Grazing land

Authors: Eleni Briassoulis, Conceptión Alados

Editor's note 10Sept12: Add googlemap of grazing land study sites and part of table from  study site landing page with study site names.

Grazing land occupies 18-23 percent, or 24-31 109ha of the total world terrestrial land area (Groombridge 1992, Le Houérou 1980). In the Mediterranean region, they cover XXX million hectares, in China 538 million hectares and in Morocco 65 million hectares (Farvar & Jandaghi 1998, MADREF 2001, Croitoru & Sarraf 2010). Grazing lands are mostly encountered in hilly and mountainous areas.

Various types of grazing land are commonly distinguished based on the dominant vegetation cover type and the cropping system as shown in the following Table.


Major land use Vegetation cover type (group) Cropping system
Animal husbandry Extensive grazing Nomadic
Intensive grazing Animal production

Source: Engelen and Wen, 1995

Grazing land systems provide important ecosystem services such as food, forage, bio-energy and pharmaceuticals, regulation of soil and water quality, carbon sequestration, support for biodiversity and cultural services. These systems rely on ecosystem services provided by natural systems such as pollination, maintenance of soil structure and fertility, nutrient and water cycling. Inappropriate land management practices in grazing land may impair these ecosystem services and produce significant disservices such as nutrient runoff, drastic vegetation cover changes, loss of wildlife habitat, sedimentation of waterways, greenhouse gas emissions.

Grazing land worldwide is facing various LEDD issues that are driven by the demand for: (a) increasing food and biomass production for the growing world population; (b) adaptation to climate change; (c) expansion of urban areas; (d) tourism development and (e) over-exploitation of land resources. These lead to various degradation processes and LEDD problems such as soil erosion, soil compaction, organic matter decline, land desertification, and loss of biodiversity.

Responses to LEDD in grazing land vary with the spatial level on which they occur as well as on the general and specific mode of production in a particular grazing land region. Those responses may have either positive or negative effects depending on the biophysical and the human context. Positive responses may be generally considered the various conservation practices, such as livestock pressure control, supplementary food, transhumance or transtermitance, prescribed fires, and biodiversity protection policies, etc. Positive responses differ from one another as regards their efficiency as well as farmer expectations on their timing, cost and returns. Some responses, such as fire prescription, may be profitable in the short term due to reduced labor or/and machinery costs, but others may become profitable in the medium or in the long term (such as mechanical removal and transhumance).

Negative responses can be generally considered management practices such as frequent uncontrolled fires, overgrazing, land abandonment, policies that induce intensification or impairment of land resources, etc.

Land use change, planned or spontaneous, figures as an important response to LEDD whose effects depend on the type of change; for example, conversion of grazing land into urban settlements or tourism development usually produces unwanted environmental impacts.

To better understand the responses to LEDD in grazing land, to develop methods and techniques for their assessment and to provide land management and policy support for alleviating the pertinent LEDD issues, LEDDRA develops the »Theory of responses, offers »Response assessment methodologies, analyzes the »Policy context and provides applications in selected study sites in »Central Pyrenees (Spain), »Asterousia Mountains (Crete), »Timahdit (Morocco). The main findings of this analysis are presented in the »Synthesis section.



  • Croitoru, L. & Sarraf, M. 2010. The cost of environmental degradation: case studies from the Middle East and North Africa. World Bank Publications
  • Engelen, V.W.P., and Wen, T.T., 1995. Global and National Soils and Terrain Digital Databases (SOTER), Procedures Manual. International Soil Reference and Information Centre-ISRIC, Wageningen, Holland. 
  • Farvar & Jandaghi 1998. Asian Network on Rangeland Management in Arid Areas including Sand Dune Fixation. Thematic Programme Network III for Regional Co-operation under the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) 
  • Groombridge, B. (1992). Global biodiversity. Status of the Earth's living resources. Chapman and Hall, London
  • Le Houérou, H. N. 1980. Browse in Africa. The current state of knowledge. International livestock centre for Africa. Addis Ababa Ethiopia. 
  • MADREF 2001. Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, Waters and Forest. Statistiques ceréalières. Rabat.
2014-11-28 10:48:38