The United Nations Declare 2026 the
International Year of Rangelands & Pastoralists
Having a moment are millions of livestock herders worldwide and the many more people who appreciate these custodians of the world’s vast and stunning rangelands—the grasslands and savannas, the prairies and Steppes, the drylands and wetlands, that are covered by native grass and shrubs and grazed by both wild and domesticated animals.
These people are celebrating the declaration this week by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) of the year 2026 as the ‘International Year of Rangelands & Pastoralists’ (IYRP).
This declaration is the culmination of an IYRP movement that grew over several years to become a global coalition of over 300 pastoralist and supporting organizations, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and several UN agencies. Building on these efforts, the Government of Mongolia and 68 co-sponsoring countries developed and put forward the resolution to UNGA. Implementation of activities to support this special year will be facilitated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
This is welcome news to ILRI and its many partners!
- The UN acknowledged that the IYRP resolution will help conserve global biodiversity, manage climate change and reduce socio-economic disparities.
- The UN recognized that pastoralism is a dynamic and transformative livelihood, one that coexists with nature.
- The UN affirmed that healthy rangelands are vital for economic growth, resilient livelihoods and sustainable development.
From the press release we learn the following.
While covering more than half of the Earth’s surface (scientists currently estimate 54%) and making up the world’s largest ecosystem, rangelands are also the most endangered and least protected of the world’s ecosystems.
This is despite the fact that:
- Rangelands support the livelihoods and food security of hundreds of millions of pastoralists whose ruminant animals provide meat and milk for themselves, their nations and the whole world
- Pastoral herds usefully ‘upcycle’ grass and other vegetation inedible by people into healthy and nutritious human foods possessing superior protein and essential nutrients
- Building healthy and productive rangelands and pastoral livelihoods is sorely needed particularly now as the world faces an increasingly unpredictable and changing climate, with more than 700 million people chronically hungry and one million animal and plant species threatened with extinction
Pastoralists have endured increasing injustices, with many in past decades dispossessed of their traditional grazing lands and/or blocked from their traditional migration routes. Remarkably, these underserved frontier communities continue to endure and to be productive. And their special knowledge and skills in managing uncertainty, honed over the millennia from living in marginal or harsh environments where they must track scarce natural resources to survive, make them strong allies in sustainable development under climate change.
As historical stewards of rangelands, livestock herding communities continue today to protect wildlife and other forms of biodiversity and to provide ecosystem services such as protection of watersheds and safe storage of carbon in rangeland soils, which form the largest carbon sink on the planet.
Sharing their rangelands with many wildlife species and relying mainly on natural grasses, rainwater and their ruminant animals (which represent so much more than a ‘commodity’ to pastoralist peoples) while relying little on fossil-fuel energy, sustainable pastoralism is a ‘nature-friendly’ production system and key to both slowing and adapting to climate change.
Keeping rangelands managed under sustainable grazing practices is thus essential for future generations of peoples, animals and lands alike.
- The IYRP will amplify the voices of pastoralists and scientific experts in rangeland ecosystems about the value of rangelands and pastoralism.
- The IYRP will advocate strengthening capacities within pastoral communities and increasing responsible investment in this sector.
- The IYRP will raise awareness globally about the considerable benefits that healthy rangelands and sustainable pastoralism provide us with (along the way upending some conventional wisdoms, dismantling some toxic stereotypes and debunking some persistent myths).
- The IYRP will bring rangeland and pastoral issues to prominence in policy debates, demonstrating the many ways in which they bear on achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
'I have just learned that today the UN General Assembly in New York has voted unanimously in favour of a resolution from the Government of Mongolia to designate 2026 the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists.
'This is fantastic news! Many of us have been working towards this for the past 6 years, since 2016!
'Many people and organizations have been engaged. However I particularly want to recognize and thank ILRI's Fiona Flintan, who has been tireless in the promotion of the Year through side events, working with FAO and many other international organisations and NGOs, as well as working with governments to draft resolutions at UN meetings and supporting the Government of Mongolia and much more.
'ILRI will remain engaged in planning for and supporting the Year. This is a great opportunity to raise the profile of pastoralism and pastoralists, including getting political support at the highest levels.'
—Email from Iain Wright, ILRI deputy director general for integrated research, 15 March 2022
If you’re interested in supporting this special year (and we hope you are!), please get in touch with Maryam Niamir-Fuller, vice-chair of the IYRP Global Coordinating Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
The IYRP resolution is available here: https://undocs.org/en/A/76/L.36
For more information about the IYRP, see www.iyrp.info
And be sure to watch these short videos from ILRI, all available on the IYRP website.
- Shirley Tarawali, of ILRI and GASL, explains how the diversity of pastoralist livestock benefits rangelands, 25 Feb 2022
- Virtual tour of East African Drylands—Big Lands, Big Opportunities (ILRI), Oct 2021
- Grasslands Stewards of East Africa: Voices of Pastoralists and Scientists (ILRI), Jun 2021
- More videos are on the IYRP site.
And visit the Rangelands Atlas website for more science-based information.