Across the world, there are communities that manage livestock in a way of life that involves seasonal migrations, sometimes across large stretches of landscape, along with their herds. The livestock may be cattle, buffaloes, goats, sheep, camels or even ducks and pigs. The migrations could be undertaken to leave an area during its dry season in order to access another which has fodder and water at that time. They could be vertical migrations from villages in the foothills to lush alpine meadows at higher altitudes in summer. Wilderness areas such as grasslands or forests are an important source of fodder for these mobile livestock, but the migrations may also be governed by seasonal opportunities for mutually beneficial relationships with settled agricultural communities. In the fallow season, for example, crop stubble on agricultural lands provides nourishment for livestock while dung from the animals provides rich manure for the farmers.
This kind of mobile livestock herding is known as pastoralism. Although hard numbers are difficult to come by, between 10 and 20 million pastoralists graze India’s forests, grasslands and farm fallows. Their many contributions have rarely been recognized, as mainstream society has tended to see pastoralism as an outmoded way of life. In truth, they are custodians of India’s remarkable animal diversity and significant contributors to our dairy and meat markets. Pastoralist mobility, an adaptive response to climatic extremes, also has many vital lessons in the context of climate change. Besides all this, their poetry, music, art and craft form a crucial part of Indian cultural heritage and identity.