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People Flock to See Shepherd Protest

Paul Hamilos of The Guardian
September 10, 2007

Madrid, Spain

Usually it's the endless traffic jams, interminable roadworks and streets so tight that two cars can barely scrape through without losing a wing mirror that make driving through Madrid a challenge. Yesterday it was the sheep.

As part of an annual protest calling for the protection of traditional grazing routes, Spanish farmers herded around 1,000 sheep and other farm animals through the city centre yesterday.

Thousands of miles of ancient paths, including some that traverse the capital, are supposedly protected by Spanish law to allow farmers to move their livestock from summer to winter grazing land. But, just as the coastline has been devoured by property speculation, so have these farming routes. The environment ministry has warned that one-third of Spain risks being turned into desert because of over-grazing, modern farming techniques and property development.

Alongside farmers from across Spain shepherds from 40 countries, including Mongolia, India, Kenya and Mali, took part in the event. They came with a universal message - that their land and livelihoods are in the hands of governments and developers intent on modernisation at any cost. The farmers argue that as populations become more sedentary and pastoral farming dies out, so does the land, causing desertification and dwindling food supplies.

Batu Eerdun, from southern Mongolia, had made the trip to learn from other pastoralists and publicise the plight of nomadic farmers in his homeland. "The Chinese government is taking our land," he said. "We are losing our great tradition of pastoral grazing."

A group of Kenyan nomads explained that, while images of traditional farmers are used to publicise the country as a tourist destination, their rights to the land are steadily being eroded. "The government does not respect our contribution to the economy. We want them to give us our rightful place," said Clement Isaiah. Anna Muhale from Tanzania said her government's tourist policies were taking away grazing land from families that had farmed it for centuries, in order to develop natural parks ideal for safari holidays. "They value animals more than human beings," she said.




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Close to Eden (Urga): France, Soviet Union, directed by Nikita Mikhilkov

Beyond Great WallsBeyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

The Mongols at China's EdgeThe Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity

China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

The Ordos Plateau of ChinaThe Ordos Plateau of China: An Endangered Environment (Unu Studies on Critical Environmental Regions)
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