Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

Life of pastoralist in India during the COVID19 lockdown

Anu Verma, South Asia Pastoralist Alliance & MARAG, India, WAMIP South Asia 

India has 34 million pastoralists managing a livestock population of more than 50 million. Livestock rearing is the second largest occupation in India after agriculture, making a significant contribution of about 8.5 to 9 per cent to the country’s GDP. Its contribution is vital, as pastoralism is the most important means of support for landless pastoralists as well as marginal and small farmers, especially those living in drought-prone, hilly areas where crop production is not assured. It contributes significantly to the livelihood and wealth of communities in terms of milk, wool and meat with no market-based inputs.

Traditional pastoral institutions today are increasingly endangered by mass displacement due to intense competition from agriculture, population growth, herd dispossession and drought. While lockdowns (due to Covid-19) have impacted people from all walks of life, the impact has also been differential. Pastoralists around the country have a hostile policing system to brave, including forest guards. Amidst the outbreak, the regulation and control over their movement has escalated during the most crucial time, i.e., their move towards the summer pastures. While some state governments exempted their movement, like the transport of essential commodities, the shepherds who had gone to their farms were stuck and unable to join their flocks back. “We are unable to freely move with our herds for grazing since villagers are afraid that we are carriers of coronavirus,” said Sumer Singh Bhatti, who owns about 200 camels that feed in dry and desert areas of Rajasthan. “We were sometimes even prevented from going to the village shops to buy food rations. This coronavirus scare has broken the back of camel herders. With summer heat pastoralists will miss opportunities to get green grass as fodder.” said Mool Singh, a pastoralist from Nakrasar village in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district, who migrates in March every year to Punjab for his herd to graze on wheat waste.

Voices from the field 2

The future of peaceful transhumance in West Africa

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Peul Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad and a member of the executive committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), WAMIP Central Africa

As nomads are difficult to control, it doesn’t help governments. Several states have made the decision to focus more on agriculture at the expense of nomadic livestock. Yet in the Sahel, livestock accounts for more than 40% of the GDP of all Sahelian countries and in Chad, more than 20%.

Firstly, communities such as the Fulani, Arabs or Tuaregs, were not fully taken into consideration after colonisation, as they have a lifestyle far from the development imaginary that the state had thought to implement. This is why most nomads have no access to education, health care or drinking water,….

Nevertheless, in Sahelian ecosystems, the uncertainty over fodder resources requires herders to use special breeding techniques to preserve their production capital: livestock and ecosystems. Indeed, pastoralism relies on the great ability of herders to make the most of spontaneous fodder resources scattered in heterogeneous environments.

Governments need to change the way they view nomads and their environmental value. Most livestock species provide multiple services such as protein-rich food, manure and energy. Without livestock we could not alleviate food insecurity. In all our homes, we eat meat and milk acts as a food supplement, herders exchange livestock for millet with farmers, and all of this drives the circular economy in the communities. Herders are not a problem, they are a solution, and they are the past, present and future.

Voices from the field 3

Towards a network of shepherds in North America, a vision from the Sierra Tarahumara

Project “De la Oveja a la Cobija” and Red del Desierto, Campo Adentro, F. Marso

Life in the Raramuri (Tarahumara) communities, in Sierra Madre Occidental, Chihuahua, Mexico, is based on subsistence farming and ranching. The Rarámuri people, some 50,000 strong, survived colonialism in part because they are located in remote areas of the Sierra.   The practice is closely linked to ceremonies and festivities and is developed under a work organization scheme based on natural cycles called Mawechi. Due to the irregular orography, with large ravines and very poor soils, goat and sheep ranching predominates in the area. The processes of social fragmentation caused by extractive and tourist exploitation projects, as well as the generalized insecurity due to the presence of drug trafficking mafias, have caused this practice to diminish in the area.

Recently, there has been renewed attention and enthusiasm among young Rarámuri, mostly women, to continue caring for goats and sheep, based on extensive management that makes use of scarce and scattered pastures, where cattle cannot sustain themselves, and in rotation with the cornfield, taking advantage of its stubble field and manure as fertilizer. In exchange, they obtain meat, milk, leather and wool, and the adult animals are a kind of “piggy bank” that can be capitalized for emergencies.

An association of shepherds and weavers has been formed in this area, grouping 30 Rarámuri women, led by shepherdess Agripina Viniegra, who are responsible for the care of sheep and their productive exploitation, mainly for the creation of wool textiles. Likewise, the young Association of Raramuri Sheep Breeders is approaching shepherds from communities in the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila and San Luis Potosí, proposing the idea of Red del Desierto. They are also making contact with the Navajo people of the Southwest USA to reactivate the North American Region of WAMIP.

Voices from the field 4

Climate change and mining industry threatening Mongolia’s nomadic herders with extinction

Maamankhuu Sodnom, Mongolian Pastoralist Association, Mongolia

Mongolia covers an area of 1.564.116 km2 with a population of 3.4 million people, of which 30% practice pastoralism. Mongolian pastoralists keep mostly sheep, camels, goats, cattle (including yaks) and horses. Seventy percent of Mongolian land is used for pastoralist purposes, most of this territory being barren, semi-arid steppes and deserts. Nowadays, many of these nomadic people are moving to cities as a result of a combination of factors, climate change amongst them.

The climate in Mongolia can be extremely harsh even under normal conditions. There are 4 seasons; Winter is extremely cold and the temperature often goes down to -45oCand summer can be as hot as 45oC. Our spring is always windy and dust storms are the norm. In the last thirty years the Gobi Desert in Southern Mongolia hasn’t seen much precipitation during the summertime, which considerably exacerbated the aridity and adversely affected the activity of animal husbandry.

Previously unseen levels of snow in the winter and sandstorms in the spring helped aggravate the pre-existing predicament, leading to the acceleration of desertification in the entirety of the region. Mongolians are proud of their pastoral culture and their ability to subsist on their livestock even under extremely difficult environmental conditions, however, these days nomadic herders are being threatened by extinction.

The second major factor that threatens the survival of their lifestyle is the mining industry, which has grown substantially in the last 20 years. There are fourteen licensed mining companies in my province alone, Tavan Tolgoi and Oyu Tolgoi being the largest. Oyu Tolgoi is a copper and gold mining company which has been using huge amounts of water from already depleted underground sources. There are no rivers or lakes in the Gobi Desert, forcing pastoralists to dig wells in order to tap into the underground water supply. Many of these wells have already completely dried up, mainly because Oyu Tolgoi uses 950 liters of water per second. The once semiarid region is being turned into a desert at an alarming pace. The Tavan Tolgoi coal mining company exploits and exports coal to China on unpaved dirt roads, further bringing wanton destruction to pastoralists’ lands. Mongolian pastoralists have begun protests, but they lack the resources, organization, and power to effect any meaningful changes as the bulk of the Mongolian economy is dependent on the export of copper and coal to China. Nowadays, we are fighting an uphill battle to save our rangeland.