Skip to main content

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio*
We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state.
Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood revolves around pastoralism), semi-nomadic herders (migrate to higher pastures with their cattle; may cultivate land during monsoon/seasonally, if they have any), long-distance or transhuman pastorals engaged with transhumance is a grazing strategy (Sharma et. al., 2003, p. 23) and in India. Each pastoral family rear a specific or more breed/s of animals (buffalo, camel, cow, goat and sheep); and they rear herd/cattle in large numbers.
Pastoralism in Kachchh district is in a dryland, semi-arid region, hosts almost 60% of the total pastoral population, approximately 1.2 million, of Gujarat state. Of traditional 10 pastoral communities, we have covered more than 100 respondents from three communities, residing in Kachchh, namely Jat, Rayma, and Rabari; of total 10 taluka, two taluka – Lakhpat, Rapar (traditionally known as Gardo and Vaagad region respectively) are covered. The respondents’ families are from Rapar taluka (far east Kachchh) and from Lakhpat taluka (far western Kachchh).
Pastoralism in Kachchh district belongs to dryland, semi-arid/arid region livelihood strategy. Historically, in the 20th century, Kachchh witnessed normal rainfall every third year; such climatic conditions have shaped up farming and pastoralism in Kachchh. In the 21st century, Kachchh faced erratic rainfall, frequent droughts and heat waves, flood once, and cyclone once.

Pastoralists and climate change adaptation strategies

Whenever we hear or read about climate change (CC), the narratives are largely presented with tenors of an apocalyptic collapse of the world, as a threat to sustainable development, and overall human survival. One of the mainstreamed solutions for CC is ‘climate stabilisation’, which is to be managed through scientific, technocratic, and managerial engineering with the help of law and order. In this scenario, we aligned with two arguments related to CC – (i) every discourse is culturally conditioned and historically situated, and can navigate the climatic future accordingly (Hulme 2007; McCarthy, 2014; Rishi and Schleyer-Lindenmann 2021); and (ii) ‘fuzzy cognitive mapping’ (FCMs) (Singh and Chudasama, 2021) provides scope for expanding Climate Resilient (or Compatible) Development Pathways (CRDPs) framework. FCMs are evolved based on field data to expand CRDPs with the bottom-up approach based on culture, community (pastoralist), and occupation based (pastoralism) narratives; their values, traditional knowledge, and worldview, inclusive climate governance (institutions, policy, and practice) at multiple levels.

Figure 1: Climate Change, pastoralism, adaptation practices – our study’s approach

Four climate adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Gujarat

These adaptation strategies are articulated based on our field work and observations and sharpening them with ‘fuzzy cognitive mapping’ components to expand enabling conditions for CRDPs.
We consistently asked one question: ‘which are the skills and capabilities of pastorals to mitigate climate change?’. Based on pastoralists’ responses, we formulated a set of key linkages: climate-cattle-rainfall-forage-water-market. In this framework, two considerations occupy centre-stage: (i) cattle is the main asset for the pastoralists; and (ii) creating ‘coping mechanism/s’, and ‘reducing vulnerability’ are the ways to sustain cattle centric livelihood.

Figure 2: Pastoralists’ adaptation strategies to deal with climate change/variabilities

We identified four adaptation strategies/practices for withstanding climate variabilities by the pastoralists of Kachchh district:
(a) Migration on regular basis
A popular saying among pastoralists is, ‘we migrate wherever the fodder is’ explains their ethos and way of life. Pastoralists believe that cattle must be mobile/always on move to keep them in good health. Therefore, pastoralists migrate on a regular basis with cattle.
Migration of pastoralists as an occupational activity demonstrates a gamut of different abilities of the pastorals: (i) memory-based selection of routes, flexibility for modifying routes as and when required; (ii) micro-management for migration[2]; and (iii) dynamic use of knowledge and resources, wherever they migrate.
The benefits of this practice are: moving with their assets (cattle, two-wheelers); flexibility in exploring to newer places/pastures on spatial and temporal basis; harmonising with nature; sharpening traditional knowledge and using resources in a prudent, dynamic fashion[3] (adjusting to crops/ cropping pattern, variety of vegetation, water); and ability to maintain/sustain clientele/market – farmers, milk buyers, meat sellers – every year.
This strategy is presented with detailed maps of migratory routes. For taking a decision regarding migration, prediction of rainfall occupies a centre-stage, which help pastoralists decide about migration, i.e., short (within 20 km radius) or long (ranging between 80 to 200 kms) distance. Kachchh as a dryland receives average annual 300-500 mm rainfall. Most Gujaratis remember drought years of 1985 to 1989. During these years, these pastoral families continued migration for four years; the longest possible route of migration in last 35 years of migration history, i.e., from far west to far east Gujarat. This longest route was taken by the camel rearers.

Map 1: Longest migration route of pastoralists during drought years (1985-89) in Gujarat

Map 2: Shortest migration route of camel rearers in Kachchh district

These routes reveal that pastoralists survive with cattle due migration during drought years, which is one of the most acceptable adaptation strategies for climate change.
(b) Developing ‘climate foresight’ to enable adaptation to climate variabilities 
In the climate-cattle-rainfall-forage-water-market framework, prediction of rainfall also occupies a centre-stage along with cattle. Based on such predictions, pastorals decide about migration, dealing with climate variabilities, and plan for future actions accordingly.
  • We have documented about 40 ways of predicting rainfall, based on observations of: (i) nature/environment (wind direction; formation of dew, fog, and cloud; stars and constellation); (ii) behaviour of birds, animals (laying eggs; water consumption; camel’s sweat; change in chameleon’s body colour; etc.); (iii) behaviour of trees – flowering; spread of salty grass; change of colour; etc.; and (iv) other includes cultural practices.
  • Women’s traditional knowledge about health care of livestock to withstand climate variabilities is a significant component.
Such rainfall prediction help pastoralists to decide about migration, prior to the monsoon.
(c) Selection of breed
Selection and change of breed related decisions are taken based on the following considerations: managing herd population and its quality; ability to withstand climate variabilities; Dairy support (selling milk/milk products); and meat market (goat, sheep)[4]. Change in type of maal/animals, i.e., from zino maal to moto maal is mainly attributed to getting financial support from the government during extreme events.
Greater income as well as change in breed for seeking government support – these two strategies increase pastoralists’ ability to sustain the CC extreme events/variabilities.
(d) Access to market and sustaining market/clientele links at source and destination
Pastoralists earn their livelihoods from selling milk, manure, and meat to individual customers and to the market. The term ‘market’ refers to a place/entity as a ‘provider’ – it provides opportunity for income generation to pastoralists in organised manner, such as Dairy Cooperatives, meat sellers/producers, and manure buyers (farmers).
Basic economics of their livelihood is as follow: a group of 5-6 families migrate with about 2,000 goats and sheep for 250-300 kms. At destination, each family is able to earn Rs. 120,000-150,000 yearly, working with 100-120 farmers – through penning and dumpling of cattle on farms; selling manure, milk, and meat in markets.
Sustaining sources of income is identified as an adaptation strategy to continue traditional livelihood and to deal with climate variabilities.

Limitations of pastoralists vis-à-vis climate governance and political negotiations

The pastoralists are known for their migration, ability to rear herds of animals, and climate resilience. However, they are not able to deal with their invisibility as semi-nomadic and adverse consequences, such as: (i) they lack of citizenship proof (name on voting roll, proof of residence) and subsequently access to basic amenities; (ii) they lack of political clout and absence of political negotiations (losing due to small number); (iii) they are deprived of philanthropic support as well as support from the government for animal care in times of scarcity/drought/flood (existing policy/ programme does not recognise zino maal for financial assistance); and (iv) existing forest and wildlife protection laws deprived them of grazing rights (consequent rich nourishment to cattle) due to prohibited entry to protected areas. Such invisibility and lack of social support and security left pastorals to be on their own, subsequently weakening their adaptive abilities, adding to their struggles, compelling them for long time and long distance migration.

What can be done for pastoralists in climate change ear across the world?

The contribution of this study in the context of CC, climate governance, and sustainable livelihood/climate compatible development is – promoting culture based (traditional practices, knowledge), community based narratives (pastoralists and pastoralism) that deal effectively with CC. It adopted suitable methods (memory-based, life cycle approach) for documenting adaptation practices/strategies dealing with CC. By using fuzzy cognitive mapping, and adopting bottom up approach for inclusive climate governance, the study has articulated a need for recognition of pastoralism as a sustainable traditional livelihood, and its capability for ensuring climate compatible development.
As part of inclusive climate governance (institutions, policy, and practice), pastoral invisibility and non-recognition is a primary concern that needs to be duly addressed and recognised; pastoralists’ inabilities are to be reduced effectively through relevant climate governance measures, achieving climate compatible development.
Research regime on climate change could cover the following areas: (i) Two more areas that could be developed through research – climate litigation and pastoralists; and climate governance, FCM, CRD, and pastoralism; (ii) further studies combining scientific and technological base with social and cultural, community based narratives for pastoralism as a transhumance, livelihood strategy, on a temporal basis; (iii) Agroecology integrates low carbon based farming practices and pastoral support for natural manure, improving quality of soil, productivity, etc.; and (iv) need for research based police regime, rethink of the existing ‘conservation regime’ that restricts mobility to forests, and development of climate governance structures are suggested based on this study.


  • Hulme, Mike. (2007). The Conquering of Climate: Discourses of Fear and Their Dissolution, The Geographical Journal, 174(1), pp.5-16.
  • Krätli Saverio. (2015). Valuing variability: New Perspectives on climate resilient drylands development. IIED. Edited by de Jode, H. Available from: 10128IIED.html.
  • McCarthy, James, Chery Chen, López-Carr David, Louise Barbara, and Endemaño Walker. (2014). Socio-cultural dimensions of climate change: charting the terrain, GeoJournal, 79(6), Special Section on Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Climate Change: Charting the Terrain, pp. 665-675.
  • Mearns, Robin and Andrew Norton (eds.). (2010). Social dimensions of climate change: Equity and vulnerability in a warming world, Washington DC: The World Bank.
  • Nassef, Magda, Anderson Simon and Ced HeSSe. (2009). Pastoralism and climate change: Enabling adaptive capacity, London: Overseas Development Institute.
  • Rishi P., Schleyer-Lindenmann A. (2021) Psychosocial Dimensions of Culture-Climate Connect in India and France. In: Leal Filho W., Luetz J., Ayal D. (eds) Handbook of Climate Change Management.Springer, Cham.
  • Sharma Vijay Paul, Ilse Kohler-Rollefson and Jon Morton. (2005). Pastoralism in India: A scoping study. Ahmedabad: Indian Institute of Management.
  • Singh, P. K., & Chudasama, H. (2021). Pathways for climate resilient development: Human well-being within a safe and just space in the 21st century. Global Environmental Change, 68, 102277. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.1022
[1] The study is prepared for MARAG (Maldhari Rural Action Group) and is funded by Azim Premji University as part of the Research Funding Programme 2020.
[2] This include ensuring adequate quality fodder for cattle from farms and rangelands, for a longer period; opportunities to be created for dynamic use of resources; calculation about manure production and income; milk production and its marketing in the nearby areas; availability and accessibility of water for livestock; addressing safety concerns and so on.
[3] Pastoralists keep different species and breeds to make use of different ecological niches; this practice is to avoid overgrazing of a particular region. This provides opportunity to the region/s for restoration of its ecosystem (land, vegetation, biodiversity, water resources, etc.) and rejuvenation.
[4] Due to prevalent stigma and vigilantism by the ruling party about selling animals for meat, we are not able to pursue this matter further. Greater income increases pastorals’ ability to sustain vis-à-vis CC extreme events/variabilities.
*Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly is a professor, Institute of Law, Nirma University. She has worked, researched, and published widely on pastoralism and pastoralists, land issues and land rights, citizen’s rights and collective action, India’s Scheduled Areas, and e-waste management from the perspectives of rights and social justice.
Karen Pineiro has over 7 years’ work experience in programme management with development organisations and currently works as research consultant in association with social justice organisations in Gujarat on issues of gender, livelihoods, education, and health.



Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Repeated failure to appoint Chief, other commissioners undermining RTI Act

By Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri* The post of the Chief Information Commissioner of the Central Information Commission (CIC) has fallen vacant with the retirement of Bimal Julka with effect from August 27, 2020. This is the fifth time in the last six years that the Commission has been rendered headless. Four posts of information commissioners are also vacant in the CIC. Currently more than 35,000 appeals and complaints are pending in the commission resulting in citizens having to wait for months, even years for their cases to be disposed, thereby frustrating peoples’ right to know. Since May 2014, not a single commissioner of the CIC has been appointed without citizens having to approach courts. The failure of the government to make timely appointments of commissioners is a flagrant violation of the directions of the Supreme Court. In its February 2019 judgment, the apex court had categorically stated that if the CIC does not have a Chief Information Commissioner or required strength

Panchayat funds defrauded: Roads without potholes a fundamental right but not here

Kirity Roy, Secretary Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and National Convenor (PACTI) Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, writes to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** Through this complaint, I want to draw your attention to the plight of the villagers of Nawdapara in the District of North 24 Parganas. The village is situated under the Bagdah Police Station, Bagdah Block and Mama Bhagina Post Office respectively. Nawdapara is a Muslim minority populated village. Indo Bangladesh Border Road (IBBR) passes through the middle of the village. There is a naka checking post of the BSF inside the village and BSF associated with Mama Bhagina Border Out Post, 68 Battalion, ‘B’ Company guard 24 hours in that check post. People have lived in this village since the independence of India. The market is about three to four kilometres away from Nawdapara village. One primary school is situated within the village but the high school is about five to six kilo

Ultimate champion in crisis, arguably best ever skipper: Created history in Aussie cricket

By Harsh Thakor  In the history of cricket few cricketers knit and propelled a cricket team or had such profound influence on the game as Ian Chappell. Ian Chappell was responsible for converting a bunch of talented individuals into a world beating side, giving a dramatic turn to Australian cricket. Few cricketers ever led such a renaissance.

BSF's unconstitutional, whimsical order violates life, livelihood of Dalits, minorities

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I want to attract your attention towards the illegitimate restrictions on the life and livelihood of the villagers of Paschim Sahebganj village under Dinhata - II Block and Sahebganj police station in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal by the Border Security Force personnel attached with Dharala Border Out Post under 138 Battalion BSF. The population of Paschim Sahebganj village is around 1480, where almost 75 percent of the villagers belong from Hindu Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and 25 percent from minority Muslim backgrounds.The main occupation of the villagers is agriculture. About 260 acres of cultivable land in the village that belongs to the villagers is located outside the border fencing, which is heavily guarded by the Border Security Force (BSF). The BSF regulates the ingress and egress of the villagers to their fields through the fencing gates that a

Largest democracy in world has become weakest at hands of fascist Hindutva forces

Note on “The Nazification of India”, a report released By Justice For All: *** This report, the Nazification of India, compares how Hindutva ideology not only is inspired by Nazis and Fascists of Europe, but their treatment of the Muslim minority closely follows developments that resulted in pushing Jews to the gas chambers. Situation is indeed quite alarming. The report says that the largest democracy in the world has become the weakest at the hands of the fascist Hindutva ideology. India today is ruled not just by a political party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but its mother organization the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Because the BJP’s government policies are linked to extra-legal enforcement by RSS paramilitary street power, this report has coined the term “The BJP-RSS regime” to reflect their intrinsic links and collaborative relationship. The Nazification of India report marks the anniversary of the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 against Muslims which propelled the BJP-RSS

Varanasi social worker who has devoted her life for the ultra-poor and the marginalized

Passion Vista and its partners profile Founder and Managing Trustee Shruti Nagvanshi as  someone whom women leaders look up to: *** Shruti Nagvanshi, a social worker and human rights activist based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, has devoted her life to reaching out to the ultra-poor and marginalized communities in India. Born in Dashashwmedh, Varanasi on 2 January 1974, she married Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi on 22 February 1992 and has a son, Kabeer Karunik, a Business management Graduate who is also a national level snooker player.

An approach to lake/pond restoration by Ramveer Tanvar, Pond Man of India

By Monami Bhattacharya*, Mansee Bal Bhargava**  Lakes/ ponds are often referred to as an elixir of life, a living ecosystem that adds incremental value to the larger biota. Across the tropical landscape of the country lakes/ ponds are a common sight. Lakes/ponds have always shaped the life and livelihood of those dwelling in and around it. The dependence of the local population on these natural resources of water is noticeable since time immemorial. However, they are fading fast in both rural and urbanscapes from the popular parlance with the advance of humanity. It has been a popular notion to value land more than the waterscape and hence these nurturers of life are under stress in several areas. In many instances, these once beautiful waterscapes referred as the ‘Eye of the Earth’ are mostly now only dilapidated garbage dump yards emitting foul smell with no sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Urban crisis: Impact of erosion of democratic framework on Indian cities

By IMPRI Team  On 13th February, 2023, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi in collaboration with ActionAid Association India arranged a book launch followed by lecture series under the title “India’s G20 Presidency & the Urban Agenda for the Developing Countries”. The event was held in Indian International Centre (IIC) Annex, New Delhi. The event began with the book inauguration session, under the honorary presence of Mr Sitaram Yechury, former Rajya Sabha member and General Secretary, CPI (M), accompanied by Mr Sandeep Chachra, executive director, ActionAid Association India. Session 1 | Book Launch: ‘Cities in Transition’ by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar The book launched was “Cities in Transition”, written by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and a Senior Fellow at IMPRI. Beginning with brief remarks on his book, Mr Panwar outlined the basic subject matter and the purpose behind writing the book, which he considers as a by-product of his experien

Why rapid transition to green energy should be people-centric and community-led

Synthesis Report of IPCC AR6 is a warning call: Grounded action needed to ensure social and ecological justice: ActionAid Association note: *** The Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report is a warning call for action on the quickly closing opportunity of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade. Unless fossil fuels are rapidly retired, the impacts of climate change already faced by vulnerable communities will become difficult to handle. The IPCC report also highlights that we have the renewable energy technology, policy tools, and financial capital required for a just transition; however, “both adaptation and mitigation financing would need to increase many-fold”. The loss and damage caused by heat waves, crop failures, and rising sea levels suffered by majorities of India’s working peoples are already significant and uncompensated. News reports tell us that due to heat, India already loses around 101 billion hours yearly. E