Review of Working Group Activities

Temperate Asia Sub-regional Pasture and Fodder Working Group
Review of Working Group Activities.
John Morrison FAO Consultant
The Working Group is concerned with the great sweep of temperate farming of the upper
hills and the sub-alpine and alpine range areas of the Himalaya stretching in a crescent of some
3000 km from the Karakorum in west in Pakistan, the western and central Himalaya of India and
Nepal and the eastern Himalaya of Sikkim and Bhutan. So far the Group has not included Tibet
with its extensive alpine steppes or the mountains of western China, which form an eastern
extension of the Himalaya proper. These areas are at the limit of human settlement and
characterised by difficult environments, remoteness and low income. Livestock are a primary
component of the farming systems and the fundamental component of the transhumance pastoral
systems. The primary purpose of the Working Group, one of several supported by the Crops and
Grassland Division of FAO, is as a focus for research and development of pasture and fodder in the
temperate and alpine areas, through the exchange of ideas and discussion between professionals of
the four countries, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan at biennial meetings, this is the third (there are
similar working groups in South America, South East Asia and East Africa). FAO has provided
some pump priming support to a range systems study in each of the countries, upon which we
centre our discussion here. In 1997 IGFRI, with the support of FAO and as a Working Group
activity, organised a successful Himalayan fodder tree-training course at Jhansi and Palampur,
which was attended by young professionals from India, Nepal and Bhutan.
My initial involvement was with two FAO/ UNDP projects the Nepal High Altitude Pasture
Project and the Himalayan Pasture and Fodder Research Network [RAS/79/121]. AGPC set up the
Working Group in 1995 as a successor of the Network. Although one of the main objectives of the
Network was the “management of existing pasture and range” little was achieved in this area; I
recall only two range studies, herbage production of sub-alpine range at Kund in Pakistan by
Rafique and hay production from alpine range at Syanboche in Nepal by Pariyar. The main thrust of
the work was the introduction and testing of temperate grasses and legume for possible use in the
high altitude zone with the philosophy that range could be ‘improved’ by oversowing, which has
had little success or impact, although such intervention is of potential value if it can be integrated
with a system, perceived to be of benefit and is managed properly. There has been scant progress in
improving the management of alpine range. There are three main reasons for this: first the logistic
difficulties of working in these inaccessible areas and limited resources; second the understandable
conservatism of pastoralists using a common range resource; and thirdly inadequate knowledge of
the dynamics of the pastoral and crop-livestock
systems utilising the range. Meanwhile by many accounts much of the sub-alpine and alpine range
is deteriorating through overuse jeopardising the livelihoods of poor farmers and pastoralists.
There is a bewildering and complex range of Himalayan pastoral systems, which have
developed over centuries in response to variation in topography, climate, vegetation and culture.
There is good information on the botany and vegetation. There are many descriptions of migration
routes. But the systems themselves are not fully understood and there is a dearth of quantitative data
although there much is unreported local knowledge. There appear to be two broad transhumance
pastoral systems. In the western Himalaya, India and Pakistan, there are entirely pastoral goat/sheep
systems where the herders winter on the plains and migrate through the river valleys and forest to
summer on alpine pastures, migration routes as long as 500km. In the eastern Himalaya, Nepal,
Sikkim Bhutan and, possibly in India, yak and Chauri systems (with some sheep and goats) where
the livestock winter at c 3000m and migrate to alpine pastures, up to c 5000m, in summer; this
system is associated with cultures of Tibetan origin. In addition there are crop-livestock systems
(cattle, sheep and goats) utilising sub-alpine and alpine range, often overlapping with other
pastoralists, where crops are grown below c. 3000m, livestock are maintained on crop residues and
the lower pasture during the winter and move to alpine pasture in the summer. A common
characteristic is that household groups have traditional grazing rights or right through ownership on
particular range: they may lease this to others or as in parts of India pay a headage grazing fee to the
Forest Department. There is no control of the number of livestock using the range, although the
date of the start of grazing alpine and sub-alpine range may be controlled e.g. by the Village
Development Committee in Nepal or the Forest Department in India.
Working Group activities.
An understanding of dynamics of Himalayan pastoral systems is basic if research is to be
focused and any improvement is to be effected. What is the condition of the range? What is its
biological potential? Who uses it? How is it used? How does the community, timing, movement
and livestock density control grazing? What is the biological and economic output? What other
fodder, crop residues, lower pasture and tree fodder is used? What are the farmers’ perceptions of
problems? Are there opportunities for improvements in management, fodder production on
cropland, hay production and pasture improvement? Possibly stimulated by the pioneering
investigation of a pastoral system in Rauswa District in Nepal. A significant decision was made by
the Working Group at the Second Meeting in Dehra Dun in 1996 to undertake a systems study of a
transhumance farming or pastoral system in each of the four countries represented and agreement
on a pro-forma for the assessment of crop and rangeland systems which includes physical,
biological and socio-economic aspects. This provides a common purpose for the Working Group
will provide a better understanding of these systems and the methodology of undertaking such
studies and gives a focus for research and improvement. The plans were ambitious for studies over
two years and it is unlikely that the objectives have been met fully. I do not intend this as a criticism
but simply realism. I have seen each of the studies briefly and appreciate the formidable difficulties.
But four studies have or are being undertaken, two in Nepal, one in Pakistan and one in India.
The studies embrace the three broad systems I mentioned. In Rauswa District Nepal at
Chandanbari, the Tamang people farm in the valleys and migrate with chauris (yak x cattle) to subalpine well-defined sub-alpine pastures in forest glades/clearings; cheese making and sales are a
stimulus to development. The second study of the Sailung pasture area of Ramechap District is a
similar though distinct system practised by Sherpa people. Some of the range is open grassland but
much of it is grassland derived from forest clearing and the range area is increasing as a result of
tree cutting and grazing. In winter families and livestock winter in areas below 3000m and move to
summer camps c 3000m where they produce churpi cheese for sale. The Sherpas here are entirely
pastoral. Stimulated by the income from cheese, Tamang people who crop in lower land are
purchasing chauris and moving into the upper range. In Pakistan the study was based on Saif-ulmaluk range in the upper Kaghan Valley near Naran, a well defined grazing area enclosed in a
hanging glacial valley at elevations of 3000 - c 5000 m. Two groups of people share this range,
migratory goat/sheep pastoralists who winter on the plains around Rawlpindi and migrate 250 km
spending about 3-4 months in the summer on alpine pasture and farmers from the Kaghan Valley,
who own the grazing land and utilise the range during the summer with cattle and buffalo which
graze the lower areas of the range. The traditional Gaddi system being studied in India is a
goat/sheep system. The flock winter on the plains of Punjab, funnel through the Kangra Valley
towards Palampur and Dharmsala, some move to funnel through the Kulu Valley, eventually
fanning out to defined traditional alpine grazing areas above in Lahul Spiti. Traditionally whole
Gaddi families migrated: now many flock owners have become sedentary and hire Gaddi shepherds
to care for their flocks.
Three studies are being reported at this meeting. No study has been initiated so far in
Bhutan but we will hear something of pastoral systems there. Additionally we will be discussing the
methodology used in the various studies - success, failures and lessons learnt. It is the intention of
FAO to publish reports on the range systems studies, with a chapter describing the background to
Himalayan pastoral system, detailed reports on the individual studies and a final chapter reviewing
findings, lessons learnt and foci for further research and development.
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