Nomadic herders win plaudits for productivity

Posted: 9 February 2007

Traditional nomadic lifestyles have received a boost from a new report on global pastoral farming, which shows how important - and productive - nomadic herders are.

Camel caravan in Komadugu Yobe river basin, North East Nigeria.  © IUCN / Danièle Perrot-Maître
Camel caravan in Komadugu Yobe river basin, North East Nigeria. © IUCN / Danièle Perrot-Maître
Camel caravan in Komadugu Yobe river basin, North East Nigeria. © IUCN / Danièle Perrot-Maître
Nomadic lifestyles contribute up to 80 per cent to the agricultural productivity of African countries and have a much greater importance in national economies and international trade than is commonly believed.

This is the main finding of the new Global Review of the Economics of Pastoralism, a scientific study published by the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism, a joint programme of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

"Pastoralism can be up to ten times more productive than commercial ranching under the same conditions," said Jonathan Davies, co-author of the study and coordinator of the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism. "However, pastoralists often have been deprived of their rights in favour of ranches."

Mongolian example

The study found that mobile pastoralism - or nomadism - in several countries may be the most economically viable land use system for the world's drylands while contributing to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.

In Mongolia, pastoral livestock are responsible for one third of GDP and are the second largest source of export earnings, accounting for 32 per cent.

Pastoralism not only contributes to national economies but produces several internationally traded goods. In China, 78 million cashmere goats produce 65-75 per cent of the world's cashmere fibre. In Ethiopia, the leather industry, dominated by pastoral production, is the second largest source of foreign exchange after coffee. In 1998 alone, leather and leather goods worth US$41 million were exported, primarily to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Pastoralists presenting their products at a UN conference to combat desertification, Nairobi 2005. © IUCN / Edmund Barrow
Pastoralists presenting their products at a UN conference to combat desertification, Nairobi 2005. © IUCN / Edmund Barrow
Pastoralists presenting their products at a UN conference to combat desertification, Nairobi 2005. © IUCN / Edmund Barrow
"Our study shows that investments in the sustainable herding of nomads will not only help overcome their poverty, but also hugely benefit the national economies," said Richard Hatfield, who authored the study with Davies.

Camel milk

Despite these facts, very little is known about the economic benefits of pastoralism. As a result, nomadism is often seen as a traditional and backward way of life that will soon disappear. These misconceptions have led to legal, economic, social and political disincentives and barriers to mobility of livestock and have entrenched pastoral poverty.

"Now that we have clear evidence of the economic importance of pastoralism, we call on governments to remove existing barriers and provide incentives for sustainable land management," says Edmund Barrow of IUCN's Eastern Africa Office.

"The Indian government has already reacted by allowing the sale of camel milk, a by-product of camel breeding. The income should substantially improve the livelihoods of the Indian camel herders," he added.

See also the IUCN website at www.iucn.org/wisp 'The Global Review of the Economics of Pastoralism' by R.Hatfield and J. Davies 2007 may be downloaded in English here