Banjara livestock keepers from Maharashtra - without grazing rights and markets, their future livelihoods are threatened.

Banjara livestock keepers from Maharashtra - without grazing rights and markets, their future livelihoods are threatened.

Livestock Keepers' Rights

Livestock Keepers’ Rights are a concept developed by civil society through a series of grassroots consultations with indigenous livestock keeping communities during the “Interlaken process” during the “Interlaken process” that led to the Global Plan of Action on Animal Genetic Resources. Initially only advocated for by a group of non-government organizations, livestock keepers, pastoralist associations and scientists who support community-based conservation of local breeds, while governments resisted. But as a consequence of the recently concluded Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing, there is now increased interest even among governments in addressing Livestock Keepers’ Rights.

Why Livestock Keepers' Rights?

In the course of 12 millennia, livestock keepers have domesticated more than 40 mammalian and bird species. They introduced their animals into new ecological zones exposing them to natural selection pressures, and they purposively selected those animals that meet their needs. They thus shaped and diversified their livestock into groups of animals with definable characteristics or “breeds.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO)  has recorded more than 8,300 of them. The bulk of the breeds are excellently adapted to the environments they have been maintained in for many decades and centuries.

Since its inception in 2000, the LIFE Network has argued that such locally-adaptedor “local” livestock breeds can not survive without their “keepers.” Therefore the best way of conserving themwould be to create an enabling environment for livestock keepers so that they can continuemaking a decent livelihood from their breeds. Out of this rationale, the concept of “Livestock Keepers Rights” was born during the World Food Summit held in Rome in 2002.

The concept was further developed and refined in a series of meetings where hundreds of livestock keepers from more than 20 countries participated. Theyespecially discussed the threats that undermine the ability of livestock-keeping communities and ecologically-oriented livestock keepers to continue acting as stewards of their breeds.The outcome wasa set of sevenkey elements or “cornerstones” of rights and support these livestock keepers would need to continue breeding and managing their breeds in the habitats which the breeds are adapted to.


Through another workshop and with the help of lawyers, the cornerstones were eventually developed into three principles and five rights,worded in a legally acceptable language. Different from their counterpart “Farmers’ Rights”that address issues around the use, exchange and propagation of seeds and materials from certain plants, Livestock Keepers’ Rights reflect development principles that can help livestock keepers continue conserve biodiversity, rather than legal rights. This makes Livestock Keepers’ Rights a much broader concept than Farmers’ Rights.

Livestock Keepers’ Rights

Principle 1: Livestock Keepers are creators of breeds and custodians of animal genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Principle 2: Livestock Keepers and the sustainable use of traditional breeds are dependent on the conservation of their respective ecosystems.

Principle 3: Traditional breeds represent collective property, products of indigenous knowledge and cultural expression of Livestock Keepers.

  • Right 1: Livestock Keepers have the right to make breeding decisions and breed the breeds they maintain.
  • Right 2: Livestock Keepers shall have the right to participate in policy formulation and implementation processes on animal genetic resources forfood and agriculture.
  • Right 3: Livestock Keepers shall have the right to appropriate training and capacity building and equal access to relevant services enabling and supporting them to raise livestock and to better process and market their products.
  • Right 4: Livestock Keepers shall have the right to participate in the identification of research needs and research design with respect to their genetic resources, as is mandated by the principle of Prior Informed Consent.
  • Right 5: Livestock Keepers shall have the right to effectively access information on issues related to their local breeds and livestock diversity.

For a detailed history of Livestock Keepers' Rights and the process by which they were developed, click here