Waves of change: Emerging pastoral advocacy and representation in India

By Rashmi Singh, PASTRES project

After years of neglect and misunderstanding by the state, pastoralists from across India were invited to Delhi by the Honorable Union Minister Parshottam Rupala, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, for an interaction to understand the state of the livelihood in the country on January 27. Part of a series of developments for inclusion of pastoralists and their concerns in policy processes, including through a proposed Pastoralism Cell, the interaction was crucial to developing an agenda for action by the Ministry.

Entrance to the meeting between pastoralists and government officials on Jan 27

The physical interaction in Delhi with pastoralists followed important consultations held in Bhuj, Gujarat between 19-23 January, 2023, alongside the Living Lightly exhibition and Pastoral Youth Conclave, co-organized by Sahjeevan and Centre for Pastoralism, organisations working on the issues of pastoralism and rangelands in India for several years. The PASTRES team participated with the photo exhibition, An Uncertain World, and a presentation showcasing findings from research conducted with pastoralists from six countries across the globe.

Key issues of Indian pastoralists

Here are some key highlights of the concerns presented at the interaction:

Access to grazing

The main concern of the pastoralists is the loss of access to pastures due to creation of protected areas, development projects and state-imposed restrictions on pastoral mobilities. There has been a history of pastoralists evictions across India, and pastoralists mentioned that they continue to struggle for access to pastures. In cases where evictions have not been undertaken, the forest department has been imposing formal permissions to access forest pastures. The shift towards green energy has also created new challenges in western Indian, where the installation of wind turbines and solar plants in the vast rangelands of Rajasthan and Gujarat by the government and corporations have resulted in the loss of large swathes of rangelands.

As solutions to ensure timely access to the pastures, pastoralists asked for formal allocation in the forest area and creation of a national union to work on forest rights and pastoralist advocacy. Mapping of migratory routes, state sponsored awareness and training programs for both forest official and pastoralists and implementation of the Forest Rights Act at the block level were also suggested as some of the important actions to deal with the accessibility issues.

Creation of fodder depots, where grazing is not possible was suggested as an alternative for lean periods and during unavailability of fodder. Herders from the high-altitude regions who are dealing with the wildlife predations suggested implementation of fox lights and fences for the protection of livestock from wild predators.

Livestock Health and Access to Veterinary services

Pastoralists suggested that health schemes should be implemented based on livestock densities and movement patterns. Pastoralists suggested a nationwide livestock census, which would give a state level idea of livestock numbers and compositions. Given that mobile herders are not stationed at their registered residential addresses, first aid kits can be provided to herders which can be useful in remote paths.

Training programmes for the youth using modules on both veterinary sciences and ethno-botany knowledge of the herders were suggested, and that schemes run by the center and state government should be advertised more widely through the radio and social media.

During the meeting, one of the herders from the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim mentioned that while the are veterinary services and livestock insurance programs introduced by the central government are in place, they are often inaccessible given the sheer remoteness of their herding sites, and the complications and delays in the access to the insurance money. He suggested that to help with these issues, the state government should engage with the pastoralists of the region, increase the number of veterinary clinics, especially around the Himalayan region, and make improvements to ease and fasten the insurance process.

Livelihoods and Market

Lack of market connections, road connectivity and a focus on bovine milk as center of the livestock economy in India were highlighted as some of the problems faced by pastoralists. There was also a serious concern on saving indigenous breeds which are declining due to various stresses associated with the local contexts. The pastoralists asked for breed conservation programs to help maintain the genetic diversity and purity in livestock breeds. In order to highlight the unique milk and dairy products produced and marketed from a specific breed and region, the pastoralists asked for geographic indicators on specialized milk products. 

There was a strong ask for creating markets non-bovine milk and dairy products, especially for sheep, goat and donkey milk. Sheep and goat milk is considered to have a high medicinal value. It has also become a popular in cities like Delhi, where it’s considered as a remedy for  Dengue fever, resulting in high demand especially during the monsoon season. Non-bovine milk and dairy products hold a great potential and should be taken seriously by providing government support to entrepreneur initiatives and product branding. Improvement in the government transport system of dairy department was also raised as an important concern.

Creation of sheep wool markets and experiments with the carpet industry was another point made by the pastoralists to help the sheep herders economically. With the decline in demand of local wool in the Indian market, and increase in imported wool from Australia, shepherds of the country have been facing an issue of loss of wool-derived income. Sheep are sheared twice every year but most of this wool is simply wasted in absence of its demand in the Indian market. It was highlighted that currently the carpet industry of India is highly dependent on noil procurements from China, which can be easily replaced with the coarse wool of Indian sheep. Other than the large-scale procurements, local entrepreneurs who are working with the local communities on wool products with organic dyes should also be promoted.

Culture and Education

Pastoralism in India is deeply rooted in the culture and identity of pastoral communities, rather than merely a source of income. Pastoralists suggested a pan India survey of the pastoral communities and documentation of pastoral cultures and identities. They recommended a reform of educational curriculums to incorporate pastoral cultures, traditions and folklores. Another suggestion is to have pastoralism as part of the curriculum for diploma, degree and distance education learning programs which will foster better understanding of pastoral systems, especially for students who desire to work in the agriculture and animal husbandry sectors.

Mobile pastoralists mentioned the lack of access to education for their kids as an important issue that needs to be addressed by providing mobile schools.

Aspirations of Pastoral Youth

The changing aspirations of the youth and their moving away from the livelihood has been identified a major cause of decline in pastoralism, not only in India but across the globe. The young generation tend to stay away for education, and this results in lack of knowledge sharing between the generations especially around their natural environment, critical for livestock rearing through the uncertainties of pastoral landscapes. To deal with this change, pastoralists in India have been increasingly hiring seasonal labor for herding their livestock.

To address these serious concerns of changing youth’s aspirations and loss of knowledge, pastoralists suggested skill development programs for the youth including training on breed improvement, livestock-based product development, and active engagement of pastoral youth in eco-tourism. The pastoralists suggested that to keep the youth in pastoralism, the economic benefits from livestock rearing should be diversified and entrepreneurship should be supported by the state and central government. Pastoral landscapes of India are often important tourist centres. Pastoralists who are well versed with the landscape, natural environment, flora and fauna can certainly be adopted to cater to the tourism sector as naturalists and tour guides.

Access to medical facilities for the pastoralists, creation of Pastoralists Producer Organizations, like Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), and most importantly designing a model that helps pastoralists in the inter-state movements with a single national permit was suggested as some other important demands of pastoralists.

Pastoralists at the PASTRES photo exhibtion, An Uncertain World, at the Living Lightly 2023

Learning from PASTRES

Similarities can be drawn between the challenges faced by pastoralists in India and in the other PASTRES sites, namely, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tibet, Italy and Tunisia. Several of these challenges emerge from mainstream development thinking that is structurally geared towards stability, regularity and sedentism, and that seeks to undermine pastoral rationality and capacities for adaptation. For example, the developments of conservation areas seek to regulate pastoral movements and ignore the benefits that pastoralists offer to their environments through their active engagement. Extension services, such as veterinary care, tend to be premised on fixity of location and fixed patterns of movement, while pastoralists strategically move across the landscape to take advantage of its inherent variability.

The PASTRES project challenges such mainstream narratives and development thinking by highlighting pastoralists’ capacity to deal with uncertainty. Learnings from the project ask us to move away from linear, discrete and technocratic ways of thinking, that prescribe singular pathways to development. Instead, it asks us to centre pastoralists’ voice and strategies, and embrace uncertainty for favourable long-term outcomes.

One thought

  1. Pastoralim is an uncertain World. Only pastoralist can deal with uncertainties They are face according to how they appreciate these uncertainties. However they need an helpful contribution of government and many others social actors etc…

    I work on how pastoralist deal with uncertainties in their daily life in west africa precisely in northern Côte d’Ivoire.


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