Grasslands - Measuring Its Multiple Values

Interview with Alexandre Ickowicz

The value of grasslands is usually highly underrated, says Alexandre Ickowicz in this in-depth interview with the Global Agenda. Policymakers only took its value in terms of meat and milk production into account. In reality, grasslands offered much more, they also supported social organisations and had a positive environmental contribution, so the Deputy Director Ruminant Rearing in Hot Regions at CIRAD.

Interview Transcript

Pascal Corbé, Communications Consultant, Global Agenda: What is the main value of grasslands? 

Alexandre Ickowicz, Dep. Dir. Ruminant Rearing in Hot Regions, CIRAD: If we talk about grasslands, we think mainly of animal production: meat, milk and so on. In most parts of the world, grasslands are often collective lands which are managed by communities, a village or social groups. Grasslands are for much more than livestock production matters; they also support social organisations and of course environmental values, because grasslands are wider areas where you can have carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emission. Of course, there is also the important impact on biodiversity. We think about vegetation, but it also has a big impact on wild animals like birds, the places where wild animals will nest is quite important. It has some very important values on environment. It also has economic values.

PC: Please specify why they are important?

Grasslands are important because many people are living on grasslands or ranchlands. Millions of people are living from livestock on grasslands. This is a huge area of the world, especially in some arid areas in Africa and Asia and Latin America. Many people are living there and most of the time people who do not have so many means to live. Livelihoods are quite important. This huge area of grasslands are important to them in social and economic aspects, but also environmental aspects. As I said before in regards to carbon sequestration, biodiversity, soil fragility and so on.

PC: Economic benefits are not automatically social benefits. Obviously, people are gaining something when their businesses are running well, when they sell milk or animal product. Bute where does the real social and community aspect come in?

A: Social aspects are important because most of the areas where grasslands and livestock systems are developed, it’s mainly in semi-arid areas where no other agricultural activity can be carried out, because there is not enough rainfall. You cannot grow crops. The only activity for which you can use the natural resources is livestock. These livestock activities are really the main way to organise societies. Most of the society in semi-arid areas are living of livestock. So if you want these communities to be in peace and have a decent livelihood, you have to support them and give them the opportunity to develop their activities and to bring to them the services they need.

PC: How do you actually measure the value of grasslands?

A: To measure the multiple values of grasslands is really an issue. Because most of the time, people are measuring the impact of livestock activities in grasslands through their livestock production, through milk and meat production. This is mostly the value to which people are giving attention. But the other values are not taken into account. Most of the time, these values are very much underestimated. What we want to do, really, is to develop a methodology, so that we are able to measure the other values. These values are not only quantitative values - of course you can measure economic return and measure the quantity of product that people are delivering. You can, in some time, measure the environmental impact - the amount of carbon sequestration, the amount of greenhouse gas emission, the amount or quantity of different species, like animals and vegetation which are present in ranch lands.

But some values - especially social values - are difficult to measure. The way livestock activity is organising societies allows them to have social networks, social services and social relationships with others. These things are not so easy to measure. What we are trying to do now is to work together with the different stakeholders who are involved in grassland development and try to find ways to show others what the different values are and how we can assess these values in some way. That is the reason why we are developing a multi-functionality model which will be able to measure simultaneously these kind of values and to show people that grasslands is not only for livestock production but also for economic local development and social development.

PC: I would assume you probably have social scientists on your team and that you look at what the social fabric is like of the communities on the grassland. And I guess you need to look into the cultural values of the community, the way it is right now, and then certain norms and ideals come in. That’s difficult to measure, obviously, because you need to decide what is good and what is bad. Maybe you can give us an idea of how you try to measure.

A: Assessing the social value is not so easy, of course, you can involve social scientists to do that. And that is the way we are doing this job. But you also have to work with pastoralists and livestock breeders because they know what their expectations are from livestock and grasslands. So, you have to ask them and to work with them to be able to identify the real social and cultural values. And once you have identified these values, you can try to find some indicators and some ways to value them. And after that, these social values are important in terms of peace, in terms of social functioning of these societies on the ground. If you think about the present situation in most of the semi-arid areas in Africa, dealing with terrorism and so on, one of the reasons why these societies are not in peace at the moment is because there has been little attention paid to the systems and very little investment in these areas.

People are not able to develop their livestock activities, so they must find other ways to live. That is the reason why at the moment many international organisations are looking to this region to bring peace again. They realise we need to invest in these areas to bring peace. 

PC: Investment is obviously always a critical point. Somebody needs to bring money to the party to have investment. When it comes to something like grasslands, which is communal ground and not a single private owner, then it becomes difficult with the investment. What are the usual obstacles with investment?

A: I think the main obstacle to investment is that people do not identify what the returns from these ranch land areas are. If you think only about livestock production, livestock production is quite low in the areas, of cause, the production potential in these areas of the semi-arid parts of Africa or Asia or Latin America is very low. If you only think about livestock productivity value, it’s very low. [And if you do not] take into account all the other values in terms of biodiversity, the environment, in terms of social organisations, social peace, development of these people - because there are millions. If you allow these people to develop their societies and their environments, then you have other returns like peace and commercial activity - which is very low at the moment because there is a lack of connection between these societies in semi-arid areas and the whole market of animal production. There is a challenge to make these societies more linked to the international marketing, and national marketing in their own country.

PC: Policy change is a critical area. Everybody wants to change policy because that is the input level into politics and where the laws are supposed to be made. The classic way of governance is through policy that becomes law, and then things fall into place. What is your idea, how can you actually change policy agendas on your causes?

A: This is a main point: how to bring policymakers onto our team? There are different ways to do that. One of the first things is to explain to policymakers the multiple values of grasslands, because they are not aware of it. Most of the time, they are only speaking about livestock production values, and that’s all. One of the reasons is that in the past we have had many droughts impacting these areas, and we had a lot of discussions and a lot of messages at that time - 10 or 20 years ago - that these are areas where there is nothing in it for production and for the economy. We thought we were better off working with other areas, that are more humid and with more potential.

Most of the people now who are in ministries and in policy decision places have all these ideas in mind. We have to inform these people and increase their capacity and their knowledge on what is working in the grassland systems, what they are doing and what are the multiple values linked to these systems. Also, how they can contribute to livestock production because there is this big increase in livestock demand and this will carry-on until 2050. I do think this grassland system can contribute to livestock production. We have to inform policymakers and tell them that, and write good papers and policy notes to inform them and bring them the knowledge of the systems.

It is not only about words. We need some studies and concrete figures that show what will be the return if they invest in these grassland areas, and of these extensive livestock systems. They have to know if they invest, what will be return in terms of production, economy and also environment, because policymakers are more and more aware of environmental issues. But also in local development. Local development is one of the major areas where we need to work, because these semi-arid areas have political conflict and terrorism. If people invest in these areas, we can have peaceful societies. I think policymakers have to look at that, because they are interested into bringing peace into their own country.

PC: If you take it one step further, how can the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock help you with that?

A: To work with policymakers, the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, as a multi-stakeholder platform, is a good place to do this kind of job: to share information, to share results of studies on different types of livestock systems, and especially on grasslands systems. It is a place where we can build tools together: how do we work on these grasslands? How do we measure? How do we assess the values of grasslands? What are the relevant indicators? Of course, you have to work with pastoralists and livestock breeders, but it is important to have the opinion and perception of policymakers on what are their own expectations on grassland systems and livestock systems.

The Global Agenda, as a multi-stakeholder platform, is the right place to share knowledge and to build together new tools, new studies and to organise the next steps, and what will be the right actions to carry out the development of these grassland systems.

PC: The Multi-Stakeholder Meeting of the Global Agenda will be in Addis. We spoke about social benefits already for obvious reasons. This is also the subject of the MSP meeting in Addis. Tell us how you feel this subject can be promoted during the meeting.

A:  Te MSP meeting in Addis Ababa next May will be a good opportunity to bring together people from all over the world - from Africa, from Latin America, from Asia, from Europe - to discuss different topics. One of the topics, of course, will be restoring values to grasslands and identify the multiple values of grassland. From there, we will be able to organise activities to build action plans to go for assessment of the multiple-values of grasslands. We will be able to identify where we are going to work: what are the most important next steps and who will be the people willing to work on this activity. I think the MSP meeting is a good place to get new members, and to get new force, and new partnerships to go further in these activities of sharing and building knowledge on grasslands. And to help find new partnerships and build action plans for grasslands.

PC: What would be your most important next step on the Global Agenda, on the Action Plan from your perspective?

A: We now have a draft methodology to assess the multiple values [of grasslands]. In Addis, we expect to identify on which pilot site we are going to be able to do the job, and show and assess [values]. And, [be able] to show to all the stakeholders what these values are, and then be able to elaborate some documents. We are showing some films on these value; to show to the people and to the stakeholders to advocate for investment in pastoral systems and grassland systems.

PC: Do you have one result you can share already? A sneak preview?

A: A single result is not easy to define, but for example, we made films in different parts of Europe and Brazil, Canada, and even in Africa. It was so pleasant to see that when you interview people on what their expectations are and what the main values are, they express - though they have a different points-of-view whether you asking policymakers or breeders, or local development people involved in local policymaking - it brings different values to be able to have a comprehensive description of the complexity of these systems. But also, to be able to identify the main aspects that are important for the different stakeholders. It brings all that together, to be able to define the way to develop these systems.

PC: Thank you.

A: You’re welcome.