Reviving Nomadic Pastoralism in Iran

Reviving nomadic pastoralism in Iran: Facilitating sustainability of biodiversity and livelihoods — A learning by doing project

Pastoral communities have always played an important role in Iran and the greater ethno-ecological region of which it is a part by developing creative and sustainable systems for the use of scarce natural resources. Migration is a common cornerstone of their strategies; their mobility ensures that natural resources are not used to the point of exhaustion and eventual extermination.

In addition, their herds browse the vegetation, stomp the soil, transport seeds of wild species, and fertilise the land, all of which benefit the rangeland and the maintenance of its biological diversity. Nomadic pastoralists have learned to conserve rangelands through sophisticated techniques embedded in complex social and cultural institutions.

More than ninety percent of Iran’s surface area of 1.6 million km 2 is made up of arid and semi-arid lands. Most of this consists of rangelands, largely inhabited, cared for and used sustainably by the nomadic pastoralists of the country until recent government and other external influences began to upset their equilibrium with the natural resources on which they depend.

After some eight decades of top-down policies that have sought to limit the pastoralists at best—and destroy them at worst—the sense of despair in pastoral communities is palpable. For instance, during a recent field trip by CENESTA workers, accompanied by officers of the Organisation for Nomadic Pastoralists’ Affairs, Qashqai nomadic communities in the south of the country overwhelmingly admitted that under present conditions they would eventually be forced to give up their traditions and livelihoods, much to their regret and enormous cultural and material loss to the country.

Although social cohesion has been on the decline, there is still a very significant sense of community and identity. Research by CENESTA has highlighted the fundamental desire of nomadic communities to keep their identity and mobile way of life so long as the political-economic space needed to achieve a sustainable livelihood exists.

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