A new resolution on Combating desertification, land degradation and drought and promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands was presented and adopted at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) held 23–27 May 2016 at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya.
At a UNEA-2 side event on sustainable pastoralism, high-level discussions among key players in the livestock sector highlighted pastoralism’s ability to promote healthy ecosystems in the face of climate change, showing that common pastures are potential reservoirs of greenhouse gases.
Kicking off the side event, the deputy executive director of UNEP and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, Ibrahim Thiaw, reminded participants that ten years ago, myths and misconceptions surrounding pastoralism were already being strongly debunked—particularly those portraying it as ‘primitive, unproductive and environmentally destructive’.
Research showing that pastoralism promotes healthy productive ecosystems continues to be largely ignored, underexploited or misunderstood.
The side event was spearheaded by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other collaborators.
UNEA’s then president and minister for environment and green development in Mongolia, Oyuna Sanjasuren, argued that pastoralism plays a key role in protecting ecosystems but must be managed well to be sustainable.
Ethiopia’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, said that to achieve the United Nations 2030 and Africa 2063 agendas, pastoralist issues must be addressed and with a unified voice. Such issues include policies to protect pastoralists, increased investment in drylands, improved pastoralist access to markets and incentives for pastoral environmental stewardship.
Land tenure for pastoralists: how best to achieve?
Lack of land rights is a huge challenge for pastoralists, posing big threats to pastoral sustainability and viability. This is recognized in the UN’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs #1, 2 and 5).
ILRI conducts research on pastoral and agro-pastoral dryland environments, investigating such issues as institutional and governance approaches to promoting participatory land-use planning and land tenure systems. In addition, ILRI works to promote sustainable use of rangelands and to improve livestock-based livelihoods. Together with its Kenyan NGO partner RECONCILE (Resource Conflict Institute), ILRI coordinates and supports the Global Rangelands Initiative of the International Land Coalition (ILC). The initiative, established in 2010, supports governments and members of the ILC in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop and implement enabling policies and legislation for more tenure-secure rangelands.
Abdelkader Bensada, an officer responsible for UNEP’s work on sustainable pastoralism and rangeland conservation and UNEP’s focal point for the International Land Coalition, talks with Fiona Flintan, a rangelands governance scientist on joint appointment with ILRI and the International Land Coalition, at the rangelands side event at UNEA-2 (Global Rangelands Initiative) (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).
Pushing the sustainable pastoralism agenda higher
A coalition of international organizations working on livestock and environment issues, in addition to several African governments, led by Ethiopia, Namibia and Sudan, fronted the resolution for adoption by UNEA 2, and in so doing managed to push sustainable pastoralism and rangelands higher up the international development agenda. The passing of this resolution was the latest example of the importance people are placing on SDG 15, ‘Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss’, and of the need for multilateral environmental agencies to cooperate and collaborate.
This move has provided much-needed impetus for investing in pastoralism in order to optimize and realize its full potential and comparative advantage as a livelihood system, particularly suitable for coping with climatic variability and change.