Objectives of the IYRP

During its meeting in late September and early October of this year, the United Nations Committee on Agriculture (COAG) endorsed the proposal to declare 2026 as the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP).  There are further steps to go through at the United Nations before the IYRP is officially declared, but the recent approval at the COAG is an important milestone.  Although 2026 is a still more than five years away, it’s not too early to begin thinking about the objectives for the IYRP.

The proposal for the IYRP talks about raising awareness of the natural and cultural values of rangelands and pastoral livelihood systems, improving understanding of their importance to global food security and environmental services, highlighting traditional knowledge, fostering innovation towards sustainability and overcoming pastoralist poverty, and boosting efforts for investment in pastoral systems and restoration of degraded rangelands.  The proposal also states that “The IYRP will push for increased recognition by policy, decision-makers and stakeholders of how pastoralism can support the achievement of SDGs while contributing to the achievement of expected results of the United Nations Decade on Family Farming, the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition.”

National governments and organizations representing pastoralists and ranchers will each have their own responses to these objectives.  Those of us who are part of the global community of researchers and practitioners working on pastoralism and rangelands should spend time and effort to think about our contribution to the objectives.  Researchers can think about what new evidence we can generate on the issues mentioned in the IYRP proposal.  Practitioners who are supporting pastoralists through conservation, resource management, and development activities can continue to work on programs and strategies for restoring degraded rangelands, overcoming poverty in pastoral communities, and enhancing food security, as well as showcasing their successes.  However, I would like to propose three key contributions which are perhaps more fundamental and on which we might focus our efforts.

 

Change the way people talk about pastoralism and rangelands

One contribution that we can make is to help change the way people—including ourselves—talk about rangelands and pastoralism.  Those of us who work on pastoralism often have certain habits and shorthand phrases in the way that we talk and write about pastoralism.  One of these involves the word coping.  For instance, we often put coping with variability and uncertainty at the heart of how we analyze and describe pastoralism.  Without doubt, the need to cope with climatic variability, resource variability, and multiple dimensions of uncertainty shapes pastoral livelihoods.  However, I once heard Saverio Krätli, editor of Nomadic Peoples, poignantly observe that saying pastoralism is all about coping with uncertainty and variability is like saying fishing all about coping with the sea.  Pastoralists do not merely cope.Pastoralism as a livelihood, a way of life, and a culture is about so much more than just “coping”.  It is, among other things, a methodology for creating food and economic value in an environmentally sustainable way in places where other production systems often cannot.

There is also a widespread narrative of pastoralists as marginalized.  That narrative is true, as far as it goes—in infrastructure development, policy, and debate about the future of agriculture and rural areas, pastoralism and pastoralists more often than not have been marginalized.  However, frequent repetition of the marginalization story imposes a cost:  it solidifies in people’s minds a picture of pastoralists as helpless victims.

We need to be careful, too, about the way we talk about degradation.  One of the drivers of malformed national policies has been the assumption that rangelands are degraded, and even those of us who consider ourselves allies of pastoralists or ranchers too often repeat the degradation story.  Not only does this divert attention from the huge expanse of rangelands that are sustainably managed and from the pastoralists and ranchers who are effective and caring stewards of rangeland ecosystems; it paints rangelands as a problem to be solved rather than as a resource that has solutions to offer us.One of our contributions to the objectives of the IYRP, therefore, should be to promote an alternative to the marginalization narrative, the coping narrative, and the degradation narrative, and to craft alternative narratives of… Click To Tweet

One of our contributions to the objectives of the IYRP, therefore, should be to promote an alternative to the marginalization narrative, the coping narrative, and the degradation narrative, and to craft alternative narratives of hope and the potential of rangelands.

 

Learn how to support landscape approaches in rangelands

That potential is significant.  I believe that pastoralism and ranching have great potential to continue providing sustainable livelihoods, to provide a foundation for effective management of rangeland ecosystems, and to contribute to addressing environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.  To achieve that potential, however, we need to find ways to redirect the relentless pressure on rangelands from land competition, urbanization, and fragmentation.  Pastoral and ranching livelihoods provide an economic raison d’être for the continued existence of intact rangelands, but urbanization, human population growth, expansion of crop agriculture, and mining aren’t going away any time soon.  We need to learn how to resolve conflicting interests in a way that allows pastoral and ranching livelihoods to co-exist with these other interests.

This is what landscape approaches are about:  finding and creating harmony in the diversity of people, land uses, ecosystems, and resources that are connected to any landscape.  So here lies the second contribution we can make:  we need to learn how to support landscape approaches in rangelands, to document the learning, and to disseminate it.

 

Making space for pastoral voices

The third contribution is concerned with capacity and voice.  It’s easy to look on declarations of international years or international decades, special months dedicated to this or that, and other such designations on the calendar with a cynical eye.  When they work well, however, what these kinds of declarations do is to focus people’s attention.  They create opportunities for dialogue, sharing of experiences, and deliberation, thereby building momentum for social action.  Landscape approaches are similar, revolving around deliberation amongst diverse communities, groups and citizens to create an impetus toward pursuing a common goal.

However, participating effectively in deliberative processes is a capacity that is not equally shared across the board.  A contribution that pro-pastoralist researchers and practitioners can make is to focus on building the capacity of pastoralist communities to engage in these kinds of deliberative processes, and to find ways to create spaces for pastoral voices.  The international development community has fallen far short of making the reality of its actual practice match the rhetoric of bottom-up development.  One of the most important things it could do to support pastoralist communities to develop their capacity is to making space in project timelines, planning frameworks and funding cycles for genuinely bottom-up, community-driven development processes to grow organically.

Supporting pastoralists to continually develop their own capacity through pursuit of their own efforts in social action, and making space for pastoralists to participate in negotiations, research, and decision-making—in landscape forums, in national policy dialogues, and in international processes—will probably be the most important contribution we could make.