This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Aastha Maggu. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Herding On The Brink: Why India Needs To Support Its Pastoralists

More from Aastha Maggu

This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

Motilal Raika is a pastoralist from the Barmer district and he owns about a hundred goats and sheep. He has a family of six. Like most families in the Thar desert, his family chiefly relies on livestock rearing husbandry for their household income. 

“For centuries, in the summers, my ancestors migrated to greener grazing lands in the Sindh region, northern parts of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana. They would only return home after the monsoon ended,” he says.

Traditional livestock production, long associated with helping conserve biodiversity and local ecology, is facing an existential threat presently. Some of these threats include — shrinking common property resources due to increased reallocation of land for varied purposes, lack of good quality fodder grasses and fodder trees, increased foreign invasive vegetative species, poor livestock health services, poor marketing support for produce (milk, meat and wool) and mistrust between pastoralists and the local police machinery. 

Raikas Rajasthan
Raikas, a pastoralist community of Rajasthan. Source: flickr

As an occupation, pastoralism evolved in response to natural climatic changes and prospered under conditions of high environmental variability. Pastoralists raise livestock in the rangelands by tracking resources as and when they become available, following well-established seasonal routes as well as maintaining contingency grazing reserves for harsh years. 

By migrating to new pasturelands, pastoralists do not allow their animals to overgraze indigenous vegetation, ensuring the sustainable usage of these rangelands. A study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations Environment Programme argued that pastoralism has the potential to play a key role in transitioning to a green, environmentally sustainable, global economy. 

“In the desert, we consider livestock as our gold. It feeds our families. If we do not attend to their fodder requirements, then how would we survive in this arid region?” he asks.

Who Are Pastoralists And Why Do They Matter?

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, pastoralists are people who adapt their herding systems according to seasonal or spatial weather variability and the availability of fertile rangelands. They employ strategic mobility to adapt to variable climatic conditions. 

With grasslands — the basis for livestock production — covering about 70% of the global agricultural area in the world, pastoralism has been the most sustainable form of production, livelihood and land use in most of the world’s arid and semi-arid areas. World over, it has been known to support resilient livelihoods and ensure food and fodder security in arid regions with scarce resources. 

For centuries, the indigenous knowledge of pastoralists in managing natural capital involves practices that conserve vegetation diversity, livestock species, vegetation cover, soil quality and water recycling. 

Through their selective breeding strategies, the indigenous livestock species for so long have been able to adapt to local climatic conditions and remain resistant to diseases and droughts. Compared to agriculture, pastoralism is also better equipped to adapt to the changing resources and climate zones. 

Pastoralists contribute massively to the preservation of biodiversity, improving soil quality and preventing desertification. Recent research has also shown that pastoral landscapes could have a neutral carbon balance as emissions from animals are offset by carbon sequestration in soils and plants. The community members could thus be described as stewards of the environment.

In India, there are some 46 castes or communities that have specialised pastoralist identities. They live in the arid or semi-arid parts of the country, such as the Gujjars and Bakkarwals in the Himalayan region, Rebaris and Raikas in the Thar desert. 

The animals reared by these communities include cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels and yaks, as well ducks, guinea fowls, pigs, horses and donkeys. However, consecutive livestock censuses have failed to provide adequate data on the nature of animal rearing or whether livestocks are owned by pastoralists or livestock owners.

Contested Identities And Claims

This is a global trend, with there being a lack of disaggregated data that captures information on pastoralists. Worldwide, the number of pastoralists is said to range from 22 million to 500 million people. There is a similar lack of data on the number of pastoralists in India. In some cases, this number has been quoted to be 35 million. 

However, a recent study claims it to be closer to 1% of the Indian population, or about 13 million people. 

In India, the mobility of pastoralists has often been met with mistrust by administrators and locals. Under British rule, the 1871 Act on Criminal Tribes categorised several pastoral nomads to get settled as their mobility was seen as criminal and a threat to the safety of settled locals. 

The biases were inherited by the newly independent India. The communities were never separately identified and were conveniently categorised under scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes. Efforts to accommodate their interests politically, socially and culturally have been scant. 

Motilal’s father adds, “Our generation has accepted to be on the fringes of society. But I am worried about my children and grandchildren. They find the migration with livestock difficult. I keep wondering whether they will continue with pastoralism after I die.”

Bakkerwals
Bakkerwals in Jammu and Kashmir. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In independent India, access to forestlands and grazing lands by pastoralists has been fraught with suspicion and contestations. The Forest Rights Act which was touted to give ownership rights to forest-dwelling communities, and most importantly access to pastoralists over grazing lands and forest resources has not served its objectives. 

The recent eviction of pastoralists from forestlands in Jammu and Kashmir provides little hope. 

The country currently also lacks a policy on grazing land. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India ordered policy formulation about grazing land in all states of the Indian Union. However, there has been no assessment of whether any progress was made with regard to this order. 

In its official communication, the Indian government has recognised the role of pastoralism in safeguarding ecosystems. For example, when the government of Mongolia petitioned the United Nations to declare 2026 an International Year for Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP), 16 countries backed the proposal, including India.

In a letter by the Embassy of India in Rome, the Indian government says, “Pastoralism is a source of livelihood for millions of people that safeguard ecosystems and biodiversities. This will increase global awareness of the importance of rangelands and pastoralism for global food security and ecosystem services. It is an excellent initiative to help achieve the sustainable goals and contribute to the current UN Decade of Family Planning.”

The efforts of the Government of India in shaping the global policy agenda on pastoralism are promising. However, decades of neglect would require more cohesive efforts to be put in. 

Pastoralism needs support to continue contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UNFAO notes that its sustenance would directly contribute to achieving seven SDGs — eliminating poverty, reaching zero hunger, promoting good health and well-being, supporting economic growth and responsible consumption and production, bolstering climate action and biodiversity of life on land. 

The international clamour for support could award pastoralism its lost importance.

Featured Image via Flickr
You must be to comment.
  1. Dr. D. K. Sadana

    Excellent details on Pastoralism in a lovely storyline. Very useful, especially for those initiating and catching on this important environment friendly food production system.

More from Aastha Maggu

Similar Posts

By Aastha Maggu

By Ashi Gupta

By SUCHETA CHAURASIA

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below