Carol Kerven and Rashmi Singh
Kinnaura herder leads his sheep and goats across the Pin-Bhaba pass, India. Photo: Munib Khanyari
Countries of south Asia - India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan - contain many groups making their living mainly by raising livestock extensively on pastures, often migrating seasonally between the high altitude Himalayas to the plains (Rao and Casimir 2003; Sharma 2011). These pastoral groups are experiencing profound transitions due to social, political, ecological and climatic factors. Improved connectivity with roads, as well as development of towns, markets, health and education facilities, are all offering new opportunities. On the negative side, constriction of pastureland by new settlements and officially protected areas is reducing access for livestock grazing. Socio-economic differentiation and inequality are rising within pastoralist groups. Climate change is rendering some areas either less or more attractive for livestock. Ultimately, these drivers result in winners and losers, as some pastoralists successfully adapt to new opportunities and pressures, while others are pushed out of pastoralism. Controversies abound on the optimal ways that pastoralism should proceed in these countries.
Often migrating with their livestock between ecological zones (Agrawal and Saberwal 2007; Bhasin 2011; Kreutzmann 2012), south Asia’s pastoralist peoples are users and custodians of vast land areas in flora and fauna hotspots. There are other claims on this land – by farmers, foresters, town-dwellers, hunters, tourists, and nature conservationists. These combinations - and often conflicts - of land usages have complex effects on the environment as well as on pastoralists’ livelihoods.
Yak herders in Bhutan. Photo: Phub Dorj
A Special Issue on this topic was commissioned by Pastoralism earlier this year. Seven research case studies are now published whose first authors are scholars and scientists from the south Asian region – India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. The peoples and places include migratory Kinnaura and local herders using the Pin valley in Himachal Pradesh, India; Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh and the Van Gujjars of Uttarakhand, India; agropastoral Gaddis in Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh, India; transhumant agropastoralists in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan; agropastoralists in Madi Chitwan, Nepal; Dokpa pastoralists of North Sikkim, India; and pastoralists using Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve and buffer zone, Bhutan. The study areas border on Afghanistan to the west, Xinjiang and Tibet (PRC) to the north, and cover agro-climatic zones ranging from moist temperate valleys and foothills to alpine meadows and cold arid deserts. Grazing these areas are domesticate sheep, goats, cattle, yaks, horses and buffaloes, moving between 1,000 up to 5,000 masl, depending on the season. Numerous wildlife species also share these lands, such as snow leopard, Asiatic ibex, blue sheep and Tibetan wolf, having protected status.
Agrawal, A., & Saberwal, V. K. 2007. Whither South Asian pastoralism? An introduction. Nomadic Peoples, 8(2), 36–53. https://doi.org/10.3167/082279404780446113
Bhasin, V., 2011. Pastoralists of Himalayas. Journal of Human Ecology, 33(3), pp.147-177.
Kreutzmann, H. (Ed.). 2012. Pastoral practices in High Asia. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Rao, A. and Casimir, M.J., 2003. Nomadism in South Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sharma, A., 2011. South Asian Nomads--A Literature Review. CREATE Pathways to Access. Research Monograph No. 58. Centre for International Education. Brighton: University of Sussex https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED519542.pdf
Gaddi pastoralists at transhumance rest stop, India. Photo: Aayushi Malhotra
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