Understanding ongoing transitions within Indian pastoral communities: Livelihoods at the limits of resilience
Pastoralism has been part of rural livelihoods for thousands of years, withstanding climate extremes, wars, geopolitical transitions, and natural disasters. This form of animal husbandry, historically used by nomadic people who moved with their herds, constitutes a unique asset of resilience under ongoing and anticipated climate change. There are 200 million pastoralists worldwide, 35 million of whom live in India, where they breed and manage a large part of the country’s domesticated goats, camels, and buffaloes.
Pastoralists produce food and other products in the harshest of environments. Their contribution to rural livelihoods and economies is significant yet poorly understood. Pastoralist systems are also at a crossroads: forces such as ill-informed policies, increasingly frequent and intense droughts, land degradation, and other factors menace the livelihoods and subsistence of pastoral communities. Consequently, sedentism (settling in one place) is on the rise, along with the associated drastic lifestyle changes that can worsen gender inequalities and create a cadre of unemployed youth and dietary changes that frequently result in nutritional deficiencies.
In India, there are successful interventions to improve the sustainability of pastoral communities by integrating their production systems into value chains supported by the dairy industry. This has a positive economic impact at scale and shows signs of stemming the outflow of pastoralist youth. However, it may also have unintended environmental and gender-related consequences that have yet to be investigated. As various regional governments are demanding similar interventions in their states, it is necessary to understand their potential mid- and long-term consequences before scaling up a model that may become irreversible. This project will provide science-based evidence to guide future decisions around the development of pastoral communities in India and beyond.