IFAD and FAO commit to pastoral development

By Michele Nori and Linda Pappagallo

Pastoral development is witnessing a revival in recent years, and UN and other international agencies have not avoided the challenge of properly relocating pastoralism in their development agendas.

For example, the Rome based agencies, IFAD (the International Fund for Agricultural Development) and the FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) have a long history of engagement in pastoral development, and are revising their approach in pastoral areas. Two new documents have recently been released that show this commitment: the Joint Evaluation Synthesis of FAO’s and IFAD’s Engagement in Pastoral Development and the IFAD toolkit, Engaging with pastoralists – a holistic development approach.

Pastoralism as ecologically sustainable and economically efficient

There is a growing interest in pastoral systems at the global level. However, in the past, pastoral development has, at times, been confused with livestock development. Now there seems to be new efforts to embrace the challenges of improving the living standards of people in pastoral systems; this also implies dealing with variable resource flows and uncertain conditions.

The joint evaluation states: “The foundational knowledge in pastoral development saw a U-turn about twenty years ago, from constructing pastoralism as an irrational way of life barely able to cope with a harsh environment, to understanding it as a rational adaptation to environments dominated by variability, and as a production and livelihood system that is both ecologically sustainable and economically efficient.”

The main aim of the Joint Evaluation Synthesis of FAO’s and IFAD’s Engagement in Pastoral Development is to draw useful lessons and develop sound recommendations from FAO and IFAD’s experience between 2003 and 2013, to assist their future pastoral development activities in the face of growing challenges posed by climate change, and the new economic and political realities. The analysis is informed by “the appreciation of mobile pastoralism in taking advantage not only of scarcity of resources but also of the resource variability that characterize their settings”.

It goes on to argue that previous pastoral developmenthas often remained tangential to the pastoral systems”. While critical domains such “as gender aspects, milk economy, and relationships with conflict have been considered to limited extents”. The report further indicates that “great achievements have been attained in relevant domains, including the scaling-up of innovative solutions in community-based animal health and natural resource management.”

A systemic approach for resilient development

When it comes to the fundamentals of pastoralism, and its capacities to tackle uncertainties at various levels and degrees, the report admits that “an inadequate blueprint has been used in interventions concerned with risk management and resilience building, which by and large have failed to capture the economic role of risk-taking in pastoral livelihood and production systems which take advantage of structural variability.”

It states that new frameworks require the realisation that “pastoral development today is nested in a wider process of transformation, stretching from a fundamental revision of the main explanatory framework in ecology in the 1970s, to the recent adoption of resilience thinking at the core of development programmes and policies. The red line along this trajectory of change has been a growing awareness of the limits of representing the world in terms of closed and self-regulated systems, and of the necessity of shifting to a systemic approach capable of integrating variability as the rule rather than the exception. (…) A specialization to manage variability to its own advantage makes pastoralism highly relevant to the broader work on resilience in food production, in times when natural, economic, and political dimensions interrelate in increasingly unpredictable patterns.”

Engaging with pastoralists

With the understanding that “engaging more systematically with pastoral development can offer IFAD and FAO a good entry level for updating their institutional capacities vis-à-vis an increasingly instable global context of operation”, IFAD has further developed a specific toolkit: Engaging with pastoralists – a holistic development approach.

The document is introduced by the acknowledgement that “pastoralism is a way of life based on territorial mobility, adopted in response to the challenges faced by human communities living in harsh or difficult environments. In addition to experiencing environmental marginality, in many areas pastoralists have been excluded from decision-making and from access to services, making them the most vulnerable category among rural communities.”

The document describes a number of lessons learned and key principles and reviews successful interventions in pastoral areas, providing practical guidance on addressing pastoral development in IFAD-supported programmes and projects. The toolkit argues that sector policies and operational instruments need to include considerations of the specificities in terms of scale of pastoral systems, social adaptations to difficult environments, mobile lifestyles, seasonal access to natural resources and flexible tenure, customary norms and institutions, as well as economic, social and political marginality within and across states.

With two of the major international agencies now committing to pastoral development, taking on board many of the lessons about variability and uncertainty, IFAD’s and FAO’s engagement in pastoral areas can contribute significantly to the reorientation of development practices as a people-centred and holistic approach to pastoral development.

For more on the ERC (European Research Council) funded PASTRES project, check out the website, subscribe to the mailing list for occasional updates and newsletters and follow us on Twitter.

Image credit: Dr Antonello Franca, APPIA


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