Mobile pastoralism in the Mediterranean: Arguments and evidence for policy reform and its role in combating climate change

By Pablo Manzano-Baena, Concha Salguero-Herrera (Mediterranean Consortium for Nature & Culture)

Mobile pastoralism is one of the most efficient livestock farming systems in terms of natural resource use and land management. It is also a highly sustainable and economically rational system that makes the most of the Earth’s less productive areas, unsuitable for crop production.

The environmental benefits of mobile pastoralism are many and these have been tried and tested on the ground for millennia. In recent decades research on ecology, economics, nutrition and sociology has revealed many of these benefits, highlighting the role that this traditional practice can fulfil in the present day as a tool for ‘retroinnovation’ in the fight to tackle climate change and contribute to its mitigation and adaption, respond to social challenges and promote resilient livelihoods.

In a highly biodiverse region such as the Mediterranean, mobile pastoralism not only provides ecosystem functions associated with grazing that maintain biodiversity, but also contributes to ecosystem adaptation for climate change. The drover roads maintained by livestock mobility are ecological corridors that favour seed dispersal and connect valuable habitats, so avoiding isolation and fragmentation, which are amongst the most serious threats to areas of high biodiversity. They also increase botanical diversity and habitat heterogeneity without which other species could not survive.

Mobile pastoralism is also one of the most cost effective methods of preventing wildfires since grazing relies on natural rangelands, consuming the biomass, which if left untouched forms the fuel for fires. Livestock grazing it is also an effective tool for soil stability, restoration and resilience as it adds manure to the nutrient cycle and restores vegetation cover as mobile herds allow pastures to rest and trees to regenerate. Most importantly in the Mediterranean, livestock mobility has direct benefits for water cycle regulation as it helps reduce pressure on water resources, consuming water on the move where it is available.

Pastures are one of the largest carbon sinks on the planet, therefore mobile pastoralism must be used as a critical tool in the fight against climate change as it maintains carbon-rich soils and sustains ecosystems with high carbon fixation capacity.

It is also the livestock production system that requires the least fossil fuel energy, helping in turn to reduce the demand of industrial feed whose production and transport produce large GHG emissions. It additionally reduces the incidence of pollution, the reliance on veterinary products (among them antibiotics) and so produces healthier food, from livestock reared in the open air, which are fit and more resistant to disease.

The report can be downloaded here: Mobile pastoralism in the Mediterranean: Arguments and evidence for policy reform and its role in combating climate change

Also available in French, Spanish and Turkish:

Le pastoralisme mobile en Méditerranée: Arguments et preuves pour une réforme des politiques et pour lutter contre les changements climatiques

Pastoreo Móvil en el Mediterráneo: Argumentos y evidencias para una reforma política y para combatir el cambio climático

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