Fragile drylands, predominantly rangelands, cover 40% of the earth’s surface (MA). Many of the world’s pastoralists are found on semi-arid rangelands, including 50 million in sub-Saharan Africa. In many fragile rangelands, regenerative grazing of cattle is the only viable way of conserving fragile ecosystems and generating a livelihood.

"Pastoralism - extensive livestock production in the rangelands - is one of the most sustainable food systems on the planet."

"Pastoralism contributes to economic growth and resilient livelihoods in lands that are exposed to unpredictable climiates and numerous natural hazards."

"Sustainable pastoralism contributes to soil formation, soil fertility, soil carbon, water regulation, pest and disease regulation, biodoversity conservation and fire management"

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2015

Rangelands are greatly impacted by climate change, and many regions are at immediate risk of desertification. Their preservation is essential, as they store around 30% of the world’s soil carbon.

Rangeland ecosystems have evolved to depend on grazing herds. Large herds moving across rangelands sustain the ecosystem, and their absence causes harm. Climate-smart pastoralism, through the extensive grazing of cattle, provides the opportunity to conserve and regenerate rangelands. Improved grazing management on the world’s five billion hectares of grasslands could sequester 409 million tonnes CO2 equivalent per year: almost 10% of annual anthropogenic carbon emissions (IUCN and UNEP).

Pastoralism provides a means of regenerating threatened rangelands, and providing a resilient income in rangelands ill-suited to cropping or other uses.

Mafisa works in south west Zambia – a forested semi-arid rangeland on the fringes of the Kalahari system. Traditional grazing practices supported healthy ecosystems, moving cattle extensively through dryland forest and seasonal wetlands through the course of the year. With diminished herds and poor management, grazing has tended towards more sedentary practices. Local soils and climate are barely suitable for crops. As cattle livelihoods fail, alternatives largely involve deforestation, land degradation and rapid destruction of carbon-rich forests. 

Mafisa promotes sustainable climate-smart pastoralism, improving ecosystems with healthy herds and the restoration of regenerative grazing practices. The combination of animal health, reproduction and regenerative rangeland management strategies used by Mafisa have been analysed in the Zambian context by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), concluding that the combination of measures can reduce unit emissions by up to 38% (FAO).  Climate-smart pastoralism will halt the degradation of the local rangeland, and contribute to its restoration. At present, poverty and the lack of better alternatives mean that the places Mafisa works in are rapidly losing forest to charcoal production and slash and burn cultivation, with a loss of 1.2MT CO2 a year. Loss of carbon from degraded soils has not been quantified, but the risk of desertification is clear. Mafisa is building broad-based participation in the restoration of ecosystems. Participating farmers sign an environmental charter endorsed by local Chiefs, who have authority to ensure compliance. 

Improving the productivity of cattle production reduces emissions associated with meat and milk production. At present, inefficiencies resulting from low fertility, poor health, late sales and high mortality all raise emissions per unit of production. Mafisa addresses animal health, reproduction and sales, all of which contribute directly to lowering emissions.