Mountain sheep grazing systems provide multiple ecological, socio-economic, and food quality benefits

Gonzalo Andres Gamboa Jimenez, Eneko Garmendia*, Arantza Aldezabal, Galan del Castillo Elena, Aitor Andonegi, Agustín Del Prado, Oihana García, Guillermo pardo, Noelia Aldai, Luis Javier R. Barron

*Corresponding author for this work

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Pastoral systems face increasing pressure from competing global markets, food sector industrialization, and new policies such as Europe’s post-2020 Common Agriculture Policy. This pressure threatens the use of extensive sheep-grazing systems in mountain areas of low productivity but high natural value. Using information gathered at a long-term research setting in a mountainous area of the Basque Country (northern Spain), we assessed the multiple benefits of extensive dairy sheep grazing systems from multiple perspectives using indicators pertaining to ecological, socio-economic, and food quality domains. In this way, we address the benefits that would be lost if sheep grazing abandonment persists in mountain regions. Our results show that the benefits of extensive dairy sheep grazing in the research area include the production of healthy and high-quality foods and multiple ecological benefits including biodiversity conservation. Extensive dairy sheep grazing also contributes to rural development by generating employment and income in marginal, low-productivity lands that can support few economic alternatives. In particular, we found that sheep farmers who produce high-value products, such as cheese, have enhanced their economic profitability and are less dependent on public subsidies. However, careful attention to sustainable practices, support for new generations of farmers, and streamlined supply chains are required. These would contribute to ensure socio-economic benefits for farmers, avoid the ecological costs associated with grazing abandonment, and enhance ecosystem services for the whole society.
Translated title of the contributionLos sistemas de pastoreo de montaña de ovejas proveen multiples beneficios ecológicos, soscio-económicos y de calidad alimentaria
Original languageEnglish
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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