A young Boran lady takes goats and sheep to the well, near Goray in South Ethiopia. Water is an important rangeland resource that influences herders’ decisions about rangeland use.
Photo: M.-L. Hertkorn


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Rangelands cover 30 per cent of the global land surface. They support a considerable share of the global ruminant value chains, are habitat for a high plant and animal diversity and have various ecological, economic and social functions. But rangelands are currently under pressure from global change processes. A focus on humananimal- environment interactions is necessary to avoid resource overexploitation and degradation.

Rangelands cover between 30 and 50 million km2 world-wide, which is two to three times the area used for farming. Rangelands exist on all continents in different agro-ecological zones, and comprise ecosystems as different as natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, desert fringes, tundras, alpine communities, marshes and meadows. Well-known examples are African savannas, the Australian outback, South America’s cerrados and campos, North American prairies and Central Asian steppes. Here, crop production is usually severely constrained, either by low annual precipitation with high seasonal and inter-annual variability, or by periodically low temperature, with both leading to rather short and often variable vegetation periods and high production risk. In rangelands, soils are covered with indigenous vegetation consisting predominantly of grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs. They are managed as natural ecosystems, provide a multitude of important ecosystem services and have a high potential to sequester carbon.

Rangelands are predominantly used for livestock production – about 70 per cent of the African and 25 per cent of the Latin American ruminant livestock population is kept on rangelands – and contribute considerably to the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) in many developing countries.

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