09 Apr 2019 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Rangeland restoration: a new priority for the next decade

Photo by UN Environment

For Mongolians, the word “rangeland” (belcheer) also means “homeland” (nutag). Rangelands are not only a source of feed for livestock but also a symbol of the value that herders and locals attach to their homeland.

However, the health of Mongolian rangelands is at a crossroads. About 57 per cent of them degraded, and of these, 13 per cent have “passed the threshold of recovery”, said Enkh-Amgalan Tseelei, an expert on community-centered sustainable rangeland management in Mongolia, at last month’s United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mongolia Landscape
Photo by UN Environment

Mongolian rangelands are one of the few natural grasslands left on Earth. “If nothing is done now,” she says, “we face the danger of losing this beautiful land, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of nomadic herder families.”

Mongolia, the country with the world’s biggest rangelands, has been at the forefront in making the case for an International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralism.

Tserenbat Namsrai, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia, stressed the importance of community-based sustainable management and the role of pasture user groups, of which Mongolia has 1,450. A draft “Rangeland Law” to ensure legal entitlement of herder communities to their traditional rangelands and empower them as users and protectors of rangelands is due to go before the Mongolian parliament soon.

“Although rangelands have for a long time remained on the fringes of most global environmental processes and debates, there is now a strong impetus towards developing the knowledge that will be needed for their inclusion,” says UN Environment rangelands expert Abdelkader Bensada.

Mongolian Lady
Photo by UN Environment

Bridging knowledge gaps

To this end UN Environment and GRID-Arendal have just released a report: A case of benign neglect: Knowledge gaps about sustainability in pastoralism and rangelands.

It is often assumed that data currently being collected on agriculture, livestock and forestry are adequate for informing policymaking regarding rangeland-based livestock systems. The report shows, however, how current statistics and data are not sufficiently disaggregated to capture the different needs, circumstances and opportunities for pastoral and rangeland sustainable management.

“Without valuing rangelands correctly, governments may rush towards afforestation programmes to the detriment of biodiversity and carbon capture. Undervaluing rangelands (sometimes called `forgotten rangelands’) can result in loss of resources to study, protect or even monitor rangelands when the need to understand it is increasing with climate change,” says Bensada.

There are significant gaps in our knowledge of rangelands: Pablo Manzano of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Department of Ecology, made the point at the March 2019 UN Environment Assembly that there hadn’t been an adequate census of animals and livestock-keepers in Nigeria for 30 years.

“A good knowledge base will help countries develop appropriate policies and programmes,” says UN Environment terrestrial ecosystems expert Musonda Mumba.


New resolution to protect and restore rangelands

A new resolution on rangelands and pastoralism was adopted in March 2019. For the first time it calls for the restoration of rangelands on a par with the restoration of other ecosystems, such as forests.

Jonathan Davies, Director of Drylands at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said the Sustainable Development Goals are explicit about not neglecting rangelands. For example, the scientific framework adopted for Target 15.3 clearly states that land degradation neutrality cannot be achieved in some biomes at the expense of others—for example, in forests at the expense of rangelands.

The resolution also called for:

  • Support for an International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralism
  • Global efforts to conserve and sustainably use rangelands especially in the context of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.
  • The urgent need to carry out a global assessment of rangelands and pastoralism

Rangeland restoration
Photo by UN Environment

Pastoralism is faced with many challenges, the resolution notes: “land degradation, loss of biodiversity, vulnerability to climate change, insecurity, low investments, inequity, low levels of literacy, infrastructure and access to markets, exodus of youth, migration or abandonment of rangelands, and limited access to social and extension services”.

It also refers to concern about “low levels of national, regional and global efforts and

implementation of actions towards sustainable rangelands and pastoralism”.

“Up to 500 million people are pastoralists, and they occupy as much as 75 per cent of the land surface,” says Dana Kelly, president of the International Rangelands Continuing Committee. “Pastoralists are natural stewards of the environment… Yet they remain among the most marginalized and disadvantaged of peoples.”

Rangeland restoration
Photo by UN Environment

Kelly was among 60 experts, ministers, ambassadors, donors, organizations such as the International Livestock Research Institute, and representatives of United Nations agencies attending an event on rangelands and pastoralism at the Assembly.

In August 2018, the Global Landscapes Forum, the world’s largest knowledge-led multi-stakeholder platform for integrated land use, with core funding provided by Germany, propelled rangelands onto the sustainable landscapes’ agenda. Land restoration generally should also get fresh impetus thanks to the recent announcement of the UN Decade for Ecosystems Restorations, 2021-2030.

For further information please contact Abdelkader Bensada: [email protected]