Pastoralism takes place in areas where no other forms of food production are sustainable, both in the environmental and in the economic sense. Pastoralist products also display extraordinary nutritional qualities that make them particularly healthy. Pastoralist settings also provide opportunities for plenty of innovative economic activities, particularly around environmental values and ecotoursim. Unfortunately, the misconceptions and prejudices against pastoralism and the marginalization of pastoralists themselves have made it difficult to get a fair valuation of such products.
Pastoralist peoples have shown to adopt technology enthusiatically when this technology is useful for them, therby contradicting widespread views on them being back-laid and primitive. Better valuations of pastoralist livelihoods show that huge amounts of money are being lost when land is converted to other land uses, only because developers just focus on the high potential areas for crops and forget the need of dry season pastures and drought reserves for pastoralist livelihoods to be viable. The massive adoption of mobile phone technology shows how wrong the usual prejudice is, but it also opens many windows for development, including adapted financial and extension services, tailored education that helps bringin real future perspectives for youth, or much needed healthcare and veterinary services.
Increased trade facilities and increased demand of milk and meat, necessary to provide children with a nutrition that fulfills their potential, is causing heightened demand for animal products. If the higher quality of pastoralist products is translated into higher retail prices, the opportunites for rural transformation in pastoralist settings are immense. But such a scenario will require decided policies to favour sustainable extensive systems towards more industrial and less quality-yielding ones.
The action of pastoralist civil society can also be determinant in order to spread the message across society. Pastoralists have to be regarded as custodians of extensive natural landscapes, providing environmental services that should be rewarded. They should also be regarded as producers of healthy food that can improve the image of their countries. And finally, they should be considered as custodians of a rich culture that is already providing revenues to countries in terms of handicrafts and tourism, but which can yield a much higher benefit if adequately dealt with by investors, decisionmakers and the pastoralist producers themselves.
Image: Jonathan Davies