The origins of pastoralism date to the beginnings ofagriculture. The productivity of seasonally-constrained areas was not accessible through crops, so humans envisioned animals as a tool to move around patchy resources. Such a long evolution across millenia has caused pastoralism to be an extraordinarily adapted livelihood to the ecosystems where it takes place, providing multiple benefits if practicsed correctly.
Eastern and Southern Africa is worldwide know for its spectacular fauna and landscapes. Many of its most visited National Parks and Reserves are placed in pastoralist settings, because pastoralist livelihoods have been compatible with the existence of big game, or even facilitating it, and have preserved the biomes where such biodiversity thrives. In spite of this, pastoralists have been considered to be degradation agents that have posed pristine ecosytems in danger. The reason for this misconception relies on a weak understanding of pastoralism practices and the presumption that all traditional practices should be discarded. Hurdles to pastoralist livelihoods have triggered environmental deterioration and impoverished local populations, which has deepened the problems and yet the victims have been described as the cause.
The conservation community is increasingly aware on how important it is to count on local populations to promote a sound and sustainable conservation approach. Pastoralists, being custodians of wide land expanses, are getting a lot of attention from conservationists as allies in land preservation. Income from tourism is showing to be a very important tool for providing complementary income, an urgent need in areas that are experiencing high population pressures. The ownership of conservation areas for pastoralists also shows the interest in pastoralist communities themselves, but a full benefit for these communities is to be achieved only if they are prepared to control the new sources of income, with social services such as education designed to fullfill the upcoming challenges.
In a hyper-connected world that is increasingly aware of environmental challenges and interested in transcontinental tourism, pastoralism has been revealed as an effective tool to manage extensive landscapes with minimum input, to produce food at a minimal environmental expense, and to provide the framework for sustainable rural development in the upcoming decades. If policy change is articulated and pastoralists benefit fairly from the huge revenues that the eco-tourism industry is going to generate, and if the environmental values of pastoralist livelihoods are adequately rewarded by society, the environmental roles of pastoralism will be kept and this will provide mankind with a sustainable future.
Image: Pablo Manzano