What are rangelads?

Rangelands are major ecosystems within the HKH region and, for a large number of local people; they provide the main or the only livelihood resource. At the same time, these rangelands also provide high value ecosystem functions and services to the mountain peoples’. More than 60% of the Hindu Kush Himalayan and Tibetan Plateau region consists of rangeland ecosystems and are much like rangelands of other parts of the world, they are a marginal resource, naturally low in productivity and highly variable in terms of water and forage availability. These rangelands support a large livestock industry, accommodate important water shed functions, and provide valuable and biologically diverse resources. They also reflect a diverse cultural landscape, concurrently shaped by physical forces and human use. In this context it is important to view the rangelands not only as resources to sustain the livestock, but also as a complex environment with diverse array of amenities and possibilities and rich cultural milieu. Despite the importance of rangeland resources to and local and national economies, most government and development agencies have neglected them, though the potential of rangelands to contribute significantly to economic development and biodiversity conservation is high.

The people of this region have sustained themselves in what can be described as one of the harshest landscapes on the earth, relying on extensive and opportunistic mobility of livestock to procure forage from the native grasslands and shrub lands and through cultivation of a rich knowledgebase, including elaborate mechanisms to collectively manage resources. These communities increasingly find themselves at the fringes of modern society and the development process. Their economy and way of life, and the environment upon which they depend, are poorly understood, they struggle to make ends met in world that increasingly sees their way of life as ‘backward’ and ‘irrational’. Yet these communities have proven themselves to be quite resilient and have adapted to change when swayed and constrained marginal dryland regions of the world as an adaptive strategy to survive a harsh and uncertain environment. Despite the rhetoric to contrary, extensive livestock grazing and diverse array of common property regimes (CPR’s) that manage human and livestock movement have been shown to help maintain rangeland health, especially if pastoralists can maintain a degree of mobility that fosters optimal use of pasture resources. Fortunately many local institutions are still in place that regulate spatial and seasonal access to pasture resources in the remote rangeland regions of the Himalaya and Tibetan plateau.

Despite their skills, pastoralists of the HKH, like those throughout the world, face a number of growing challenges that constrain them from exercising their full traditional rights and practices. These include natural factors such as desiccation of pastures due to changing climate, and significant loss of livestock during severe drought of excessive snowfall events. In addition, pastoralism as a way of the life is increasingly challenged due to a number of socio-economic factors, such as: regional population increase, encroachment, generally poor infrastructure, social services, and market access for mobile communities, increasing education and employment opportunities outside the pastoral sector, and a shift to a more monetary economy. Government policies and development programmes also significantly influence the way local pastoral communities’ access and manage rangeland resources. Though often well-meaning. These programmes are driven by general disdain for the pastoral way of life and poor understanding of the efficacy of pastoral production systems and rangeland ecology amongst policy makers who mainly hail from low lying agricultural areas. In the name of the ‘sustainability’ These policies have often resulted in outcomes opposite of what was originally intended, leading to increased environmental degradation through the reduction of livestock mobility and the marginalization of pastoral communities through heightened economic and social risks. Such actions, depending on the geopolitical environment, include:

  1. Appropriation of the more productive pastures by the state (perceived as “vacant” land) for crop cultivation, where investment sand political authority are vested in sedentary agricultural populations
  1. Closure of land for “protection” resulting in loss of access to high quality pastures.
  1. Separation of the legal ownership of natural resources from their users, leading