Wildlife & Biodiversity

Recognize environmental contribution of pastoralists: Experts

'Pastoralism should be integrated into agriculture and livestock to make agriculture profitable, conserve bio-diversity'

 
By Jitendra
Last Updated: Thursday 03 October 2019
Bakarwal nomads herd and move along with their flocks on the Manali-Leh Highway. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The environmental contribution of pastoralists across Asia must be recognised, experts attending an ongoing five-day conference in Rajasthan’s Udaipur have said.

Many pastoralists across Central and South Asia are facing an existential crisis of sorts. Their traditional profession helps in conserving biodiversity and local ecology.

The movement of the small ruminants owned by pastoralists increases fertility of the lands they traverse as their excreta fertilises fields and forests. It also helps in regeneration of grasses and trees.

Ironically however, pastoralists these days are being blamed as the main generators of methane gas, which is responsible for speeding up climate change.

“There is a lobby at the United Nations which is pushing the idea of blaming pastoralists as contributors to climate change,” Anu Verma, focal person of South Asia Pastoral Alliance, told Down To Earth (DTE).

She explained that big corporations in such developing countries, usually set their sights on large tracks of land, intending to use them for industrial farming. However, pastoralism requires such large tracts of land as well for free movement of small ruminants throughout the year.

“The lobby in the United Nations, which represents such corporate interests, considers pastoralism as a threat to commercial farming or corporate activities for they require unhindered expanses of land,” Verma added.

Since many countries lack a national policy on grazing land, it usually leads to the encroachment of such land by parties such as village residents, government officials and private players. 

Pastoralists from South Asian countries like India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well as central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, demanded policy support at the annual Asia Land Forum organised by the International Land Coalition in Udaipur. 

“Our pastoral land is diverted for large scale industrial investment which threatens not only our livelihoods but also our cultural identity,” Ergenberdiev, a leader of Kyrgyzstan-based pastoral organization Kyrgyz Jayti, said.

Indian situation

India too lacks a national policy on grazing land. In fact, the pastoral profession is not even recognized under law.

“In the Census, pastoralists are categorized as either Schedule Tribe, Schedule Caste or Other Backward Caste, but not as pastoralists. This is despite the fact that around 6-8 per cent of India’s total population is either directly engaged in pastoralism or indirectly associated with it,” Verma said.

Pastoralism is not recognized in India’s neighbor Nepal as well. “Instead, pastoralists are categorised as mountain-dwelling communities in Nepal,” Verma said.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of India ordered policy formulation about grazing land in all states of the Indian Union. However, there has been no assessment of whether any progress was made with regard to this order.

Vagtaram, president of Rajasthan-based pastoral organisation, Raika Vikas Sangathan, raised concerns about ongoing conflicts between pastoral communities due to shrinkage of pastures.

“Forest officers do not allow us to take our animals along traditional grazing routes as most of them pass through forest areas,” Vagtaram said.

“Village folk, who have encroached community grazing lands, also harass us and have driven us away from such traditional grazing lands,” he added.

Vagtaram, 48, travels a distance of 1,200 kilometres annually with his 200 sheep and goats from his home district of Pali in Rajasthan to Buharanpur district in Madhya Pradesh.

He demands government support like insurance schemes for small ruminants and the right to keep arms for safety.

“We are vulnerable during the whole year. Many times, local bandits steal our costly sheep and goats. The government should allow us to keep weapons or provide safety where we stay,” Vagtaram said.

Afghanistan is a bright spot as far as pastoralists are concerned, with the community getting legal recognition and financial support.

“They get financial support like funds and shelters when they migrate from one place to another,” Verma said. She added that the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai belongs to a pastoral community himself and as a result made pastoralist-friendly policies during his tenure.

In India, agriculture is generally viewed as a combination of livestock and cultivation of crops. Experts believe that the time has come to integrate pastoralism to agriculture to increase farmers’ incomes as well as conserve biodiversity.

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