Future Earth initiative on pastoralism: a global comparative research program

Click here for the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) Pastoralism Project website

About the project

Pastoralism has been a sustainable livelihood for millennia, always coexisting with wildlife and adapting to variable environments. With goals such as Planetary Health or Sustainable Futures, pastoralism should be in the spotlight and be the focus of much more research and investment.

Up to date, the vast majority of research on pastoral systems has focused on individual systems, hampering the generality of the findings. Although pastoral systems are relatively
similar, local and national settings vary widely. While this diversity may appear restricting, under a coordinated standardized approach this diversity becomes instrumental for envisaging advantages and shortcomings of pastoralism, as well as to provide general guidelines towards sustainable pastoralism and to improve well-being of pastoral societies under climate change.

Under these premises, we propose a large scale comparative research program to tackle critical challenges faced by pastoral systems worldwide. We focus on three regions of the world (East Africa, Lapland and Mongolia) that, while being in different ecological settings, they have large contextual variation within and between regions.

Pastoralism is central practice for about 200 million households around the globe, with the practice of pastoralism covering notorious expanses of the planet (up to 40% of terrestrial ecosystems) and providing 10% of world’s meat (FAO 2001). Vast areas of the world are unfit for intensive food production due to extreme climate, short and irregular suitable green season. Is in those areas where extensive herding can still thrive. In some countries, pastoral herding can contribute to significant portion of the GDP. Yet pastoral societies are mostly neglected both by governments and by interdisciplinary research, remaining amongst the poorest and most marginalized people in this planet, typically under-represented in regional and national governments.

Despite the acknowledged adaptive advantages of pastoralism, its practice is declining worldwide (Dong et al. 2011). This global decline is explained by several factors,including rapid integration into the global market economy, sedentarization policies, and institutional constraints that disfavor nomadic lifestyles.


Broad aims of the research program are the following:
- To launch an integrated long-term surveillance program to monitor the environmental, ecological, social, economic, and health conditions among pastoralist communities in East Africa, Lapland and Mongolia.
- To identify and address key policy relevant questions and implementation barriers through evidence synthesis and co-design of future research, with emphasis on monitoring and assisting progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
- To support the generation of better evidence to promote and protect health and well-being through greater resilience to environmental change and sustainable practices and policies.
- To build capacity locally and nationally of both young scientists and practitioners.



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The project will in particular collect vital information about health and well-being in pastoralist communities and is being developed in coordination with the Future Earth Knowledge Action Network on Health, represented by Prof. Kari Raivio.


Published Apr. 15, 2021 11:20 AM - Last modified Apr. 15, 2021 11:20 AM