international organizations and others to commit to filling in fundamental gaps on data on rangelands and pastoralists, in order to pave the way for the development of appropriate policies and programs.

Deputy Director General of integrated sciences at ILRI, Iain Wright, praised the efforts of governments and partners so far. “In my 35 years’ experience working on rangelands and pastoralists, this is the first real progress I am seeing. The lack of data up to now has been critical and this report forms one of the building blocks in getting this issue into the political and international agenda.”

Samburu pastoralists in Kenya. Kabir Dhanji, ILRI

For information on this and on the ILC Rangelands Initiative, contact Fiona Flintan, Coordinator of the Rangelands Initiative global component, ILRI:

The work of ILRI and ICARDA on rangelands are part of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock, which is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust FundCGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by 15 Research Centers in close collaboration with hundreds of partners across the globe.


Article tags

african livestockland rightsland tenurelandscape restorationlivestockpastoralistsrangelandsrestorationrightsU.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration



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