MEXICO, Cancun Pastoralism-extensive livestock production in the rangelands-provides enormous benefits to humanity and should be supported as a key element of the global transition to a green economy, according to a new report released in March by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The report finds that sustainable pastoralism on rangeland ecosystems-such as desert grasslands, woodlands and steppes-maintains soil fertility and soil carbon and contributes to water regulation and biodiversity conservation. It also provides other goods such as high-value food products.
Pastoralism is practiced by up to half a billion people across the globe. Despite its clear benefits, decades of underinvestment have eroded the lifestyle in many developing countries. Reversing this decline and realising pastoralism's full green economy potential will require leadership and the establishment of a global development framework for sustainable pastoralism, the report says.
"As developing economies grow and middle classes flourish, the demand for animal protein is only set to expand," he added. "With smart, targeted policies, a revitalized attention to pastoralism can play a significant role in fulfilling this demand whilst protecting rangeland biodiversity and ecosystem services and reducing greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere”, said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
Carbon sequestration provides just one example of how pastoralism can support the green economy. Grazing lands cover five billion hectares worldwide and sequester between 200-500kg of carbon per hectare per year, playing a leading role in climate change mitigation. Up to 70 % of dryland soil carbon can be lost through conversion to agricultural use.
There is evidence that effective animal grazing by pastoralists promotes the biodiversity and biomass production needed to maintain these carbon stores. Improved grazing management could in fact sequester 409 mill. t of CO2, or around 9.8% of anthropogenic carbon emissions, the report says.
Evidence can be found across the globe. For example, in Spain the seasonal movement of pastoralists and their herds along traditional migration corridors supports habitat connectivity and biodiversity through the transport of seeds and insects by sheep.
The report issues a series of recommendations that would bolster sustainable pastoralism, through actions in areas such as improved governance, greater engagement of pastoralist communities and increased access to markets.