The South Asia Pastoral Alliance recently held a conference on the role of pastoral communities in South Asia in mitigating climate change
Livestock keeping is one of the largest occupations in the South Asian (SA) countries. In Afghanistan for example, herders and pastorals contribute to 15% of the country’s GDP; in India by 4.11%; in Nepal by 11.5%; and in Bangladesh by 2%. Despite millions of them scattered across the sub-region, pastorals are never considered as a significant constituency. Consequently, their contribution to national economic growth, ecosystem conservation and nation-building were never recognized. This non-recognition kept them out of Government special welfare schemes, which further led to further deterioration of their social and economic status.
To address these the South Asia Pastoral Alliance (SAPA) was formed in 2014 as a collaborative effort of pastoral communities in five South Asian countries. Through SAPA, the discourse of pastoralists at South Asia (SA) level has been pioneered. SAPA aims to contribute towards recognition of pastoralism, establishing pastoral’s contribution to ecosystem sustenance and protecting their tenure systems around rangelands.
This year SAPA organised a conference on Environmental Sustainability with support from MARAG, the International Land Coalition (ILC), the Global Rangeland Initiative, and JASIL from January 29th to 30th in Ahmedabad, India. The objective of the conference was to explore solutions, grab the attention of stakeholders, and include pastoral issues in the larger discourse of development, environmental sustainability, and climate change. The thematic focus of the conference is as follows:
- Contribution of pastoralists practices in sustaining the environment and climate change, especially – related to pastoral women
- Threat on Commons Property Resources and its impact on the dependent community
- Policies that marginalise pastoralists in India
- Dispelling myths around pastoralism such as how pastoralists are accused as the main cause of rangeland degradation and how methane produced by their livestock contributes to climate change
The conference was conceived and planned by the steering group (SG) of SAPA in the month of August 2019, since then the entire SG was working collectively to make the conference successful from conceptualising to execution. The participants were from 8 countries Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Italy, Kenya, Mongolia and Nepal. These include community representatives, activists, researchers, and policymakers. Participants from Italy and Afghanistan joined the conference through video conferencing.
Participants shared their stories, experiences, learning related to their struggles across the globe and their similarities and differences in overcoming the struggles. Good practices from Asia, Africa, and Latin America were shared. Through the discussions on The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT), Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Declaration of International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralism (IYRP), participants discussed how to use the international Instruments/tools to safeguard the rights of pastoralists.
Apart from this, participants also discussed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT), Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Declaration of International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralism (IYRP). They also discussed how to use international instruments/tools to safeguard the rights of pastoralists.
VGGT, for example, was recognised as a tool for improving governance of pastoral lands, recognizing customary practices and indigenous knowledge to ensure cultural and ecological diversity for resilience, strengthening the capacity of local organisations and foster collaborative learning. Participants reiterated that the knowledge gap and lack of recognition related to rangeland and pastoralism should be addressed by these tools.
Access to land and resources in the current economic model
During the conceptual discussion, some fundamental questions were raised like who should be called ‘original inhabitants’ and when an immigrant or refugee stop being migrant or refugee. These questions become crucial when the question of access and control over resources comes. While addressing these issues, original inhabitants get supremacy over resources.
In the current context, the issue of mobility needs to be understood in two perspectives. Firstly - the historically migrating communities, which include pastorals, and secondly in recent times the community that has been evolved due to the wage hunters and gatherers. These are the manufacturers of capitalism.
This highlighted the issue of eminent domain versus the state control over resources. In the present scenario, the state has more control over natural resources, resulting in common property resources eroding quickly and increasingly privatized. It is because the value has been perceived by the lens of capitalism. The economic model of the state identifies and encourages the homogenous model to have settled and urbanized way of life, whereas the pastoralist way of life is contrary to that model. Therefore, there is a need for change in the attitude and policy of the government. It is not just a quest for another policy and legislation, but for a solution that is pertinent to the way of nomadic people and doesn’t force them to refrain from their traditional ways of life.
“It is ironic how a litre of milk goes out from a village and comes back leaving behind a lot of carbon footprints.” Lalji Desai, Founder, SAPA
Pastoral communities in the face of climate change
The neoliberal and capitalist policies promote inequality in terms of access and usage of natural resources. It also contributes to the issues of climate change and environmental degeneration. The learning is in the customary norms and practices of pastoralism, especially on managing and using rangelands.
Pastoralists are the stewards of nature, they have a long history of co-existence with the farming community, tribal groups, and wildlife in the forest. The GIR National Park, the wildlife sanctuary of Gujarat, India is a stark example of it. The pastoralists earlier used to live within the perimeters of the park area, but in order to build the national park and protect the wild animals, they were forcibly evicted from the land they had lived on for years. This resulted in the degrading biodiversity of the land.
In recent decades, the mobility of pastoralists has been curtailed by the establishment of political, and administrative boundaries into rangelands, widespread industrialisation, eroding the control of traditional institutions, and dismantling local practices. The fact is ignored that the pastoralists have survived the changing climates and times and have demonstrated a history of co-existence.
The self-reliance of pastoralists is slowly shifting towards dependence on petty jobs as wage labours, housekeeping, etc. The dairy revolution in India has not helped the pastoralists. In fact, dairy cooperatives have reduced the independence and autonomous way of living of the pastoralists; earlier they had.
Pastoral women as the stewards of our planet
Women contribute to the sustenance of pastoralism in various ways. They access, use and manage rangelands judiciously. For example, they have rich knowledge of several types of grass with regard to its benefits in milk production and in making home remedies for the treatment of livestock. They make use of dung in regenerating rangelands and retain the water sources, especially in a time when water is becoming scarce. They are the key actors in maintaining the production system – milk production, making value-added products from milk and wool and they also excel in marketing it.
There was a consensus among all the participants of the conference that women can be the key agent in development strategies, rangeland management, and climate change policies. It is necessary to make the role of women visible and promote such development programs that ensure their full participation.
After two days of discussions, overall it was reiterated that there is a need for drafting an inclusive National Policy on grazing land and pastoralists with special attention on pastoral women.
It will be proved as a worthwhile and effective step in giving recognition to women herders. We agreed to debunk myths related to pastoralism that they are responsible for methane emission, which could be made possible through scientific research and evidence-based advocacy.
The census needs to list the nomadic tribes, pastoralists in order to capture the accurate information regarding their numbers, economic condition, livestock holding, migration patterns and other related aspects. Development of the database is required on the basis of pastoral knowledge and practices to inform the decision-making processes that affect their way of living.
Pastorals are also encouraged to adopt new practices like changing their production flow, breeding practices, market responses, institutional level changes, reliable data for quick response, capacity building of livestock keepers and livestock management.
Networking and collaboration of community-based organisations (CBOs) working for pastoralists’ need attention so that the ground realities can be brought in the notice of local administration. Encouraging dialogue with governments can help in addressing the specific needs of pastoralists who are crossing borders. Their access to health services, good veterinary services are imperative while they are on the move.
Livestock intensification at the cost of pastoralist systems as a mitigation strategy for climate change has not been fully established. Thus, it requires further data and investigation to do a complete assessment. Thus, comprehensive data is needed both in terms of animal numbers under the different systems and of the landscapes they occupy.
Exchange of good practices will ensure that as a working group, we keep learning and improving our strategy as per the need of the community. All the participating countries also agreed to gather as much support as possible for IYRP to signify the importance of rangelands and pastoralists for global food security and environmental services.