Thematic Report on Rangelands and Pastoralists by UNCCD
May 22, 2024

Why in news? Recently, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has released the Global Land Outlook Thematic Report on Rangelands and Pastoralists. As per the report, up to 50% of rangelands are degraded.

What’s in today’s article?

  • UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
  • Rangelands
  • Key highlights of the report: overall observation
  • Key highlights of the report: India specific observation

UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • About
    • UNCCD is a legally binding agreement that aims to protect and restore land, and combat desertification and drought.
    • It was adopted in 1994 and became effective in 1996.
    • The UNCCD is one of the three Rio Conventions. The other two are:
      • Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD); and
      • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
    • The UNCCD focuses on drylands, which are arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas that are home to some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples.
  • Secretariat: The UNCCD's permanent Secretariat is located in Bonn, Germany.
  • Goals
    • Protecting and restoring land
    • Ensuring a safer, just, and more sustainable future
    • Mitigating the impact of land degradation
    • Providing food, water, shelter, and economic opportunity to all people


  • About
    • Rangelands are large areas of land that are covered by grasses, shrubs, woodlands, wetlands, and deserts and are used by wild animals and domestic livestock for grazing.
    • Rangelands cover 80 million square kilometres, or over 54% of the terrestrial surface, constituting the largest land cover/use type in the world
    • Rangelands are often characterized by low and erratic precipitation, poor drainage, rough topography, and low soil fertility.
  • Types
    • Types of rangelands include:
      • Tallgrass and shortgrass Prairies; Desert grasslands and shrublands; Woodlands; Savannas; Chaparrals; Steppes; Tundras; Alpine communities; Marshes and meadows etc.
  • Significance
    • Rangelands are important for: Storing carbon; Providing habitats for wildlife; Supporting the world's largest rivers and wetlands; and Keeping carbon in the ground.
    • These areas support many ecosystem services, including: grazing, wildlife habitat, watershed health, and recreational opportunities.
    • These areas account for one sixth of global food production and represent nearly one third of the planet’s carbon reservoir.

Key highlights of the report: Overall observation

  • Degradation of rangelands
    • Almost half of the world’s rangelands are degraded due to climate change, population growth, land-use change and growing farmlands.
  • Conversion of rangelands generates little public reaction
    • When we cut down a forest, when we see a 100-year-old tree fall, it rightly evokes an emotional response in many of us.
    • The conversion of ancient rangelands, on the other hand, happens in silence and generates little public reaction.

Key highlights of the report: India specific observation

  • Pastoralists contribute a lot to the economy
    • Pastoralists contribute to the economy through livestock rearing and milk production.
      • The livestock sector of the economy contributes 4 per cent of national gross domestic product and 26 per cent of agricultural gross domestic product.
      • The country also accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s livestock population.
  • Pastoralists in India need better recognition of their rights and access to markets
    • Millions of pastoralists in India rear livestock and depend on grasslands, shrubs and plateaus for sustenance.
    • They need better recognition of their rights and access to markets.
    • Although their exact numbers in India are unknown, it is estimated that there are 20 million or more people in pastoralist communities.
      • These include groups like the Maldharis, Van Gujjars, and Rabaris.
  • Pastoralists in India are a marginalised community
    • Pastoralists are a marginalised community with little influence on policy decisions, resulting in uncertainty over access to common land and land rights.
  • Protection of grasslands in India
    • Although grasslands are considered threatened ecosystems in India, they have been virtually overlooked in environmental conservation.
      • Ecosystem restoration policies in India are in favour of forestry-based interventions.
      • These includes converting natural grasslands into plantation forests or other uses.
    • Less than 5 per cent of India’s grasslands fall within protected areas, and the total grassland area declined from 18 to 12 million hectares between 2005 and 2015.
  • Successes highlighted by the report
    • Some laws such as the Forest Rights Act 2006 have helped pastoralists obtain grazing rights across states in the country.
    • E.g., Van Gujjars won grazing rights and received land titles in the Rajaji National Park, following a high court judgment.
  • Gradual shift in attitude
    • The report noted that there was a gradual shift towards recognition of the socio-ecological role of rangelands and pastoralism in India.
    • It cited the example of welfare schemes and assistance provided to pastoralists under the National Livestock Mission, Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund and the Rashtriya Gokul Mission on sustainable dairy production.