The economics of sustainable pasture management in Georgia

Client: The ELD Initiative and the German Development Cooperation

Main Project Partner: The Regional Environmental Centre for the Caucasus (REC Caucasus) 

Altus Project lead: Vanja Westerberg

Challenge

Natural pastures cover around 25% of Georgia’s area, equivalent to some 1.9 million hectares. The region of Kakheti has the highest share of pastures in Georgia (GeoStat, 2016). The pastoral system is largely nomadic, with migrating pastoralists using high summer pastures in Akhmeta district and wintering in the southern lowlands (UNDP, 2014). An estimated 75% of the national sheep population are wintering in Kakheti.

However, winter pasture availability has shrunk due to loss of access to pastures in Azerbaijan and Dagastan with the end of the Soviet Union. Coupled with a growing export demand for sheep, this has led to increased stocking densities and pressures on land for livestock, often by individuals with no former experience in farming.

Moreover, longer heat waves, stronger winds and increasing demand for pasture land, are adversely affecting winter pastures. The resulting reduction in the biological productivity compromises food and water security of pastoral communities. Nomadic and sedentary pastoralists, are also lacking secure land tenure. This is complicated by the lack of designated communal grazing lands and a high prevalence of sub-leasing arrangements on winter pastures.

Actions

After several decades of experimental research and commercial application, there is no golden rule to sustainable and regenerative pasture management. In the light of this, we analysed three feasible and pasture management interventions that can address overgrazing, namely:

  • The balancing of forage supply with forage demand under continuous grazing schemes, through de-stocking.
  • The use of multi-paddock adaptive grazing and drawing on principles of holistic planned grazing to allow for the regeneration of soils and recovery of forage biomass.
  • Annual enclosures and slow rotational grazing to enable long recovery periods of forage.

Each has their merits and proven capacity to recover land cover productivity in different environments and contexts, and it was therefore relevant to assess their feasibility in the context of Kakheti.

Impact

Combining primary data (from over 300 face-to-face interviews), literature, experimental results from the Vashlovani National Park, calibrated remote sensing data, and interviews with pasture management experts from the Savory Institute and Savory Network Hub in Turkey, we were able to offer valuable lessons on how to promote the regeneration of pastures in the semi-arid environments of the Caucasus. In particular, we found that:

  • There are economies of scale of semi-nomadic pastoralism in Georgia. Larger holdings have lower costs per animal unit and higher profit margins.
  • De-stocking to meet carrying capacity of land is costly and economically unfeasible for the majority of pastoralists with small and medium-sized herds.
  • Multi-paddock adaptive rotational grazing, in alignment principles of holistic planned grazing, leads to highest net benefits to pasture users, based on ex-ante modelling and forage recovery rates, extrapolated from sites with similar climates.
  • Long-term enclosures and slow rotational grazing, leads to significant biomass recovery, but the opportunity cost of not grazing does not compensate for the reduced grazing area, in the absence of economic incentives.

Therefore, from an economic perspective, conventional mainstream policies focused on “de-stocking” will not be sufficient, nor attractive as a means to reduce land degradation of pastures.  Legislation needs to be favourable to collective grazing – such as Common Property Resource Management (CPRM) schemes and cooperatives, especially on village pastures – to allow for the pooling of costs, as opposed to the individualisation and privatisation of pastures.

Currently, municipal authorities have no jurisdictional power over village pastures. Clear regulatory frameworks and land use planning capacities are necessary to move beyond the status quo and create the necessary incentives for pastoralists to plan, invest and manage pastures sustainability.

Multi-paddock adaptive rotational grazing is the most promising strategy, economically speaking, for regenerating pasturelands.  It can be adapted to any scale, small as well as large pastures, and on communal as well as privatised land, but it requires skilful use of fencing or visual herding. 

In 2022, the first ever law on pastures in Georgia came under drafting, drawing on the ELD study (see impact testimonials below). Study results also helped secure funding from the Global Environmental Facility and the roll-out of large scale adaptive rotational grazing led by REC Caucasus.

For more information, please consult the study outputs

Case Study

Policy Brief

Presentation of the main study results

Recorded presentation of the main study results and recommendations.

Other relevant resources

Legal Analysis, by Sarah Robinson

Valuable partners

This study would not have been possible without the valuable support from the REC Caucasus team, in particular Sophiko, Giorgi Arabulli and Jenya Mekhtieva; the Savory Hub, including Daniela Ibarra-Howell, Duran Dudukan, Byron Shelton and Rolf Pretorius; Tornike Phulariani at UNDP; Giorgi Ghambashidze at the Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture; Beka Gonashvili the Head of Dedoplistskaro Pasture Association; Giorgi Mikeladze, biophysical modeller at GISLab, Nodar Khokhashvili, Head of Sectoral Development MoA; Irakli Shavgulidze and Teimuraz Popiashvili from NACRES and Natia Kobakhidze, Christian Goenner, Antje Hecheltjen and Mark Schauer at GIZ.

Impact testimonials

By Sophiko Akhobadze (2020), DirectorThe Regional Environmental Centre for the Caucasus (REC Caucasus)

“The ELD study on the Economics of sustainable pasture management has been extremely important for elaboration of a pasture management programme and policy design in Kakheti.  We have applied many pieces of ELD study in our background studies of pasture management in Georgia. Furthermore, now we are in a phase of starting the elaboration of a full-scale pasture management policy and feasibility study for Georgia. Once again, we will use its main findings in our work, especially since the Deputy Minister for the MoA underlined that the economic assessment of pasture management is key to elaborating feasible pasture management strategies in Georgia. The Head of Sustainable Land Management and the Land Use Monitoring Agency also highlighted that it is extremely important to pilot the most preferred intervention proposed by the ELD study (i.e. adaptive rotational grazing) in the field. We plan to pilot this intervention within our GEF funded project”… “The ELD study has helped us to mobilize funding from GEF to pilot adaptive rotational grazing on a large scale”

By Sarah Robinson(2023), Consultant on pastoral land tenure for the Regional Environmental Centre for the Caucasus.

“In 2022 I participated in the production of the Georgian National Pastureland Management Policy Document (NPMPD) as part of the GEF-funded Project Achieving Land Degradation Neutrality Targets of Georgia.

The aims of the Pasture Management Policy Document and subsequent law on pasture is to (i) design/advise on tenure arrangements which provide legal access to all types of pasture user; (ii) outline mechanisms to support sustainable management and (iii) identify roles and responsibilities at local and national level”

As such, the NPMPD lays the foundation for the first law on pastures in Georgia, which is currently under drafting. Previously I participated in the ELD project on the Economics of Pasture Management in Georgia. Through the ELD study it became clear that the major issue, which hinders sustainable pasture management in Georgia was the tenure system itself. It works by leasehold auction and thus does not provide formal access to the majority of users or allow integrated pasture management planning at the landscape or grazing-system level. Concerning the individual decisions of pasture users, the ELD study clearly showed that rangeland management solutions are subject to a number of trade-offs and for pasture users, are likely to be viable only under certain conditions. Moreover the question of tenure also affects the economics of these interventions as current costs of leasehold and other fixed costs are so high. I drew directly on this study during the elaboration of the Georgian NPMPD and indeed without the findings from the ELD study, it would have been difficult to conduct this work.