Pastoralist —In Search Of Pastures Green

in Overview
Published on: 22 November 2018

Dr Uttra Kothari

Dr Uttra Kothari is a retired associate professor of Sociology in Jaipur, and she has had 36 years of teaching experience. She has received her doctorate in Sociology from the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. She is an executive member of the governing body of Rupayan Sansthan, and is also the vice president of Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan in Rajasthan.


Pastoralists are people who herd and subsist mainly on livestock and livestock production. Pastoralism is quite an accepted way of life in India’s diverse ecosystem. There are still a number of communities that move from place to place in search of livelihood, for example, the pastoral Gujjars, the Giddis of Himalayas, the Todas of the Nilgiri plateau and the Kazhaikothadis of Tamil Nadu. Their socio-economic and functional contribution to rural societies is not unknown to us. The ethnic culture of the pastoralists is well knitted in the normative order of rural societies.


The environment of India, especially in Rajasthan, is hard and rainfall is extremely unreliable. Rural people depend on an agro-pastoral economy which operates in a context of great uncertainty as far as rainfall is considered. The people of the region adjust to uncertainty in a situation where drought and famine are frequent but also unpredictable. There we find that the population of the region involves itself in various economic activities for its livelihood. In this reference, my study could conclude that in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid ecological zones from west to east, large numbers of specialised pastoral caste-communities, such as the Raika or Rabari, Gujjar, Vishnoi, Sirvi, Sidhi, Kaimkhani and a substantial segment comprising Rajputs and Jats, are practising pastoralism. Livestock—comprising its breeding and rearing—is the main source of livelihood for these pastoralists. The presence of pastoralism among the Scheduled Caste is restricted but not absent.


Among pastoral communities, 40 per cent of the pastoralists are Raikas. These pastoral communities of the region are economically weak and neglected but are still functional. They are efficient and culturally effective. Till today they are not only breeding and preserving the indigenous breeds of their livestock but are also contributing to enhance state productivity by producing a large number of animals. By investing their labour as capital they contribute to nearly 19 per cent in earning the state revenue per year. Even in material terms, pastoralism is well integrated with the market and cannot by any means be regarded as a form of subsistence economy. Their indigenous knowledge of herd/flock management shows evidence of innovation and adaptation to changing opportunities. Along with this, their ability to overcome constraints in every way needs to be considered as a modern and evolving system of production.


A query always remains: why does the attitude of the state still remains consistently hostile to the practice of migratory pastoralism? If the pastoralists do their best to accommodate to change and development to some extent then why does the state continue to follow crude sedentary notions of social development and political order, perpetuating policy programmes that alienate pastoral communities? Here, I feel, the problem of pastoral alienation cannot be taken lightly and ignored. This is the biggest challenge for pastoralists. Even if we go with the government, what is the future of pastoralism, especially the migratory form of pastoralism? Secondly, the inexorable effect of industrialisation and urbanisation are increasingly threatening their way of life. Thirdly, many among the pastoralist caste-communities are landless livestock rearers (like the Raikas of Rajasthan and Maladharis of Gujarat). They have no political clout. They have no access to land and other resources, such as education, veterinary assistance, etc. Even the new schemes for development do not take into consideration their needs which are different from those of farmers. The common grazing land is shrinking and pastoralists do not get a place to camp as well. Land reform measures do not recognise their need and environmental degradation has hit them hard. Natural calamities, the tension of cross-section classes, the dispute of migratory routes, a deterioration of faith and confidence between pastoralists and farmers and pasture conflict, exploitation by government officials, forest authorities, police guards and middlemen for marketing their goods have all contributed to their growing insecurity. There is less assurance to their life and animals. People under economic stress are forced to sell female animals for slaughter and they further suffer the consequences of a burdensome economy. Altogether, the lives of pastoralists and their livestock are under severe threat. There is a great uncertainty, and resilience is the only option left to a pastoralist.


No doubt, political awakening is also becoming an integral part of their life. At the local, regional, state and national levels they are organising their strength, formulating sanghs, mahasanghs and kuruvanshs. This has enabled them to be collectively conscious of achieving their social and political reputation. With the support of honest leaders, they are trying to strengthen their social institutions.


The pastoralists of the western region have always been famous for the quality of their indigenous livestock breeds. Their livestock breeds and products are well known and they have been recognised for their amazing animal-breeding skills, indigenous veterinarian potential and immense capacity as herd/flock and fodder managers. Pastoralists are not only sustainers of the rural structure of society and rural livelihood but also a sociocultural asset of western Rajasthan. The ethnic culture is well knitted in the culture of Rajasthan and famous all over the world.


Recognising their economic, social, cultural and ethical values for human societies some suggest strong policies should be framed or proposed


  1. to secure genetic support
  2. to protect indigenous property rights of livestock
  3. to access grazing resources
  4. to secure land ownership
  5. to ensure livestock and livestock product
  6. To provide financial support to improve economic conditions (funding for marketing)
  7. to spread education awareness campaigns
  8. to introduce pragmatic schemes to upgrade their skills
  9. to promote local products for local consumption
  10. to promote community environment, including support for the formation of women’s groups for community education, and
  11. for documentation,  policy framing and public audit to ensure transparency.


Keeping all this in mind, strong support systems should be created for livestock breeds, sustainable rural livelihood and food securities for the future. If pastoralism is developed or regenerated, strengthened and innovated, it has a great potential for employment for the young generation of pastoralists who feel lost in the stream of unemployment. Positive research should be increased for lucrative career options in pastoralism management. In my opinion, it appears that the organic manure stores, fodder-banks farmlands, common pastureland management, Kuranshallayas, camel-milk stores, camel safaris, camel-cart merchandise, integrated farming system, etc., can offer new alternatives and meet future challenges of market requirement as well as conserve sustainable utilisation of the environment and biodiversity.


Today, grazing livestock is not the only viable form of food production for most of the population living in the state and other states of our country but it forms a crucial part in the food security strategies in those areas where marginal farming is possible. According to the pastoral communities’ information of indigenous breeds, they are valuable reservoirs of genes for adaptive and economic traits, providing diversified genetic pools which can help meet future challenges. For this, the country needs to keep options open by conserving, promoting and maintaining a wide genetic diversity. A high quality of animal genetic resources is essential for the establishment and growth of national herds of high productive potential.


The mobile indigenous people’s indigenous breeds have a significance as far as sustaining and increasing food production is concerned. It is safer, healthier and tastier. The pastoralist could be considered a creative natural soil enhancer and the largest producer of organic input in the organic and integrated farming system. Gradually, he could become a co­-partner and producer in the currently blooming Indian export industry of organic produces. This food is also safer for human consumption and the returns offered to farmers is higher, which becomes a viable alternative. At the same time, this also widens the scope of pastoralism. The new generation of pastoralists can explore this emerging field of organic inputs as entrepreneurs right from the stage of production to selling.


These explorations and pastoralist-friendly ventures will help the pastoralist gain the position he is fast losing in this ‘supposedly developing world’. After all, he is one of the major links in sustaining ecological balances.


And that perhaps, at this crossroad in time, to quote Robert Frost, will make ‘All the difference’.