Pastoralism is a form of animal husbandry where domesticated animals known as livestock are released onto large vegetated outdoor lands (pastures) for grazing, historically by nomadic people who moved around with their herds. The species involved include cattle, camels, goats, yaks, llamas, reindeer, horse and sheep.
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Pastoralism is found in many variations throughout the world, generally where environmental characteristics such as aridity, poor soils, cold or hot temperature, and lack of water make crop growing difficult or impossible. Operating in these more extreme environments with more marginal lands, mean that pastoral communities are very vulnerable to global warming.
Pastoralism remains a way of life in many geographies including Africa, the Tibetan plateau, the Eurasian steppes, the Andes, Patagonia, the Pampas, Australia and many other places. As of 2019, 200-500 million people practise pastoralism globally, and 75% of all countries have pastoral communities.
Pastoral communities have different levels of mobility. Sedentary pastoralism is becoming more common as the hardening of political borders, land tenures, expansion of crop farming, and construction of fences and dedicated agricultural buildings all reduce the ability to move livestocks around freely, leading to the rise of pastoral farming on established grazing zones called ranches. Sedentary pastoralists might also raise crops and livestocks together in the form of mixed farming, for the purpose of diversifying productivity, obtaining manure for organic farming, and improve pasture conditions for their livestock. Mobile pastoralism includes moving herds locally across short distances in search of fresh forage and water, something that can occur daily or even within a few hours; to transhumance, where animals are routinely moved between different seasonal pastures across regions; to nomadism, where pastoralists and families move with the animals in search for any available grazing grounds without much long-term planning. Grazing in woodlands and forests may be referred to as silvopastoralism. Those who practice pastoralism are called pastoralists.
Pastoralist herds interact with their environment, and mediate human relations with the environment as a way of turning uncultivated plants like wild grass into food. In many places, grazing herds on savannas and woodlands can help maintain the biodiversity of the savannas and prevent them from evolving into dense shrublands or forests. Grazing and browsing at the appropriate levels often can increase biodiversity in Mediterranean climate regions. Pastoralists shape ecosystems in different ways: some communities use fire to make ecosystems more suitable for grazing and browsing animals.