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In April 2018, more than 1,000 people gathered in Falelung, a Nepali remote village in the Singalila range of the Kangchenjunga landscape for the country’s second annual yak festival.
Basant Pant, Tashi Dorji & Nakul Chettri
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Yak farming is common across the Kangchenjunga landscape – in Bhutan, India, and Nepal. However, this traditional practice has been on the decline. Deteriorating rangeland productivity has led to a fodder crisis, and inbreeding has led to a decline in overall yak health. New economic opportunities and outmigration are eroding the traditional herding culture, particularly among young generations. As a result, the yak herding tradition is on the verge of extinction.
The yak festival in Nepal, organized under the Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), highlights the significance of yak herding and the nomadic lifestyle to the region’s social, political, and economic wellbeing. It builds on ICIMOD’s efforts to revive this important tradition by promoting cooperation across borders to develop solutions to the issues challenging yak farmers.
“Yaks are part of the identity of Panchthar [a district in eastern Nepal],” said Basanta Kumar Nemwang, Member of Parliament in Nepal, as he spoke at the 2018 iteration of the festival.
Nemwang also acknowledged that there is hardship associated with yak rearing, adding that tourism and producing value-added products from yak milk could be instrumental in bringing herders out of poverty.
The festival focused, in particular, on how to develop and promote yak-related tourism, which has the potential to foster transboundary cooperation across the landscape. Visitors to the festival enjoyed yak rides, cultural programmes, and traditional highland food.
Tshering Uden Bhutia, a participant from Sikkim, India, noted that efforts like these from the Kangchenjunga Initiative have encouraged him to join hands to conserve yak and the cultural practices associated with yak herding.
Through only in its second year, the yak festival is gaining attention and momentum. A significantly higher number of visitors from India participated in 2018 compared to the first festival. Keshari Gurung, an entrepreneur from Ilam and member of the organizing committee, attested to this.
The festival was organized by ICIMOD, the Falelung-Kangchenjunga Eco-tourism Promotion Committee, and the District Forest Office of Panchthar, with support from local partners. KLCDI is supported by the governments of Austria and Germany.
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