The Ultimate Guide to Pastoral Farming in India: Everything You Need to Know

29 Jun 2023
The Ultimate Guide to Pastoral Farming in India: Everything You Need to Know
Pastoral farming in India has been a part of rural society for a long time. Pastoralism in India contributes significantly to the economy in terms of providing employment opportunities and supplying nutrition to the rural people. Pastoralists in India are spread over two major regions, namely, Western India and the Himalayas.

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Pastoral farming or pastoralism is the farming of livestock. It is a branch of agriculture which primarily focuses on grazing animals like horses, goats, and sheep. In India, pastoral farming is widely practiced in the Western India region and the Himalayan region. The most well-known pastoralists group in India includes Raika, Bharwad, Gaddis, Gurjars, and Kinnauras.  In the present blog, we will be looking at pastoral farming in India, its importance, benefits, and the challenges it faces in present times.

What is Pastoral Farming?

Pastoral farming is also known as pastoralism. Before understanding what is pastoralism, we must define pastoralism. Pastoralism or pastoral farming is one of the farming types which involves the raising of livestock like goats, sheep or any cattle on rangelands or natural pastures. Since it is practiced in a large area, the animals are allowed to move and graze freely.

They are, however, moved from one place to another to ensure that the grazed field has time to recover. This form of farming is common in regions where growing crops is not easy, such as in arid or semi-arid regions of India.

Its significance can be understood as it offers income and food to various people. Further, it conserves the cultural heritage of the people involved in it and ensures food security. It offers a diverse income stream to people involved in this industry.

Understanding Pastoral Farming

The long history of pastoral farming has ensured that it evolves with time. With the change in name, approaches and people involved, it has changed significantly to some extent yet remained a part of the culture, and the role of animals has been almost the same. Apart from pastoralism, it is also known as agro-pastoral. Talking of agro pastoral meaning, it is a farming practice which involves pastoralism, wherein rearing of livestock and crop cultivation co-exists.

Pastoral farming can be understood to a great extent from the following point:

Cultural and Traditional Aspects

Since it has been a part of livelihood for various people throughout history, it has often been passed down through generations, thus becoming a part of the overall culture. For some, it is an identity symbol, and for others, it is a way they live their lives.

Indigenous communities in India have been practicing pastoralism for a long time, making it a crucial part of their overall cultural activities and regular lives.

Role of Animals in Pastoral Farming

Animals are the primary gear of this system. They contribute towards food and other crucial resources to people involved in this.

These people have a high level of animal understanding and the surroundings that the animals prefer. This overall contributes to the improved farming practices of the animals.

Difference in practices

Pastoral farming is not performed similarly across the globe. There are two major different practices involved, nomadic and semi-nomadic.

The nomadic practices are practices in some parts of Asia and Africa where the people move from one region to another looking for pastures for the animals to graze, irrespective of any predominant region.

People in semi-nomadic practices are different to nomadic in the way that they allow their animals to graze in a common region.

Two Types of Pastoral Farming

Broadly speaking, pastoral farming has two forms, viz., nomadic pastoralism and transhumance. Let us understand the difference between nomadic pastoralism and transhumance.

Nomadic Pastoralism


It is a form wherein movements of herders in search of green pastures for their livestock takes place in an irregular pattern.

It is a form wherein movement from one place to another in search of green pastures takes place on a regular and seasonal basis.

There is no pattern in the movement.

There is a set pattern in the movement.

The pastoral members prefer desert plains in winters and higher plateaus in summer.

The members practicing this form prefer higher pasturelands in summer and lower valleys in winter.

They also do temporary crop cultivation wherever they go.

They do not do crop cultivation.

In India, this form is largely witnessed in the Western India.

The Himalayan region is the area where this form of pastoralism is largely witnessed.

The pastoral groups include Raika and Bharwad

The pastoral groups include Gaddis, Gurjars, and Kinnaurus.


Pastoral Farming in India

Pastoralism in India has been in existence since long but the pastoralists groups in the country have been least researched and most neglected groups. In India, pastoral farming is widely practiced in the regions of Western India and the Himalayas. The famous pastoralist groups in these regions are Raika and Bharwad in Western India, and Gaddis, Gurjars, and Kinnauras in the Himalayan region.

There are three distinct characteristics that define a pastoralist in India. These are mentioned below:

  • Pastoralists have a strong traditional association with livestock rearing.
  • Major part of groups derives more than 50% of their consumption from livestock products or sale of it.
  • Animal populations’ 90% consumption comes from natural pastures.
  • Households are responsible for a full cycle of livestock breeding.

State-wise Pastoral Groups in India – An Infographic

state wise pastoral groups

Importance of Pastoral Farming

Pastoral farming or pastoralism's importance can be understood as it is crucial in meeting the increasing national food necessity.

  • It is among the most common livelihood sources for millions of people. This ensures employment for both individuals and the families directly or indirectly associated with it.
  • It has been a part of various cultures and is considered a cultural heritage. It represents practices involved in traditional farming.
  • It has also become part of local customs and traditional knowledge; thus, preserving it also ensures the conservation of intangible heritage and cultural diversity.
  • In a well-managed pastoral land or system, animal grazing contributes to several advantages, such as it helps prevent the degradation of land, decreasing wildfire risk and maintaining open landscapes. This ensures support for the overall ecosystem functioning and health.
  • Animal-based food products are primarily obtained through pastoral farming like eggs, milk, and meat. The livestock raised forms a rich source of essential nutrients and proteins. It ensures the food security of people depending on non-vegetarian food sources.

Benefits of Pastoral Farming

There are several benefits of pastoral farming. Some of the key benefits are flexibility towards climate change, economic benefits, and rural development.

Flexible to Climate Change

Pastoral farming, throughout time, has proven to be resilient to climate change, though a small impact has been noticed in it.

It can help improve the life of land where the pastoral animal grazes. This frequently changes the structure of the soil, thus refreshing it and introducing carbon to it on a regular basis.

Grazing of the landscape offers the opportunity for new vegetation to grow, thus allowing regular renewal of nutritional elements in the soil.

The animals involved can graze marginal pastoral lands and utilize them to make valuable pastoral products. This flexibility allows it to flourish, whereas other agricultural forms are unable to flourish.

Economic Importance

Pastoral farming has significant economic importance. It offers huge employment opportunities to herders, farmers, and other people related to it.

This industry contributes to the national economy through the sale and purchase of pastoral products. It also supports the economy by creating a demand locally and thus generating income.

Rural Development

Pastoral farming or pastoralism is majorly practiced in rural areas as a part of livelihood. It offers opportunities to generate income, help elevate the standard of living of the people involved and improve the overall livelihood.

Rural development can be ensured with the promotion of pastoralism by supporting it through improved infrastructure, education, and healthcare for people in rural areas.

Challenges to Pastoral Farming

Pastoral farming has been practiced for a long time, and with changing times, it is also facing some challenges. Some of the core challenges it faces are:

Limited Market Access and Infrastructure

Since pastoral farmers are primarily from rural backgrounds, they often face challenges related to limited infrastructure.

This also means limited market access due to a lack of market knowledge, limited transportation, and poor storage facilities.

Global Warming

Global warming has negatively influenced pastoralism by reducing vegetation. Irregular rainfall and prolonged droughts have devastated the pastures' limited vegetation.

This leads to higher production costs, reduced livestock, and a greater chance of animal diseases.

These challenges can be addressed using a multi-faceted approach involving communities, policymakers, people, and government. Some usual solutions can be as follows:

Developing the infrastructure required by the pastoral farmers to ensure their produce has higher market access. Establishing the training centre to educate people regarding the market.

Adapting to the changing environment using improved water management, alternative practices to feed livestock and helping people involved in this industry by any means possible.


Pastoral farming has managed to evolve over time and remain a part of the lives of several people of mostly rural backgrounds. This blog has focused on the importance and benefits of pastoral farming in the country. It further focuses on the challenges pastoral farming has been facing in recent times and how a collaborative effort can help mitigate the challenges and associated risks.

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