• Field of research: Sustainability
  • Disciplines involved: Ecology, environmental science, economy, social science.
  • Duration: 2019-2022
  • Innovative activities: Creation of an international information network to compile, standardize and make data on pastoralims available. 
  • Impacts on education: Impacts on education go beyond the scope of this project. However, the co-production of knowledge partly planned for Objective 2 will lead to new projects with education-worthy outcomes. The program will have societal impact through the involvement of civil society and decission makers.
  • Questions/ issues addressed by the project : To better understand the environmental and societal relevance of pastoralism practice at global scale and provide indicators to assess paths towards sustainability of pastoralism. By doing this we aim to initiate changes in pastoralism awareness and its links to biodiversity globally.
  • Outcomes expected : The program will provide a global exhaustive assessment of relevance of pastoralism globally, by quantify the population of pastoralists, their contributions to GDP, and putting the geographical extent of the livelihood based on systematic compilation of information. Indicators to assess sustainability of pastoralism across time and space will be developed. The information and products obtained from this endeavor will be made publicly available.
  • Leader(s): Leader: Mar Cabeza; co-leaders: Nils Chr. Stenseth, Daniel Burgas
  • Steering Committee: Mar Cabeza (Finland), Nils Chr. Stenseth (Norway), Daniel Burgas (Finland), Luis Cadahia (Norway), Pablo Manzano (Kenya), Pablo Frere (Argentina), Maria Fernandez-Gimenez (USA), Nitya Ghotge (India), Jussi Eronen (Finland), Zhibin Zhan (China) 
  • IUBS National Committees involved in the project: China, Finland, India, Mongolia, Norway, Russia. Other relevant countries involved: Argentina, Kenya, USA
  • Former IUBS InitiativePastoralism project of IUBS (2017-2019)




Estimates on pastoralism systems, in addition to being largely unreliable, vary largely, from 25 to 60 percent extent of emerged lands and 50 million to 500 million pastoralists. This hampers any global analysis, for example, of the potential adaptability of the livelihood in the face of global change, or of the costs and benefits of the practice for biodiversity conservation. Data, however, exist in abundance, although they are restricted to sub-national repositories. This program aims to create a reliable global repository that will orient reliable science as well as sound development practices on pastoralism.



Pastoralism is the most widespread land use worldwide, with estimates of 50 to 500 million people living off this practice. Beyond its economic value, extensive pastoralism also has recognized environmental benefits. However, the last decades have witnessed sudden livestock production losses, often coupled with biodiversity losses. This global pattern raises questions on the future viability of pastoral livelihoods and poses great challenges for attaining Sustainable Development Goals. Interestingly, forecasted climatic changes threaten agricultural production in many limiting environments where, in turn, pastoralism may locally but extensively remain the most suited livelihood. Such characteristics, coupled with the predicted increase in meat demand, make investing in pastoralism research - and supporting policies - a timely endeavour. In a pilot project supported by IUBS, an international group of scholars identified major gaps in pastoralism research, and developed a framework for transformative research that supports the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (resulting in an invitation to write a perspective paper at PNAS).

We identified 2 main obstacles: (1) lack of reliable global statistics and distribution mapping of pastoralism; and (2) paucity of indicators that would allow monitoring the sustainability of pastoralist systems. We apply for an IUBS program to address these 2 items by coordinating a global and transdisciplinary effort.

The objective of the project will thus be to 1)develop standards for estimating pastoralism numbers globally, engaging established networks to collect data; and 2) develop a set of indicators that will adapt advances in the development of sustainability indicators to pastoralism contexts.


Links with international programmes or networks:

  • World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP)
  • World Initiative on Sustainable Pastoralism (WISP)
  • Pastoram√©ricas (Latin America)
  • Pastoarabic (Northern Africa & Middle East)
  • ESAPN (Eastern and Southern Africa)
  • RPPS (West Africa)
  • Also the Helsinki Sustainability Institute (HELSUS), which supports this initiative by providing seed funding

GIPP Action Plan

Pastoralism Project (2017-2019)