Pastoralists as vital allies in biodiversity conservation

Pastoralists have often been pitted against conservationists. A colonial vision of ‘forests’ continues to enclose certain areas and exclude local pastoralists from accessing their habitats. Take the example of the Rabari pastoralists in India evicted from the Gir National Park or the recent threats faced by the Maasai in the Ngorongoro region in Tanzania.

Amidst fears of further exclusions, the 30 by 30 initiative that seeks to designate 30% of Earth’s land and ocean area as protected areas by 2030 is currently being debated at the UN’s Biodversity Conference, COP15. Fortress conservation models based on the belief that biodiversity protection is best achieved by creating protected areas, where ecosystems can function in isolation from human interactions.

Maasai people walking in a grassland
Maasai, Loliondo, Tanzania / Vince Smith / cc-by 2.0

Yet, rather than the artificial separation of humans and nature, it must be recognized that ecosystems have always been maintained in interaction with pastoralists. Pastoralists have intimate knowledge of their environments and serve as their custodians. Ecosystem restoration and safeguarding biodiversity is aligned with their survival.

A new briefing shows how pastoralists can serve as vital allies for conservation. It proposes 4 alternatives –

  • Creating mixed use, integrated landscapes, bringing down the fences and allowing livestock and wildlife to coexist.
  • Focusing on bio-corridors and facilitating transhumant routes as win-win solutions outside protected areas, thereby enhancing ecosystem connections, facilitating the dispersal of plant species, and supporting biodiversity.
  • Emphasising co-management and joint use of landscapes, including benefit-sharing between conservation and pastoral livelihood objectives.
  • Making use of pastoral knowledge so that they may work collaboratively with forest officials to prevent poaching, improve water use, and reducing conflict.

As Ian Scoones, co-lead investigator of the Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Resilience (PASTRES) project says, “Pastoralists co-existed with wildlife long before national parks and wildlife conservancies were established. The plans emerging from COP15 must avoid the dangers of exclusionary conservation through protected areas and explore the possibilities of collaborative, inclusive and ‘convivial’ conservation with pastoralists at the centre.” Therefore, as part of the COP15 deal, it would be much better to put 30% of the world’s land surface under the control of local people, aiming for collaborative conservation that support livelihoods and biodiversity.

More on this topic

Read the set of 6 briefings that discuss different aspects of human-animal-environment relations ahead of COP15.

Specifically, see:

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