In March, Mongolian community-conservation leaders persuaded the United Nations to acknowledge the importance of rangelands and commit to global action to fill glaring gaps in data. As a result of their efforts, the United Nations adopted a resolution to recommend an official “Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists” and to center rangeland restoration within the already declared Decade of Ecosystems Restoration (2021-2030).
In Mongolia, leaders have also submitted a “Rangeland Law” to parliament, which would ensure that herders have legal land rights and are named the primary protectors of their land.
The International Center for Agriculture Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) defines rangelands as land that is covered with grass and shrub species and used as a primary source for livestock grazing. Rangelands are also recognized for their ability to provide other environmental services, including carbon sequestration, eco-tourism opportunities, biodiversity, ranching and mining.
ICARDA estimates suggest that nearly 50 percent of all land surface is considered rangeland, which includes grasslands, savannas and marshes.
Herding has been a defining part of Mongolian culture and tradition for more than 4,000 years. Up to 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from sheep, cattle and other livestock.
However, economic, environmental and migration changes have caused much of Mongolia’s rangelands to become degraded. The United Nations reports that nearly 57 percent of all rangeland in Mongolia is degraded and 13 percent is so degraded that it is believed to be impossible to restore. Despite this, Mongolia still has some of the world’s last remaining natural grasslands, and people there are committed to preserving these diverse ecosystems and their traditional way of life.
“If nothing is done now, we face the danger of losing this beautiful land, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of nomadic herder families,” said Ts.Enkh-Amgalan, a sustainable rangeland expert from Mongolia.
According to the World Resource Institute’s land mapping tool, indigenous and collectively-managed lands store about 25 percent of the world’s above-ground carbon, which means land restoration in these areas is essential to reducing climate change, and that indigenous people are the rightful leaders.
Nearly 500 million people are considered pastoralists, yet these communities are among the most marginalized societies in the world. Herding, nomadic and pastoral groups face challenges such as land degradation, biodiversity loss, vulnerability to climate change, low investments, inequity, low literacy, inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to markets, lack of legal ownership and exodus of youth. (UN)