The world’s 200 million pastoralists find themselves on the frontline of climate change, contending with extreme temperatures, droughts and scarce resources.
While they face these challenges, they are also well-placed to offer lessons in how to adapt to these new conditions.
At this year’s Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) meeting in Mongolia, two herders shared their experiences of striving for sustainability in livestock-keeping.
“Pastoralism is a very special livelihood,” said Elizabeth Katushabe, from the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa, Uganda. “In Africa, livestock is a key social and economic asset. It’s very important to us.
“It’s the most viable livelihood in these complex and unique eco-systems.”
Elizabeth explained that as a people with an intimate knowledge of the land, pastoralists had important insights into their changing environment.
“Most people think that we move aimlessly. Herders move periodically with their livestock with a purpose – they move in search of these seasonal, scarce resources,” she added.
In many cases, pastoralists make use of land that is unsuitable for growing crops and so would otherwise be useless. It is estimated that two thirds of the world’s arable land cannot be used for cropping.
As well as traditional knowledge of land stewardship and livestock-keeping, Elizabeth explained that pastoralists were also making use of new technology, such as solar power to generate light and allow them to milk cows at night, when temperatures were cooler and flies were sleeping.
A new paper, presented at GASL, highlighted the importance of dairy interventions in poverty reduction, showing increases in household income of up to 600 per cent where cattle ownership or dairy production was improved.
In Mongolia, climate change is contributing to the challenge of maintaining adequate fodder for livestock, with as much as 65 per cent of rangeland now degraded.
“We have been seeing the negative consequences of climate change,” said Tseveenkhuu Buyannemekh, a Mongolian herder from Bogd Soum in Bayankhongor province.
“In the winter, it becomes extremely cold and, in the summer, it’s very hot. It’s difficult to do the hay-making in autumn time because of a lack of grass.
“If we grow some feed in summer time, it will help us generate more income.”
Tseveenkhuu explained that Mongolian herder groups had been agreeing land management plans with local authorities in recent years to help preserve the precious rangeland and improve productivity.
“We have been living for hundreds of years in this nomadic lifestyle,” he added.
“I have received good land from my ancestors and I aim to pass it on to future generations. I have daughters and when they are grown up, I believe they will continue being herders.”More information about the GASL meeting and its priorities is available online.