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Pastoral communities’ territories of life in Asia: Tales of coexistence

To acknowledge the vital roles of rangelands and pastoralism for human wellbeing and nature conservation and to support the proposed International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP) in 2026, ICCA Consortium co-organized a virtual workshop on July 16, 2021, on pastoral communities’ territories of life in grasslands/rangelands across Eurasia

First published on 07/23/2021, and last updated on 07/28/2021

By Shruti Ajit (Kalpavriksh, ICCA Consortium Member and host of the regional coordination team for South Asia)

Rangelands and pastoralism are essential for millions of people worldwide, providing or contributing to livelihoods, food security, and cultural identity. Around half of the Earth’s land surface is rangeland. As rangelands are often among the harshest environments, many pastoral communities have adopted a seasonal migration lifestyle in their ancestral territories to increase their resilience to natural challenges and sustain natural resources. As the late Dr. Taghi Farvar (co-founder and first President of the ICCA Consortium) regularly noted, “the migratory practices of Indigenous Peoples are almost always de facto nature conservation strategies.”

To acknowledge the vital roles of rangelands and pastoralism for human wellbeing and nature conservation and to support and bring greater recognition to the proposed International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP) in 2026, a virtual workshop was held on July 16, 2021, on pastoral communities’ territories of life in grasslands/rangelands across Eurasia.

The workshop was co-hosted by the ICCA Consortium, the ICCA Global Support Initiative through the GEF Small Grants Programme (UNDP), and the collaboration of Regional IYRP Support Groups (RISGs) for the IYRP 2026, namely, East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, and Central Asia, and Mongolia. The high-level objectives of this inaugural event were to establish an Asia-wide learning network on rangelands and pastoralism, mainly concerning local and Indigenous pastoral communities’ territories of life, and to promote the IYRP 2026 ahead of its expected adoption by the UN General Assembly in September.

A video message from Dr. Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend (Member of the Council of Elders, ICCA Consortium) commemorating the life and work of Dr. Taghi Farvar (1942-2018) was shared during the event, which also commemorated the third anniversary of his passing.

Some of the objectives of this workshop included:

  • To share experiences (best practices, key challenges) on rangelands and pastoral communities’ territories of life/ICCAs from across Asia.
  • To declare support for the proposed International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP).
  • To determine critical topics, format, and timing for follow-up events and other actions.
  • To commemorate the life, work, and vision of Dr. Mohammad Taghi Farvar.

The workshop began with opening statements from the co-host networks/organization representative, including Holly Jonas (ICCA Consortium), Jürgen Hoth (Member of Global Coordination Group for UN IYRP), and Terence Hay-Edie (UNDP). All three speakers stressed recognizing the role of Indigenous communities and pastoralists as true custodians of rangelands and their conservation. They all remembered and recalled their memories with Dr. Taghi Farvar, who was one of the co-founders of the ICCA Consortium and an active proponent for the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, and a staunch ally in their efforts to defend and sustain their territories of life.

After the opening statements, a video message was shared by Dr. Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend (Member of the Council of Elders, ICCA Consortium), commemorating the life and work of Dr. Taghi Farvar (1942-2018). The event, held on July 16, coincided with the third anniversary of his passing. Dr. Taghi was a visionary in bringing to light the collective conservation capacities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. He defended their collective rights over their territories throughout his life and sought to influence relevant policies at national and international levels.

The keynote speech delivered by Holly Jonas, Global Coordinator of the ICCA Consortium, touched upon several insights from the Territories of Life: 2021 Report, specifically the role of pastoral and local communities towards the conservation of rangelands which amount to half of the Earth’s land surface. This included mobility as an adaptive strategy towards sustainable living and biodiversity conservation, ensuring resilient livelihoods in the face of adversities while coexisting peacefully with nature. These communities have rich cultural, linguistic, tangible, and intangible heritage and rich repositories of knowledge, but their heritage and expertise are now threatened by unsustainable development, industrialization, and exclusionary conservation.

The keynote speech was followed by regional case studies exemplifying best practices and challenges of rangeland conservation by communities in the region. Awang (Plateau Nature Conservancy) presented the case study on the biocultural landscape conservation in the source of the Yellow River in China. Narengaowa (Tsuuria Center for the Study of Ecology) presented the case study on technology patents, financial capital, and globalization in Inner Mongolia. Shi Xiangying (Shanshui Nature Conservation Centre) presented the case study on community-based wildlife eco-tourism and rangeland restoration in the Tibetan Plateau.

The ICCA Working Group from Mongolia comprising Chantsallkham, Narangerel, Tungalagtuya, Mandakh, Gankhuyag, H. Ykhanbai, and Ganbaatar shared a case study on the custodians of rangelands and biodiversity and challenges and best practices of nomadic herder communities in Mongolia. Sajal Kulkarni of the Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture Network shared a case study on the present situation, possibilities for conservation, and livelihoods of grassland-dependent communities in Maharashtra, India. Nahid Naghizadeh of the Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment (CENESTA, ICCA Consortium Member) presented the case study titled “Transhumant Pastoralism in Iran: challenges, struggles, and practices in the governance of Territories of Life and conservation of rangeland.”

And finally, from Kyrgyzstan, Anara Alymkulova of the Institute for Sustainable Development Strategy Public Fund (ISDS) shared community-based pasture management experiences. The three Chairs of the RISGs from Central Asia and Mongolia, South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, namely, H. Ykhanbai, Dr. D. K. Sadana, and Dr. Hossein Badripour, shared updates on activities, challenges, and way forward of their respective regional support groups.

The next segment initiated a learning network that aims at cross-cultural knowledge sharing on rangelands and pastoralism across Asia. To begin with, the coordination team had proposed follow-up workshops on four topics: climate change and pastoralist resilience, youth in pastoralism, mobility as a strategy for conservation, and pastoralists and national policies.

The event ended with H. Ykhanbai, Chair of the RISG for Central Asia and Mongolia, reading a statement of endorsement of IYRP and receiving comments and suggestions from the participants. The statement called for the strengthening of customary institutions of pastoralists to support their role in conserving biocultural diversity, advocating for their natural resource and land rights, enhancing economic and ecological resilience of pastoralists, blending traditional knowledge and innovation, and providing mobile wellbeing services.

Read the full statement here.