Half of world’s rangelands are degraded, UN study finds: What are rangelands, why they matter


  • About half of the world’s rangelands are degraded and need policy interventions, and communities depending on them need focused support, according to a new report of the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD).

What are rangelands?

  • The UNCCD report defines rangelands as natural or semi-natural ecosystems that are grazed by livestock or wild animals.
  • Rangelands contain vegetation such as grasses, shrubs, bushes, open forests, and agroforestry systems (land which contains trees and crops or pastures).
  • The exact nature of rangelands’ vegetation is influenced by rainfall, temperature, and other climate phenomena.
  • Rangeland Atlas is prepared by a consortium of international non-profits and United Nations agencies.
  • Extant of rangelands:
    • Currently, rangelands cover 80 million sq km of Earth’s terrestrial surface area (over half of Earth’s land) and are thus the largest land cover or land use type in the world.
    • In India, rangelands occupy about 1.21 million sq km, from the Thar Desert to Himalayan meadows.
  • Environmental and social significance:
    • They act as carbon sinks, storehouses of fresh water, and prevent desertification of land.
    • They provide food security and livelihoods to millions of people.
    • Rangelands generate 16% of global food production and 70% of feed for domesticated herbivores, most significantly in Africa and South America.

UNCCD Report Findings:

  • Approximately 50% of the world’s rangelands are classified as “degraded” and are in decline.
  • Factors contributing to this degradation include climate change, unsustainable land and livestock management practices, biodiversity loss, and conversion of rangelands to farmlands.
  • Uncertainty over land rights among pastoralist communities exacerbates degradation.
  • Impact on Communities:
    • Deterioration of rangelands adversely affects communities dependent on them.
    • Consequences include reduced soil fertility, biodiversity loss, decreased incomes, and increased conflicts over grazing rights with authorities.

Who are Pastoralists?

  • Pastoralism is a livelihood centred around livestock production, including dairy, meat, wool, and leather.
  • Pastoralists are communities, both indigenous and non-indigenous, engaged in livestock rearing.
  • They rear a variety of animals including sheep, goats, cattle, horses, donkeys, camels, yaks, llamas, alpacas, pigs, ducks, and chickens.
  • Their livelihood depends significantly on access to quality pasturelands (rangelands) and their rights over them.
  • Global and Indian Context:
    • Globally, an estimated 500 million pastoralists are involved in livestock production.
    • In India, approximately 13 million pastoralists are part of 46 groups such as Gujjars, Bakarwals, Rebaris, Raikas, Kurubas, and Maldharis.

Economic Contributions in India:

  • India holds 20% of the world’s livestock population, with 77% reared in pastoralist systems.
  • Pastoralists play a crucial role in protecting indigenous livestock breeds and preserving traditional knowledge of animal rearing.
  • India leads globally in milk production (23% of global output), buffalo meat production, and sheep and goat meat exports, with pastoralists making significant contributions to these sectors.
  • Some important pastoral communities and regions they belong:

Pastoralism in Africa astoralism in Africa:

  • In Africa, even today, over 22 million Africans depend on some form of pastoral activity for their livelihood.
  • Like pastoralists in India, the lives of African pastoralists have changed dramatically over the colonial and post-colonial periods.
  • Some pastoralist communities in Africa:
    • Bedouins, Berber, Maasai,Somali, Boran, Turkana and Kaokoland herders (Namibia).

 Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-climate/rangelands-degraded-un-study-pastoralists-9345551/


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