Mobile animal husbandry

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
As before, camel breeding in the semi-deserts and arid steppes of Africa and Asia is only conceivable as a mobile remote grazing industry. (Picture from India)

Mobile livestock (including mobile pastoralism ) is a collective term for the modernized, subsistence - and market-oriented forms extensive , year-round remote pasture of local communities formerly hirtennomadisch living peoples in dry and cold Offenlandbiomen . This includes the most varied forms of land use with semi-nomadic to semi-sedentary as well as year-round or seasonal migrant grazing - depending on the existing ecological and economic conditions and requirements.

Sometimes it is demanded that only the sustainable systems be referred to as mobile animal husbandry .

All forms of mobile animal husbandry are counted among the traditional economic forms .

Definition of terms

Mobile animal husbandry and pastoralism

Pastoral animal breeding in the Mongolian steppe

Mobile animal husbandry generally takes place on naturally created, mostly non- enclosed pastureland (e.g. steppes or dry savannahs ) and is therefore also a form of so-called pastoralism . In contrast to the stationary extensive systems ( ranching ), the cattle are permanently looked after by shepherds, who are usually the owners of the herd and at least temporarily (usually together with family members) live in portable dwellings on the pasture. In addition, the animals' free grazing and the more or less large share of production for self-sufficiency ( subsistence farming ) are the essential differences to stationary pastoralism.

However, “mobile animal husbandry” is not identical with the term “mobile pastoralism”, as this also includes the original pastoral nomadism!

Mobile animal husbandry and shepherd nomadism

Although the yurt is still part of mobile animal husbandry in Mongolia, most of the herding families today are neither fully nomadic nor largely self-sufficient

Nomadism ” is both a cultural-scientific and an economic term, because on the one hand it encompasses the cultures of the nomadic pastoral peoples and on the other hand their self-sufficient subsistence (true nomadism is hardly to be found any more).

In contrast, “mobile animal husbandry” refers to the post-nomadic transitional forms of subsistence and market-oriented livestock farming and no longer the (“uprooted” and in some cases marginalized ) societies .

Mobile animal husbandry and transhumance

Transhumance (seasonal migrant grazing) describes both a classic form of remote grazing (e.g. in the Mediterranean countries) and modern forms. B. in Central Asia a form of semi-nomadic transhumance developed from fully nomadic herding. In such cases , transhumance is a form of mobile animal husbandry.

Mobile animal husbandry as a sustainable form of economy

In heavily overgrazed areas only goats survive - which damage the vegetation even more
Ensuring school attendance and medical care while maintaining the mobile way of life are one of the challenges for modern nomads

According to Fred Scholz - one of the most renowned scientists in this field - the term "mobile animal husbandry" should only be used for the "planned" and sustainable grazing systems and not for the unplanned, unsteady, rudimentary and unsustainable forms that result from the decline of nomadism have arisen.

Scholz advocates strengthening the age-old traditional knowledge of the former nomads with their adapted domestic grazing animals; in a meaningful connection with today's social, economic and ecological knowledge and taking into account the respective political conditions and economic constraints. He calls three "essentials" that must be met this need to be able to take advantage of the fragile ecosystems in the long term and environmentally friendly:

  • Securing livelihood before market production
  • Securing jobs before increasing productivity
  • Preservation of resources before yield growth

Mobile animal husbandry that fulfills these framework conditions can provide sustainable livelihood security in marginal locations within the Old World dry belt and therefore an effective protection against poverty and hunger, degradation and desertification. In practice this means (depending on the region):

  • Use of suitable, mixed herd animals (e.g. camels instead of goats, or yaks instead of cattle)
  • Supported by local shepherd communities, families, parts of the population and the like. Ä.
  • Targeted planned management of herd relocations (migrations and / or cattle transports, multiple or seasonal pasture changes throughout the year, etc.)
  • Use of modern means of communication and transport
  • Supply of goods, medical services, schooling, etc. adapted to the respective living and working situation.

From nomadism to "post-nomadism"

While mobile animal husbandry continues to secure the livelihood of people in Central Asia, traditional rituals are turning into folkloric customs

Since the end of the 20th century is more and more to about nomadism only for the life of the very few genuine nomadic local communities to use who still live predominantly subsistence-oriented of animal husbandry (of all shepherds overpopulate can anyway no more talk be).

Most of the shepherd communities in Africa and Eurasia no longer produce for their own needs. They bring meat, milk, hides, leather and other products to local markets in order to be able to afford the comforts of modern life with the money they make. This increases the tendency towards semi-nomadism and (semi) sedentarism in the vicinity of traffic routes and market places.

Due to the serious changes in the way of life of the pastoral nomads, which began in the 20th century, some authors advocate clear definitions of terms. The German geographer Fred Scholz in particular is an advocate of this point of view, which is referred to in many sources. The seldom used term “post nomadism” (from the Latin -post = after, behind) is not really suitable to name the inconsistent diversity of today's ways of life. Therefore, this cultural-scientific term is mostly avoided in favor of the economic term "mobile animal husbandry" .

The development of mobile livestock farming


In the past, as now, keeping the cattle is one of the duties of the mobile animal keeper. (Picture from Mongolia)
Mobile animal husbandry requires huge pastures for a few animals per square kilometer

Shepherd nomadism developed with the domestication of the first farm animals in prehistoric times in the ancient world dry belt between West Africa and East Asia. Drought leads to a limited supply of feed for the cattle everywhere, so that a permanent relocation of the grazing areas is necessary. Originally, people probably followed the herds of game, which instinctively migrated; before they started moving their pets from pasture to pasture.

In the far north of Eurasia, however, it was the natural, seasonal migration of reindeer from the summer pastures in the forest to the winter pastures in the tundra from which reindeer nomadism developed. This rather semi-nomadic form of mobile animal husbandry is still practiced today in many areas of Russia and Scandinavia.


Sustainable animal husbandry is usually only possible in a very extensive form in the arid regions and tundras, as various unsuccessful experiments with intensive animal husbandry have shown (including in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and in China), while in Central European, intensively used grassland up to 500 cattle can live on a 100 hectare fat grassland pasture, in the grass steppe there are only 15 to 20 cattle, in dry steppes 5 to 11 and in desert regions a maximum of 3 cattle. Cattle are therefore less suitable as grazing cattle in the very dry areas, so that other species such as camels, yaks, buffalo, sheep or goats are used here, which allow a slightly higher number of animals.

The mobile variant of remote grazing, which has been adapted since time immemorial, is in some cases even more efficient than modern stationary animal husbandry . So productivity is e.g. B. in the Sahel larger than on a North American ranch.

In contrast to other livestock management systems, almost all mobile pastoralists keep different animal species in their herds at the same time. This is done in order to use the diversity of plants in the pastures; but also to protect the sward, as the animals both show different eating behavior and cause various types of damage when stepping on sensitive floors. The dung from cattle and camels is used as fuel, while the droppings from other grazing animals fertilize the land. The number of animals is decisive for the economic success, for the prosperity and status of the nomad families or the shepherds' cooperatives: For example, in Finland 80 and in Siberia at least 150 reindeer or in Syria 80 sheep are necessary to support a family.

Ecological consideration

The yak - domesticated in the Tibetan climate for thousands of years - is certainly the best-suited farm animal for Tibet's cold steppes

Productive, well-bred cattle breeds produce a lot of milk and meat, but they are susceptible to disease and genetically largely monotonous. The robust races of the pastoral peoples, on the other hand, produce little, but are adapted to poor feed quality, diseases and extreme temperatures. Furthermore, they are home to the greatest genetic diversity among farm animals. In this way, the mobile systems can contribute to world food security and their owners become custodians of biodiversity . “The role of the shepherd peoples in the preservation of genetic diversity must be recognized as a social achievement”, demands Susanne Gura from the League for Shepherd Peoples. “The best thing to do is to agree on an international treaty on animal genetic resources, like the one already in place at the FAO for crops. Such a treaty would be particularly important for the countries in arid regions ” .

The mobile pastoral economy is an environmentally friendly and ecologically most sustainable strategy in the almost uninhabited open landscapes, because it is based on the extensive traditional knowledge of the nomadic peoples, which has matured over thousands of years . Many ethnologists believe that this must not be lost if agriculture is to continue to function efficiently in the extremely cold and extremely dry regions of the world. However, the real development is characterized by an increasing decline of the original nomadism , in the course of which the orally transmitted knowledge is quickly forgotten.

Where does desertification occur?

Shepherds, flocks and American soldiers in Afghanistan: the modern world is confronting the traditional way of life with ever new challenges
In almost all wilderness areas in which mobile animal husbandry is operated, the use of motor vehicles - with all the advantages and disadvantages - is increasing.

When asked about the causes of desertification ( desertification ), which is often overgrazing cited as one of the most important. This is a mistake, however, as large, migratory herds of animals have been an essential part of arid areas for thousands of years. They are useful for the animal population so that at least some animals survive the regular periods of drought. But they are also significantly involved in the preservation of vegetation: Regular grazing, the cattle kick and the dung of the animals are extremely positive aspects of the dynamics of arid biomes, because they promote the growth and resilience of plants. It is now known that the damage from overgrazing is often reversible.

The danger of desertification is far greater if there is no grazing! This development increasingly applies to the remote areas of Central Asia: The nomad herds no longer come and there are too few wild grazing animals.

In the Gobi desert, this difference can already be seen from space, as scientists from Cambridge University discovered: In the Chinese part of the Gobi, massive erosion can be seen in the satellite photos. Land privatization and industrial dairy farming are promoted there. In the Mongolian part, on the other hand, mobile animal husbandry is encouraged: the vegetation is intact.

Current situation of mobile grazing

Nomad tent in Tibet. In some remote areas of the world, the purely subsistence-oriented nomadism has been able to assert itself in very few, very small local communities to this day.

The ethnologist Günther Schlee estimates that today (2014) around 40 million people worldwide still make a living from mobile animal husbandry. However, the conditions for this are deteriorating in many places for a variety of reasons:

  • Political restrictions: obstruction due to national borders, land privatization and major infrastructural projects / occupation , fencing and conversion of the previously free pastureland / state programs to (often forced) settling down as arable farmers
  • Cultural change : transition from predominantly self-sufficiency to market-oriented production / On the one hand, higher consumer demands of the nomads; on the other hand, economic problems (marketing, drop in prices for animal products) / replacement of traditional facilities (e.g. caravan trade, use of carrying and draft animals as well as tents and objects from our own production) by modern ones (motor vehicles, permanent buildings, objects from industrial production) / migration of required labor in mining, industry and cities

All of this has far-reaching consequences:

There is a significant intensification of mobile animal husbandry in the vicinity of the permanent settlements and the transport routes: For market-oriented production and as a result of increasing population numbers, larger herds and rapid availability of the animals are required. At the same time, the creation of wells and the sedentary way of life lead to significantly shorter hiking distances. This trend is reinforced by the increasing use of trucks as a means of transport for the animals or drinking water.

If the pressure for grazing increases, the ecological load-bearing capacity of the biome soon reaches its limits: the result is overgrazing and soil degradation . In this case, the shepherds often increase the proportion of goats, as these animals are particularly frugal and also make a living in overgrazed regions. However, this sets a vicious circle in motion, because goats graze the sward particularly deeply, which further intensifies the erosion.

Market economy orientation can lead to further, unexpected consequences, as the following example from Central Asia shows: Due to the great demand for cashmere wool, the shepherds combed out the undercoat of the cashmere goats and yaks excessively. This resulted in massive animal deaths in winter, as the thermal insulation of the wool no longer protected the animals from the extreme cold.

The climatic developments in the course of climate change also make the situation more difficult to predict. Unfortunately, the first experiences of the reindeer herders are extremely negative.

Examples from different countries

Mongolia's efforts to integrate nomadism into market-based structures are still accompanied by a variety of problems: As everywhere, a reduction in seasonal migration in terms of frequency and distance can be observed, which in some areas leads to soil degradation. Added to this are new economic problems such as excessively high transport costs, competing spatial claims by many “new nomads”, legal uncertainty, unsuitable marketing structures or a lack of money. The involvement of livestock farmers in the market economy is low - their supply of consumer goods is deplorable. In this emergency, they are exchanged again.

Irrigated agriculture in Rajasthan has reduced the number of sheep by a third and the number of camels by half within five years. "The pastoralists have to sell their animals ... and our young people are migrating to the cities," said Hanwant Singh from the non-governmental organization Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan. "That also means that races are lost."

In Mauritania, around 70% of the population used to live from nomadism. Today most of them have largely settled down, so that only about seven percent can be described as nomads.

In Balochistan , a classic pastoral region, only less than 10% of the people live from mobile animal husbandry today.

A maximum of 15% of the Sami are still reindeer herders all year round. In the autonomous Russian Republic of Sakha it is still around 35% of the indigenous population.

Countries and ethnic groups in which mobile animal husbandry has replaced nomadism



  • Iranian highlands
  • Northern Russia ( Komi , Chanten , Mansen )
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Tajikistan
  • Mongolia (except for a few "real" nomads)
  • China: North Manchuria: Xinjiang , Tibetan highlands : Kazakh and Mongolian tribes in the northwest and northeast, Tibetan nomads in almost all parts of the highlands, except in the northwest (in the east still subsistence-oriented nomads)


  • Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula: Sámi

Future development

In northern Russia, the nomadic shepherd families are supplied with modern goods by air

There are many indications that the mobile use of natural pastures has a future despite the negative developments - even under modernized conditions. In some areas this economy shows growth rates. The Collaborative Research Center “Nomads and Settled People in Steppes and States” at the Universities of Halle-Wittenberg and Leipzig expressed it as follows:

“Ecologically adapted, mobile pasture management by state-supervised and tamed nomads appears again today to national and international agencies as a sensible option for regional developments. However, traditional habits, local conflicts of interest and historically grown enemy images must be moderated and overcome. "

See also


  • Fred Scholz: Nomads, mobile animal husbandry: on the current situation of nomads and the problems and opportunities of mobile animal husbandry. The Arabic Book, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-923446-81-0 .
  • Nikolaus Schareika: West of the calf leash: nomadic animal husbandry and natural history knowledge among the Wodaabe Southeast Nigerians. LIT Verlag, Münster 2003, ISBN 3-8258-5687-9 .
  • Zoritza Kiresiewa: Current status of national and international projects in the field of nomadism / mobile animal husbandry in the Old World dry belt. Institute for Geosciences at the Free University of Berlin, 2009.

Web links

Individual evidence

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