Research Questions


Pastoralists play a major role in the sustainable management of biological diversity. They have been termed “guardians of biological diversity” (FAO, 2009) and steward biodiversity at the level of livestock breeds, vegetation, eco-systems and landscapes.

By means of their livestock, pastoralists harvest and process the dispersed and extremely bio-diverse natural vegetation (and sometimes crop by-products) of drylands and mountainous areas into a range of high value products, including meat, milk, fibre, fertilizer, hides and physical energy. They do this without leaving any carbon footprint, as their animals forage for themselves and no energy is expended to grow or transport feed to them. Moreover, functional sylvi-pastoral landscapes make a major contribution to carbon sequestration.

Considering the bio-diverse natural nutrition of pastoralist livestock, we can assume that this is also reflected in their products. There is an increasing body of evidence from scientific research in developed countries indicating that “pasture produced” livestock products are much healthier than those from animals kept in intensive or industrial systems and fed with standard rations of corn and soy-beans. In particular, meat and milk of such animals are higher in Omega -3 fatty acids and in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), substances whose absence in modern diets has been made responsible for many diseases, including heart attacks, Alzheimer, cancer, etc. It seems likely that the products produced by pastoralists also have very high nutritional value.

Besides being usually free from the residues of antibiotics, hormones and other drugs, the products from pastoralist (and other indigenous livestock keeping systems) are a often appreciated for their better taste. They also lend themselves to be processed into specialty goods. And there are significant immaterial values. Pastoralist breeds are part of the local heritage and contribute to local and regional identity, besides often being essential for traditional rituals as well as a medium of exchange. They attract the attention of tourists and conjure nostalgia among people who have moved away from the area.

Despite this array of advantages, pastoralists have not yet been able to capitalize on these special properties of their breeds and production systems. They continue to market their products generically, there is no awareness about the taste and health benefits of their animals among consumers, policy makers and even themselves. Consumers have no way of knowing where the meat he or she is consuming comes from, while for some products such as milk and wool no market linkages and value chains have been established.

This project intends to explore how pastoralists can better capitalize on the unique selling points of their breeds. It will do this empirically by focusing on three pastoralist communities in three different countries (India, Pakistan, Kenya). They are the Raika of Rajasthan, the Pashtoon of Pakistan and the Samburu of Kenya. These communities have been chosen because they have developed “Biocultural Community Protocols” (BCPs) in which they have documented their breeds and crucial aspects of their traditional knowledge and customary practices.

Central Questions

The project seeks to answer the following questions

  • What are the traditional livestock products and what are the traditional processing methods?
  • What are the special properties of these products in terms of sensory qualities, nutritional value, and medicinal effects?
  • How can we communicate the special properties of these products?
  • How can pastoralists, NGOs, scientific institutions and the private sector work together to develop value chains for pastoralist specialty products?
  • Is there scope for developing a special brand or label that indicates to consumers that a product is from a locally adapted livestock breeds and derives from biodiversity conserving production systems (“Ark of livestock biodiversity”)?


Our assumptions are that

  • Local livestock breeds raised on local resources and as part of the eco-system have the potential for specialty and niche products with health enhancing qualities, heritage value and attractive sensory characteristics.

This assumption is based on

  • already existing research in developed countries that have shown that pasture raised meat and milk has higher contents of essential nutrients, such as unsaturated lipid acids, vitamins, etc.
  • Recent research by Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) has analysed the more than 40 forage plants of camels and shown that most of them are traditionally used as medicinal herbs and/or have scientifically proven medicinal value. It can thus be expected that these qualities are also reflected in meat and milk.
  • Creating value chains in which the resources remain in the ownership of traditional livestock breeding communities and in which processing is carried out locally has the potential to revive rural economies and to provide a future perspective for youths from these communities.

This assumption is based on

  • – An analysis of eight cases of value addition of local animal genetic resources in developing countries (LPP, WISP and FAO, 2010).
  • Evidence from Europe about the benefits of “origin-based marketing” (TSG, PGI, PDO-products) for farmers and for regional development.
  • Consumers (on local, national and international markets) will be willing to pay a premium for these products once they become aware and educated about their special qualities as well as their source of origin from an animal culture.

Empirical evidence collected by LPPS clearly indicates that consumers, especially tourists are extremely keen to sample any kinds of products from camels, such as ice cream, wool, dung paper, soaps, etc. The same phenomenon is likely to apply to products from livestock associated with a specific ethnic group. The Red Massai sheep can be expected to generate a similar response if marketed under a “Massai” label rather than as generic meat.

Expected results

The expected results of this project include

  1. Inventory of existing traditional products and processing methods from the selected pastoral communities.
  2. Analysis of the potential of local breeds owned by three livestock keeping communities in three countries for specialty products and analysis of their health, heritage and sensory value.
  3. Investigation of the technological requirements for producing products tailored to urban consumer preferences.
  4. Awareness created among the communities of possible economic opportunities inherent in their breeds and motivation of young people, as well as among consumers, policy makers, and private sector.
  5. Improved understanding of the structures, in terms of producer organisation, linkages with the private sector, labelling and identification of the bottlenecks in the system: needs for capacity building, for investment, for new regulatory system.
  6. Better understanding of the potential and promise of and criteria for a special label/brand for products from biodiversity conserving livestock systems and/or ethnic groups.

Methodology and main stages of research

The project will build on the livestock keeping communities that have already developed Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs) which includes the Raika of Rajasthan (India), the Pashtoon (Pakistan) and the Samburu (Kenya). In their BCPs, these communities have described a number of unique genetic resources or livestock breeds. These include for instance the dromedary camel and the Boti sheep in Rajasthan for the Raika, the Kohi and Raigi camel breeds, as well as the Kakari sheep for the Pashtoon, and the Red Massai sheep for the Samburu.

1. Phase

Investigate and document through community-based fieldwork and using participatory approaches the traditional products made from these breeds and the ways they are processed, as well as local perceptions about the nutritional and medicinal value of the products. Special attention will be placed on working with women who often are in charge of processing (e.g. dairy processing and drying meat) and who have the customary right to distribute and sell livestock products.

2. Phase

Scientific examination and validation of the properties of the products – with respect to sensorial qualities, taste, nutritional composition, health effects, and processability – in collaboration with universities and scientific institutions, including University of Agriculture in Faisalabad (Pakistan), Mitun Handicraft Pvt. Ltd., and government research institutes in India and Kenya (National Dairy Research Institute/NDRI, Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute/KARI).

3. Phase

Organise three regional meetings and one joint international workshop (possibly at FAO and IFAD) to share and communicate the results and to raise widespread awareness about the project and its results.

4. Phase

Identification of business partners or donors willing to invest in development of products to build up a value chain, through a multi-stakeholder dialogue.

5. Phase

Evaluation of the potential of a special label/certificate – “Ark of Livestock Biodiversity” – that communicates and certifies to consumers that the product is from a threatened local breed. Through this project we will better understand the steps that would be needed to arrive at such a label. We will also investigate the possibility and desirability of developing ethnic labels – rather than geographical indications – as a new form of “Intellectual Property Right”.