Livestock breeding: which production practices to preserve biodiversity?

Pastoral farming is booming due to the increasing global demand for animal products. In addition to the production of meat, milk and hides, pastoralism provides many other social (employment), economic (savings) and environmental (manure, energy…) services.

Pastoralism is an extensive production system in which livestock are fed mainly from the exploitation of natural pastures. It can thus be distinguished from fixed or sedentary livestock farming by the movement of the herds. All BIODEV2030 countries have identified agriculture as a priority economic sector contributing to the erosion of biodiversity and the country’s development. 3have specifically selected pastoral farming: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya.



Pastoralism is an ancestral activity. It has grown significantly in recent decades with the increase in demand for animal products. Indeed, it is an essential source of economic activity in arid areas where other forms of agriculture are impossible. 

Pastoral farming products are therefore an important source of household income. They make a significant contribution to the countries’ GDP. For example, pastoralism accounts for 34% of the income of rural households in Burkina Faso. Furthermore, its share in the GDP of Ethiopia and Kenya is 19% and 13% respectively1.

Pastoralists produce much of the meat and milk in Africa. However, they face enormous difficulties in selling them. So, all stakeholders in the pastoral farming value chain (producers, traders, processors, financial institutions, the state) have a common interest in working together to improve production practices and increase market opportunities.

265 millions

people in Africa directly dependent on pastoralism for their livelihoods

Source: Nugteren, Henk and Le Côme, Catherine. Published by: Fred Zaal, Thea Hilhorst and Jacqueline Sluijs. 2016. Unlocking pastoralism’s potential to develop West Africa.

1.3 billion

people estimated to benefit from the livestock value chain

Source: International Livestock Research Institute



However, pastoral farming exerts great pressure on ecosystems. Herd movements, increasing herd sizes and poor management of plant resources contribute to the main mechanisms responsible for the erosion of biodiversity in Sahelian regions: modification of habitats, overexploitation of resources, pollution, biological invasions. 

Demographic growth and agricultural expansion have led to the densification of livestock activities on dwindling pastureland. Overgrazing, exacerbated by the increase in herd sizes, contributes to desertification. The modification of habitats (soil degradation, impoverishment of vegetation, introduction of plant species for grazing) impoverishes the living environment. It also favours the invasion of invasive species, whose progress is facilitated by the movement of livestock and the use of bush fires. Excessive pressure on the environment creates a vicious circle that can be aggravated by bad weather.


Share of African land area exploited by pastoralists

Source: Nugteren, Henk and Le Côme, Catherine. Published by: Fred Zaal, Thea Hilhorst and Jacqueline Sluijs. 2016. Unlocking pastoralism’s potential to develop West Africa.


Pastoral farming has negative impacts on biodiversity due to: 

1. Overgrazing: impoverishment of the environment which can lead to desertification. The movement of livestock should not be guided solely by the availability of resources. Their renewal and the load capacity of the environment must be taken into account.  

2. The reduction in the number of pastures: leading to increased competition for fodder from wild varieties and the grazing of livestock in protected areas. 

3. Pastoral practices: veterinary treatment, bush fires or the cultivation of fodder for livestock lead to pollution and biological invasions. These practices must be controlled and reduced.   


Avenues for voluntary commitment:

  • Facilitate the seasonal movement of herds by adapting to seasonal and interannual variations in pastoral resources (water and fodder). Avoid intense grazing during the growing season and heavy loads of sedentary herds.
  • Develop new collaborative approaches to wildlife management. Pastoralist communities should be involved in wildlife conservation in pastoral areas and on the periphery of protected areas.
  • Involve pastoralists and local stakeholders in the participatory restoration of degraded Sahelian ecosystems (especially the ligneous stratum)
  • Promotion of fodder crops adapted to dry areas 
  • Reduce agricultural and mining pressure on grazing lands
  • Prohibit bush fires
  • Reduce the risk of overgrazing by setting conditions for the use of rangelands and water points:
    • Ensure the widest possible access of livestock to rangeland and watering holes: concerted community management of rangelands, including post-cultivation stubble.
    • Invest in a concerted manner in hydraulic, rangeland management (pastoral corridors, lodges and reserves), veterinary and commercial infrastructures.

Sources :

1 Nyariki, D.M., Amwata, D.A. The value of pastoralism in Kenya: Application of total economic value approach. Pastoralism 9, 9 (2019).

Other sources :

  • IIRR and CTA. 2013. Moving herds, moving markets: Making markets work for African pastoralists. International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Nairobi; and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • Désertification et élevage pastoral sahélien In : La Grande Muraille Verte : Capitalisation des recherches et valorisation des savoirs locaux [en ligne]. Marseille : IRD Éditions, 2012 (généré le 20 mai 2022). Disponible sur Internet : <>. ISBN : 9782709917889. DOI :

Photo crédits : Nyashadzashe Kadandara / AFD