Pastoral has won the inaugural Entrepreneur’s Award in Social Innovation (EASI), dedicated to rewarding entrepreneurs’ efforts towards solving social or environmental issues.

This dedicated developmental innovation start-up beat nearly 200 applicants to win a grant of £10,000 plus a 12-month support and fellowship package including introductions to other sources of funding, as well as access to support and development opportunities to further its project reach.

What is Pastoral?

Pastoral is an ambitious venture, co-designed and incubated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UK-based developmental innovation company Karakoram, born out of a desire to make a real impact, focusing on providing an effective solution to the environmentally disruptive farming practices of low-and-middle-income countries.

When describing the history behind the venture, Pastoral CEO and co-founder Josh Thomas says: ‘Many don’t realise the negative environmental impact of too many livestock animals coexisting within the same piece of land.

‘This is an issue in around 80% of the world, particularly low-income countries where farmers don’t have access to modern solutions and practical data and are therefore not equipped with the tools they need to make informed decisions and action change.’

The award-winning project

The team began by carrying out product and user trials in Uzbekistan, building a rapport with the leaders of a farming collective comprising thousands of livestock farmers earning as little as five US dollars per day.

35-37% of Uzbekistan’s pastureland can currently be considered poor or low productivity, with an estimated 1.5% of Uzbekistan's land becoming degraded every year.

‘Our priorities involved reducing land degradation and CO2 emissions, as well as helping these low-income farmers make a profit by providing them with reliable data,’ says Josh.

Some of the farmers Pastoral worked with owned herds with two animals per hectare, whereas the UN recommends only one animal for every 2.5 hectares: from the farmers’ point of view, more animals on their land equated to increased profit, yet their approach was causing irreversible damage to their pastureland.

‘Livestock is a huge emitter of CO2 equivalency, also contributing to desertification due to overgrazing. These issues could easily be solved by having fewer animals on the same land, but it is not as simple as that,’ Josh adds.

Identifying areas for change and profit

After their first trial in Uzbekistan, the team identified a potential for a 40% increase in profitability for farmers, most of which would come from eliminating outdated farming methods and modernising farming practices using technology.

There was also the potential to reduce pasture degradation and CO2 emissions by 30%. As a company with ESG at the forefront of its efforts, the team is keen to scale up project Pastoral to include more countries, namely Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, which hold the largest proportion of livestock on earth.

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‘With 100% market penetration, we have estimated there would be a reduction of eight megatons of CO2 in Uzbekistan alone,’ explains Shea McManigal, CFO and co-founder of Pastoral.

‘To put things into perspective, livestock farming in Uzbekistan emits 24 megatons of CO2 annually, which equates to powering 33.6 million homes for one year or extracting 255 million barrels of oil. It would make an enormous difference,’ he adds.

Pastoral, as well as their partners at the UNDP and Karakoram, aim to expand the reach of the Pastoral venture and develop it further to meet the requirements of secondary markets in Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, adding more features and sources of data.

Mobile technology speeding up ease of use

Its Chatbot-based format, which can easily integrate with front-end systems such as Telegram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger, can easily be adapted to the different needs of communities worldwide, providing an easy-to-use solution that employs technology they are already familiar with.

The communication tool was developed with all communities of low-income farmers in mind, no matter their location, allowing everyone to benefit from sharing valuable information with neighbours and those close by.

Long awaited recognition

When expressing joy at being selected as the winners of the EASI Award, Shea comments: ‘We felt like no one was listening to our story or acknowledging the significance of our project.

‘Livestock production forms one of the pillars of the world food industry and is a primary contributor to poverty reduction, food security and agricultural development. According to the FAO, livestock contributes 40% of the global value of agricultural output and supports the livelihoods of food and nutrition security of almost 1.3 billion people.

‘As entrepreneurs, we understand the importance of being tenacious: we are not in the business for quick wins, but to make a difference long-term.

‘Winning the EASI award made us feel like we were finally being heard, and that the value of our mission had been recognised.

‘We felt like no one was listening to our story or acknowledging the significance of our project.’

‘We are very grateful to have been offered support to reach our future goals and objectives. We want to thank The Company of Entrepreneurs and the award’s sponsors for providing entrepreneurs like ourselves with such incredible opportunities to make headway.’