Recognising the role of pastoralists in agrarian development

By Natasha MaruonJul. 06, 2021in Environment and Ecology
The farmer-herder relationship of mutual benefit and care is threatened by commercialisation of agriculture

Erratic rainfall and drought cycles in Kachchh cause spatial and temporal fluctuations in grazing availability. While this is not uncommon in arid environments, dryland pastoralism globally is often premised on assumptions of closed systems and enclosed spaces, assumptions of fixity rather than mobility.

Pastoralists in India rupture such a view. Migration out of Kachchh to fertile crop fields in mainland Gujarat has been the norm for Rabari pastoralists to overcome environmental variabilities and make the most of emerging opportunities in Gujarat.

This migration makes their pastoralism economically feasible and environmentally sustainable, providing food and livelihood security in a variable environment.

A unique bond

Year after year, Vibhabhai, a Rabari nomadic pastoralist from Kachchh, travels to Morbi district for cattle grazing at local farmer Dineshbhai’s field. Over a cup of tea, Dineshbhai said: “E toh maara bhai jevo chhe.” (He is like my brother.)

Pastoralists like Vibhabhai, locally known as the maldharis, rely on reciprocal relationships with farmers for dry season grazing access. This relationship has help sustain and flourish nomadic pastoralism, the demise of which has been predicted year after year.

But it is also this relationship that is coming under increasing strain with increasing commercialisation of agriculture.

Developments such as reducing fallow period between two crops, relying on input intensive seeds and chemical inputs as well as uneven subsidies and benefits, are narrowing the space to manoeuvre within the critical farmer-herder relationship.

Will this trajectory then ring the death knell on nomadic pastoralism?

Nearly 10 per cent of India’s farmers — 14 million people — are estimated to be involved in pastoralism. The practice has proven to be a critical asset for food and livelihood security of vulnerable and landless people, especially in environments with high variability in rainfall, unsuitable for crop agriculture.

Yet, pastoralists face double marginalisation within Indian policy: They receive none of the benefits offered for crop farming and commercial dairying, and tend to suffer from adverse policies in these sectors.

Changes in crop agriculture are bound to percolate into pastoralism as the two are intimately intertwined.

Pastoralists across the country have adapted to ‘agricultural hotspots’ to receive fresh and nutritious fodder for their animals as grazing commons have declined in India in favour of private intensive farming.

First published by Down To Earth on 1 July 2021

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