How 1 billion pastoral herders are regenerating the planet

Every year in spring and autumn, Ashoka Senior Fellow Jesús (Suso) Garzón and millions of shepherds around the world migrate between climatic regions in search of greener pastures with their livestock. Following the natural rhythms of the seasons, pastoral herding regenerates the earth. What if we let our fellow inhabitants on Earth lead the way more often?

We spoke with Jesús — founder of Transhumancia y Naturaleza — live from the Madrid Sierra about his life-altering experiences in nature, the regenerative power of pastoral herding, and the wisdom of communities who live closely and harmoniously with animals. Watch the full conversation in English or Spanish. Here are some of the highlights:

“We are part of nature”

Jesús was born in Madrid and was raised mainly in the countryside between Cantabria and Estremadura in Northern Spain. He had a magical experience in nature at a young age which carved the path he has been on ever since.

Shepherds leading planetary conservation 

It is through his work as a nature conservationist during the first 30 years of his career that he came to understand the importance of shepherds and pastoral herding. 

 1 billion pastoral herders across the world 

1992 was a pivotal year. At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 150 world leaders recognized the “vital role of Indigenous Peoples” and ancient cultures for sustainable development. This is when it clicked for Jesús that thanks to its ancestral (but dwindling, at the time) culture of Transhumance, or migratory shepherding. Here, he explains the benefits of pastoral herding for humans and the planet:

Bringing Transhumance to urban centers 

Before there were roads or train tracks, Spain developed an intricate network of cattle trails across 400,000 hectares of its peninsula. Unlike any other country in the world, it had the wisdom to protect and conserve those trails since the 13th century, though many herders gradually stopped using them. Jesús resolved to revive those trails and to bring Transhumance into the hearts and minds of the average Spaniard, young and old, urban and rural.  

Drawing down carbon, 1 billion herds at a time 

Jesús big message? We urgently need to address the climate crisis and pastoral herding is one tried and tested tool to draw down carbon on a massive scale. Each hectare of land maintained through pastoral herding can absorb between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of carbon. What are we waiting for?