Holistic approaches can help understand and boost pastoralism

More than half of the land cover on Earth might be used for pastoralism, a 10,000-year-old livelihood. It persists because of its great resilience, and its environmental and social advantages have been increasingly recognized in the last decades. But it still suffers from wrong investments.
Vihreällä niityllä ruskeita lampaita, taustalla lumihuippuiset vuoret ja sininen taivas.

An international research group examines why traditional pastoralism is globally poorly understood. Research group proposes a global holistic, comparative long-term study to examine the pathways of pastoralist societies in past, present and future. Along with NGO partners, they are launching a global database on pastoralism to advance science and advocacy. The research is published in an article in the One Earth journal.

The University of Oulu in the research group is represented by postdoctoral researcher Oula Seitsonen from the award-winning Domestication in Action project. The study is led by GCC at the University of Helsinki in co-operation with other research institutions.

Pastoralism is the most widely land use on Earth, which is found in most of the world’s countries. Its origin stems from the start of the Neolithic, and such persistence indicates a great capacity for resilience. Its environmental and social advantages have been increasingly recognized in the last decades, but it still suffers from misunderstandings, for example in governance.

“Archaeological and historical perspectives enable the interpretation of long-term social and environmental impacts of indigenous pastoralism around the world. Understanding these can also facilitate preparation for the future and nurture cultural sustainability”, adds Oula Seitsonen.

The study examines some examples where perspectives that integrate social, economic, and environmental aspects can understand sustainability of pastoralism better. This applies to pastoralist systems from the Global South, but also from developed countries such as Finland, where for example the sustainability of reindeer husbandry has been discussed. The Finnish seminatural grasslands are listed as the only critically endangered Finnish ecosystem. These are maintained by pastoralism.

A global pastoralist database is being compiled by the team for research and decision-making purposes, along with the League for Pastoral Peoples. The large extent and variety of pastoralist societies in the world demands a large amount of multidisciplinary expertise and data to extract lessons. This includes archaeological, historic and current data for which comparable and adaptable indicators have to be designed.

The participation of local and indigenous peoples in this process is of great importance because this information and the derived actions affect their future. Beyond the science generated by these actions, pastoralists can get powerful advocacy arguments and also participate in decision-making processes.

Photo: Sheep and goats graze in Mongolia. (Photo: Oula Seitsonen)

Last updated: 9.6.2021