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Chapter 6. Ancestral nomadism and farming in the mountains Agro-pastoralism and gathering food system of the Bhotia and Anwal peoples in Uttarakhand, India

Section 2 Sustainability of the Indigenous Peoples’ food system


Adequacy of income opportunities

The majority of households are farming or rearing sheep. The schedule caste families practise blacksmith and traditional carpentry. A minority are involved with trade and business, such as in the few shops located in the village. In the family, the most senior working male leads the household. He is responsible for generating income for the family, purchasing goods from the market, official work, and other income-generating activities in distant villages or towns. He is also responsible for cattle grazing and financial decisions.

The villagers of Namik use the major part of their food produce for their own consumption. Today, only 20 to 30 percent of their total income comes from activities related to the food system. Sheep rearing provides the majority of their main cash income. Sheep and goats are sold to nearby communities, and sheep herds in particular are sold in large scale to outside traders. Compared with agriculture, this constitutes a more profitable business, as the sales price of one sheep is approximately INR 3 000 to INR 20 00032 depending on its size and age. Monetary income has increasingly become essential for the communities to afford children’s education, clothing and other necessary items.

Certain crops like kidney beans, potatoes, garlic and maize as well as some milk products, such as clarified butter, are bartered or sold in the local markets and nearby villages to obtain some cash income. But the amount of these crops and other food products is very little, covering around 10 percent of a household’s average cash income. Whilst the community first began selling only excess production of kidney beans and potatoes, they now grow these crops especially for the market, as well as to barter them for rice, which cannot grow at the altitude of the village. Preferably, community members save their high-quality products for the market and as seeds, whilst the rest is destined for self-consumption.

Villagers sell processed products like ghee, honey, finger millet flour and chaang within the community as well as to nearby communities. Ghee is obtained from boiled cream and then packed in plastic or tin containers. Finger millets are dried, cleaned, and grinded in the traditional watermills and then sold. Chaang is a homemade beer made from rice and barley, usually prepared by Bhotia women with traditional inoculum. Finally, community members also sell woven jackets, carpets and sweaters in nearby villages or towns, as well as to tourists who visit the village.

However, one of the major problems in trading products is transportation. Community members use mules or sometimes carry their products on their own back. Prices for the products rapidly rise to compensate for the time it takes to transport them to markets that are far away, and they end up not being competitive compared to other important suppliers. By the time vegetables arrive at the market, they have started to become stale or less fresh, and community members cannot obtain an adequate price. Therefore, the community cultivates crops that could be stored and bartered at any time. The rentability of bamboo and woollen handicraft is low, although they have a high added value on the market. Community members do not benefit from proper market linkage to big markets, and retribution from local customers is not high enough; hence, few quantities are produced.

The cash income earned by the community is used for household needs like buying food products, such as sugar, tea-leaves, cooking oil, jaggery, salt, spices, fruits, chicken, eggs, rice, soap, detergent and vegetables, as well as medicines and medical treatment. They can also support their children’s education and buy clothing and other necessary items. Additional expenses also now include mobile phones, mobile recharging costs and television recharging costs. However, income generation from the food system is not enough to meet the community’s food demand. Community members are, therefore, dependent on government ration supplies to meet their needs.

Adequacy of diets

Namik villagers consider a healthy diet as one consisting of meat, eggs, green vegetables, kidney beans, ghee and milk. Rice is the main staple food in the community, consumed regularly for lunch. It was primarily received through the barter of kidney beans, but is now bought at the market or available in government ration shops. Together with wheat flour and pulses, these food items are eaten regularly throughout the year. Community members prefer to eat rice and pulses for lunch and reserve wheat bread or finger millets bread with curries and fresh vegetables for dinner. Kidney beans, potato and maize are the traditional crops of the Namik village. Milk and milk products are also regularly consumed, in contrast to meat, fruits and nuts. Costly and usually externally sourced, they are typically reserved for special occasions, such as during the festival season in late monsoon and fall. Monsoon is the period when diets are complemented with wild edibles such as fiddlehead and mushrooms. Further, the consumption of vegetables varies due to their seasonal availability. As such, the consumption of green vegetables is higher during fall and winter. Millets, corn flour and kidney beans are eaten in larger quantities during the winter, whilst cabbage and peas are consumed during summer. Buttermilk and ghee are common supplements to every meal. The main food of the Anwal during migration to meadows is sattu, which is made from roasted barley, wheat and ragi (finger millets).

Adults in the community are not particularly interested in eating packaged and processed food, as these new items are costly and irregularly available in the markets. On the contrary, children find new processed food items such as chips, biscuits and noodles quite attractive. Community members process their own beverages such as salty tea, chhang and another local liquor.

The community never faced food insecurity, and community members rely on the market, barter exchange and monthly government-subsidized rations to complement any shortage of food that may occur during the year. Seventy to 80 percent of the wheat that community members consume is sourced from government ration shops or from markets. Each household buys from the market approximately 300 kg of wheat flour, 100 to 300 kg of rice, 30 to 70 kg of pulses, salt and spices, which can be stored for the winter months.

In addition, community members have developed a system to preserve food for several months. Corn is ground into flour and stored in bhakaar, big containers made from local wood. Radish, taro roots, gourds and fenugreek leaves are dried under the sun. Similarly, the Bhotia dry and store around 5 to 20 kg of sheep and goat meat to meet their protein requirements during the winter months. Community members also clarify butter and women pickle garlic and chillies. Potatoes are kept in the ground and only picked when they are ready to be consumed. Honey or clarified butter is exchanged between families in case of food shortage.

However, community members face threats to food security and barriers for diet quality. Those are primarily limited to land holding, as well as harsh and changing climate. Only a few crops have adapted to these conditions. Limited income generation is an important barrier to food security. Big markets, such as the one in Bageshwar, are in general above their income capacity. Only 2 percent of households that have family members working in cities and towns succeed in obtaining an adequate income. Due to their low income, community members only buy food items for their basic needs, and at a cheap price, which prevents them from having an adequate intake of nutritious foods such as meat and fruits. Hence, community members can present signs of malnourishment, in particular the children and women.

Changes in the provision of livelihoods and social well-being over time

Income generation began due to the increased road connectivity to the village, allowing community members to reach markets to sell agriculture produce and handicrafts, and to migrate to nearby villages and towns for labour work in government and private sectors. Trekking companies developed and some community members became local guides or porters. The community is also accessing employment opportunities within the village, such as support for small businesses. In addition to running the shop with a licence to distribute government rations, one villager has purchased a vehicle and he now runs a taxi service.

Community members who obtain jobs in the cities or towns are now sending money back to their families, allowing them to purchase food from the market, buy better clothes, and afford to pay their children’s school fees. Consequently, community members rely less on the barter system. The social bonds within the community have therefore changed, and community members now more frequently expect maximum returns from their production system, when families previously often offered each other gifts without an expectation of reciprocity.

Being dependent on the local ecosystem for their food, the community originally did not have income opportunities. Wild animals like Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur Hodgson, Bovidae), Himalayan thar (Hemitragus jemlahicus C.H.Smith, Bovidae), Himalayan goral (Naemorhedus goral Hardwicke, Bovidae), wild boar (Sus scrofa L., Suidae), Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus Latham, Phasianidae), satyr tragopan (Tragopan satyra L., Phasianidae), and kalij pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos Latham, Phasianidae) were hunted by the locals for their own consumption of meat. Big animals were caught with guns and spears, whilst nets or traps made from plastic and iron were used to trap pheasants. Community members used to stop hunting during monsoon, as they were aware that it is the time of reproduction. During monsoon, they therefore only hunted male animals. Villagers also used to migrate to hunt in different areas during different periods. This practice was sustainable as villagers caught only the necessary amount for their food supply, whilst still allowing enough time for the prey species to reproduce. The practice of hunting progressively phased out along with the implementation of conservation legislation, favouring the shift towards the domestication of animals in the food system. Similarly, community members used to gather wild plants for food and medicine. However, the increased availability of allopathic medicine and farm food has led to a significant decrease in this activity.

The level of consumption of various supplements, such as health tonics, has recently grown in the community, as a consequence of health campaigns led by the Government and private sector. Community members are becoming more aware of nutrition principles. For instance, campaigns and TV shows have educated the community about the importance of iodine. Most households now only use iodized salt in their diet, when they were previously consuming non-iodized salt.

Despite these new supplements and increased availability of products sourced from the market, community members state that loss of access to numerous wild plants and animals has had a significant impact on their health. These wild edibles had important nutritious and medical traits that community members cannot benefit from anymore, which they said has led to less strength and working capacity compared to past generations. Community members also state that the wild species that they do still cultivate are losing nutritional value due to changing climatic conditions, and diminishing seed and soil quality.

Community member from Namik village making a mat from ringal (bamboo).
© CHINAR/Ghanshyam Kalki.

The forest and meadows of the upper area of the village are part of governmental property and declared as protected areas by the Government. Therefore, hunting and foraging is banned, and the overall socio-ecological mobility of the people in the village has decreased. With regards to the Bhotia, they used to travel to Tibet through silk routes for trade, their main livelihood. Now that Indo-Tibetan trade has stopped, they are confined to the village area and it is only the Anwal who migrate with their sheep and goats.

The land cleared by the community for farming is limited. Most families are joint families, but once they separate, the land is equally divided not only in measurement but also in terms of its use and quality, which means that both families will obtain an equal proportion of land that includes half rain-fed and half irrigated, if any. Similar distribution also occurs for livestock based on numbers, milking or non-milking. The land in Namik is not yet sold or rented to outsiders due to its remoteness. But due to its aesthetic value, tourism is on the rise, which may pique the interest of the tourism industry.

The community’s agricultural production capacity has changed over time and with it their capacity to provide an adequate quantity and diversity of nutritious food. Due to their exploitation of forest resources, mainly for fodder and manure, the availability of green fodder for livestock has declined. This in turn affects the quantity and diversity of nutritious foods. The availability of wild grasses for livestock has also changed. Now people have to walk further distances to collect fodder for the livestock.


Land and soil

Due to the village’s remoteness, green revolution technologies never reached that far and, as a result, the community still practises organic farming techniques. Soil quality is evaluated by the colour of the soil. According to community members, the darker the colour, the more the nutrients. Fine-textured soil has been reported to be better in its capacity to hold water and nutrients. Community members favour the presence of earthworms in the soil. They state that stony soil hosts eggs and larvae of pests, which can be harmful for the soil. Soil in the village is dark brown, and it is covered with a layer of humus. Although soil erosion and landslides occur in some areas of the village, neither has impacted agricultural land so far.

Traditional practices, such as adding sufficient manure, crop rotation and the cultivation of pulses, which add nitrogen to the soil, are all contributing to the maintenance of good soil quality. Due to these beneficial practices, local farmers do not need to use inorganic fertilizers in their fields. Manure from animals’ dung is the main soil additive used by the community. It is made by mixing livestock dung with dried leaves, grass and straw from cowsheds. Thereafter, they leave the manure in the form of a heap for one season. After decomposition, it can be used in the field at the time of ploughing, and later at the time of hoeing. These heaps are generally kept near the animal shed so that the women, who tend to it, do not have to walk long distances.

Potatoes are grown separately from fields dedicated to legumes cultivation like pulses, black soybeans and kidney beans. Community members keep the land fallow before starting a new cycle. Potatoes are harvested during the new moon. During the full moon, gravitational forces pull water out from the ground, and potatoes are more likely to rot afterwards.

The community prepares their own insecticides and pesticides. Ash from leaves is spread, and buttermilk and cow urine are sprayed on the crops. A common practice after harvesting is to burn the crop residue, hence destroying the pathogens of pests, whilst enriching the soil with phosphorous. Kitchen ash also contains phosphorous, from burning firewood for cooking. When mixed with the manure, it is commonly applied to vegetable crops, particularly potatoes.

To prevent soil erosion, farmers build a medh, a wall of soil and stones around their fields. Over time, layers of grass and moss grow on the wall and solidify it. The wall stops soil erosion, and prevents soil nutrients from washing out during rains and strong winds. This practice further maintains the soil’s fertility. From time to time, villagers use a spade to distort the soil, decompact it, and ensure nutrient circulation.

Labour and fuel energy

The major livelihood activities, such as cooking, depend on renewable energy, such as firewood and cow dung. Firewood is the main source of energy in the village. Community members collect wood from both the community and the reserved forests, and use it to cook and heat their houses during winters. Each family uses approximately 20 kg of wood per day for cooking. It reaches 30 kg during winters, counting additional consumption for heating. The building of two-story houses is a traditional practice shared throughout the entire Himalaya to minimise the use of energy in heating, and which can be found in Namik village. Livestock is kept in the lower story and the heat that it generates warms up the upper floor.

An additional source of renewable energy comes from a micro-hydel power plant established by the Uttarakhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (UREDA) in the village. It provides five to six hours of electricity supply to the village every day. The Village Urja Committee manages the micro-hydel, which is located on the strongest river in the village, called Roli gaad (gorge). The community uses this energy mainly to light the house, for electrical appliances like television, to iron clothes and to charge their mobile phones. The community shares the electricity with adjoining villages during the rainy season when there is an excess of production. However, the supply is not abundant enough to use heaters to warm the houses. Other sources of renewable energy include a watermill for grinding and solar lamps for lighting.

Only a small portion of the community’s energy needs depends on kerosene, which is mainly used to light the fire. The government provides kerosene at subsidized rates, along with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). However, due to the poor transportation system and harsh weather conditions, the supply is frequently interrupted. Since most of the families cannot afford LPG, they rely on the forest to meet their fuel needs. The community uses diesel- and petrol-operated vehicles for transportation, which are available 6 kilometres away from the village.

Community members conduct all labour activities themselves. In fact, women undertake most of the activities related to the food system, spending 10 to 12 hours per day collecting firewood and fodder, caring after and milking livestock, and collecting water. Youth, particularly girls, also help women with these activities. In addition, they are responsible for the domestic labour. They are often the ones cooking, doing dishes and washing clothes, except during the fall, when they are busy with harvesting and collection activities. During this period, other members of the households take over the responsibility of the domestic work and the family members who have migrated come back to the village to assist.

Community members usually use traditional tools for ploughing, weeding, hoeing and harvesting. The tools are sourced from the landscape and built by blacksmiths. Community members buy these tools from them. Ploughs are made of wood, and men have the responsibility to use them in the field. Cattle pull the tools to reduce the amount of human energy expended. Families that do not have cattle rent them from other families in the village. Other activities under the responsibilities of women include sowing seeds, weeding, hoeing, and applying manure to the field. The women also manually harvest crops such as wheat, barley and finger millet. Both men and women undertake thrashing thanks to thrashers made of wood. The grinding of grains (mainly finger millets, maize, barley and wheat) occurs either in traditional watermills, where it is exchanged for flour with the owner, or manually with a musal. A musal is a wooden pole with an iron ring fitted at its end, which crushes the grains placed in a stone pot. Community members relate that lack of technology is an issue given the level of drudgery associated with the activities required to sustain their food system.


Five water springs exist in the village, which provide members with their main source of drinking water. These springs are 400 metres to 500 metres from the hamlets; however, pipelines channel the water, so that most village members have a water supply near their home. These natural springs recharge during monsoon and winter seasons, as well as during summer as glaciers start melting. The availability of water remains sufficient in these springs throughout the year. All families have access to these springs. The agriculture in the village is mostly rain-fed, but community members can also use irrigation in their home gardens. Crop varieties that are grown in the winter season require less water, whilst varieties that are grown in the rainy season are tolerant to heavy rain. Snowfall during the winter is important to maintain soil moisture, and for the sustainability of crops grown during spring and summer. After the snowfall, monsoon rains recharge the aquifers and the soil moisture. The community maintains the adjoining forest, which is dominated by oak and alder trees that store enough water in their roots and keep the soil moist. Amongst the livestock, buffaloes require the most water. The community mainly uses water for cooking food, processing food like washing of vegetables, rice, churning cream to prepare clarified butter, drinking water for households and livestock, washing dishes, washing clothing, and for bathroom uses.

Normally the villagers in Namik have enough water supplies throughout the year. With the various schemes introduced by the Government and private organizations, many households now also have constructed water storage tanks. These are useful as they contribute to the reduction of physical labour. The community has a practice to reuse water. Water outlets from kitchens lead to the nearest field to reuse the water and maintain soil moisture.


Most of the waste material generated in the village is biodegradable, such as vegetable peels, food leftovers, agricultural waste, waste from livestock like dung and urine, or leftover fodder. The community recycles the waste by making manure, and livestock dung is used as fuel. At times, farmers get rid of waste by burning the residue.

Varieties of beans found in Namik village.
© CHINAR/Ghanshyam Kalki.

Community members also generate non-biodegradable waste like plastic wrappers, polythene bags and medicines, normally originating from market products. Most of the time, families throw the waste outside of their houses, for lack of appropriate waste deposits. This practice is polluting the surrounding ecosystems. However, the community has certain practices to reverse this trend. They reuse plastic bags and large plastic sheets to cover the roofs of their houses and livestock sheds, during monsoon and snowfall periods. They also reuse plastic bottles to collect water, and to keep liquid items like oil, honey, milk and buttermilk.

Changes in resource use efficiency over time

The resource use has changed at the landscape level as community members would previously spend five months of the year, from April to August, for cultivation and raising livestock, and the other seven months, from September to March, for migration to the lower valleys. This practice halted 10 years ago, and most community members now spend the whole year in the village to conduct farm activities. A rotational system of crops has remained the same throughout time, although the recent introduction of new vegetable crops is creating change.

The demand for human and animal labour, and the use of tools for agricultural practices, remain the same. However, the migration of men out of the village to work has led to increased pressure on women regarding activities in the village. Despite the introduction of new sources of energies, firewood has remained primordial; the same goes for the micro-hydel, which remains as the primary source of electricity despite the introduction of solar lamps.

Over time, many governmental and private schemes have reached the villages, such as poly-house construction, water tank construction, walking path construction and road construction. The introduction of pipelines by the Government has saved significant time and reduced women’s workload, as they used to fetch water directly from the springs. Previously, they would spend around one hour per day getting water. Now that supply is located approximately 50 metres from each household. This encouraged the use of irrigation for their home garden and helped maintain livestock, whose water demand began increasing once they started to permanently stay in the Namik area.

The introduction of plastic waste in the landscape is a matter of concern, as it will affect the community’s water sources, agriculture and long-term health. Changes in their medicinal system are also a new driver of waste generation, as they now rely on allopathic medicine coming from nearby towns. Plastic containers are slowly replacing traditional containers. Community members are slowly becoming more informed through workshops, television and other informative programmes. Still, a disposal mechanism has yet to be developed.

Previously the community built all houses from natural materials, thereby not generating waste. However, enhanced road connectivity made the transportation of cement feasible. New homes built can potentially pollute the landscape. The move towards cement is caused by the lack of organic materials, expensive labour and an aspirational value of modernity.


Crop and livestock biodiversity

After years of experimentation, the community has established its cropping system and selected a few crops and varieties that are essential for their daily needs. Since the beginning of their settlement, they have been using their own seeds.

The community grows a diversity of species per food groups. These include starches (6), pulses (6), nuts (1) such as walnut, dark leafy vegetables (2), vegetables (6), and fruits (4), all of which are part of their local cuisines. As indicated, kidney beans are the main crop of the village and the community cultivates three different varieties. Almost all households grow varieties of kidney beans and soybeans. The community cultivates traditional crops like kidney bean, potatoes, amaranth and buckwheat in large scale because the area’s soil and climate are highly suitable for the cultivation of these crops. They also can be easily stored for a long period, and they have good barter rates. Spotted kidney bean is tastier than other varieties, and therefore popular in the market. The ratio between the cultivation of traditional and introduced crops is 60:40. Traditional crops are an important part of the food system, yet introduced crops grown by the community help to maintain the food variety for the entire year.

Livestock are the backbone of the agriculture and an integral part of the livelihoods of the communities in Namik village. The community mainly rears five species of livestock: sheep, goats, cows, buffaloes and mules. All of these, with the exception of buffalo, are traditional breeds. Two breeds of cows, badri cow and Jersey cow, are reared, along with one breed of buffalo, one breed of sheep, one breed of mule, and two breeds of goats, Indian goat and Changthangi goat. The reason for rearing traditional breeds is that they are hardier to the local conditions.

Out of these livestock, the community keeps cows, buffalos, goats and mules on their farms. Herds of sheep and goats mostly stay in the meadows and nearby forests with their caretakers. During monsoon, families also take other livestock for grazing due to high availability of green fodder. Every household has two to three cows and one to two buffaloes. Around 80 percent of households rear goats and sheep in good numbers.

Wild harvested plants and animals

Community members have solid traditional practices to ensure the regeneration of the harvested wild plants. They select and mark a large area of nearby forest after a common discussion and protect it for three to five years in the name of the local God Bhumiya Dev, the God of jungle. During that period, no one from the same community or nearby communities is allowed to collect or harvest any kind of natural resource from that part of the forest. This practice naturally helps to regenerate and conserve all the important species within the protected area. After this time, they open the protected area and mark a new part as protected. This is a traditional and effective practice, which the Namik village and other nearby communities still follow.

In general, in their use of wild medicinal plants, community members do not overexploit the resource, as they only take the amount they require. Although the community has seen the introduction of new technologies and inventions, they still rely on natural resources, particularly for firewood, fodder, timber, water, wild products and medicinal plants. The community highly values the conservation of these resources for their sustainable livelihoods. For this reason, they have traditional practices of faith and conservation, which are more effective and followed by all as they involve local deities.

According to new governmental guidelines and state laws for forest conservation, cutting a tree from the forest is a punishable offence. Community members have their traditional rights over wild resources, but they are only allowed to collect fallen trees and their branches for firewood. This is applicable in the reserved forests, which are owned by the forest department. To cut trees, community members climb the trees to get dry fuelwood and use an iron axe. For timber, the dry tree is chopped with the help of an axe, and then logs and sleepers are prepared with the help of a manual saw.

Ecosystem conservation and protection

In addition to the rotational management practice, shepherds, who live in the meadows, keep migrating to different parts of the grazing grounds to prevent over-grazing. Cattle grazing is permitted by the Government in these areas. Every community has their declared grazing areas. Other communities also respect this traditional system. Whenever they go to an area that belongs to another community, they ask permission from that community for grazing. They also offer a limited amount of either money or goods such as vegetables or other crops as a trade-off.

Another traditional practice concerns protecting water sources from pollution. Related to this, senior members of the community tell a story of Masan, a ghost who lives near water bodies. According to the tale, if someone throws garbage or pees anywhere near the water body, this ghost catches him or her and makes them ill. This tale is transferred from generation to generation. It is an effective way of protecting the water, as people strongly believe in such tales. Similarly, villagers never take their livestock to these water resources to drink water. Instead, they dig a big trench near the water bodies where cattle can drink water. Another reason behind these practices is that the community regards the water as sacred, and villagers worship the traditional water springs. They have therefore put statues of gods or goddesses near the water sources, so that the community does not waste water or pollute the springs. Using soap and washing clothes in the springs is strictly prohibited. Women and girls are not allowed to touch or even go near the water spring during their menstrual cycle.

Beekeeping in the village also contributes to ecosystem conservation and protection. Community members use traditional practices to rear bees. They rear them in locally available wooden logs in which the bees survive. The bees pollinate the community’s cross-pollinating crops, and thereby help maintain the crops’ productivity. The community’s maintenance of agrobiodiversity helps the bees survive, which in turn provides better pollination services. The beekeepers also give sugar supplements such as sugar or sugar candies to the bees during winter when there is a deficiency of floral species in the area.

Changes in the conservation and protection of resources over time

For the last five to six years, cultivation of some traditional crops like finger millet, amaranth and buckwheat has decreased as community members have started to buy processed wheat flour from the market for their consumption. Further, these crops are not considered good cash crops, thus decreasing interest in the community to cultivate them. However, for a long time, generations have passed traditional seeds to the following generations. Some of these seeds are considered special for the Namik village. Despite the decrease in cultivation of these traditional crops, the Namik community still grows them on a larger scale than other nearby villages such as Ratirkethi, Gogina and Liti. Therefore, Namik village can be considered as a seed bank or a place of in situ conservation of these traditional crops in the higher Himalayan region. In addition to traditional crops, the community cultivates vegetable crops such as daikon radish, cabbage, tomato and garlic, introduced six to seven years ago by the Government’s Agriculture and Horticulture departments. In the village, the area for farmland has remained almost the same over time. However, in some hamlets, such as Junmari and Jugadhara, some families have migrated from the village and the community has therefore converted their farmland to forestlands.

Community member from Namik village standing in front of traditional beehives.
© CHINAR/Ghanshyam Kalki.

The Namik community belongs to the traditional Himalayan sheep-rearing community. Earlier, only a few big sheep-rearing farmers lived in the community. However, slowly other villagers realized that sheep farming is a profitable livelihood option, and they started keeping small herds of sheep. Five years ago, scientists from the sheep farm and breeding centre, Liti- Shama village (established by the Government’s Veterinary Department), introduced the Australian merino sheep to the Anwal of Namik village for cross-breeding with local sheep. However, merino sheep could not survive the climate, even when cross-bred with local sheep.

With the adoption of the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1972, the Biodiversity Act of 2002 and Uttarakhand Biodiversity Rules of 2015, the Government introduced strict wildlife and natural resource regulations. The intention was to ensure conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. They put most of the wild harvested species on the list of protected species. The exceptions were plants such as Indian pokeweed, perilla, Himalayan nettle, kutki, Himalayan horse chestnut, golden Himalayan raspberry, Asian barberry, fiddlehead ferns, and some mushroom species like yarsagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) and gucchi or common morel (Morchella esculenta). Hunting animals became restricted, leading to an increase in the wildlife population. The Namik community reported increased populations of Himalayan thar (Hemitragus jemlahicus), Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), kalij pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos), Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus G. [Baron] Cuvier, Ursidae). As the population of wild animals like wild boars, rabbits and porcupines increased, they have started destroying the croplands and the incidents of human-animal conflicts have risen in the area. Since the introduction of these acts, the community has become dependent on markets, in addition to their own cultivation, to meet all their daily needs.

Although the dependence on natural resources is high related to energy use, the slight increase in use of resources such as electricity, LPG and kerosene has somewhat released the pressure on natural resources. The forest cover around the village area is therefore becoming denser. Waste deposits are also affecting the ecosystem protection, as the village is located just above the Ramganaga River. During monsoon, there is high risk that the waste will flow down to the river, polluting the water. The volume of waste is still not excessive, yet it is a concern for the ecosystem that needs to be addressed, especially regarding the downstream river ecosystem.


Governance of natural resources

Three types of governing bodies exist in India: central government, state government and local government. The local-level government, called gram panchayat, executes Government schemes for food, construction and social development at the village level. The leader of this governing body is called gram pradhan. Gram pradhan, or community leader, is elected through a community voting system for five years. He/she makes all the legal decisions for the benefit of the community, after which community members are consulted during open meetings.

As far as the farmlands and other land in the village are concerned, the community has their own rights to these lands. The entire area of the village belongs to the community. In addition to the gram panchayat, the village has another institution, the van panchayat. The gram panchayat looks after resources and its management within the village, whilst the van panchayat focusses on the management of the community forest. The community elects the van panchayat for a period of five years. The van panchayat has written rules for grazing management, fuelwood, timber wood, green fodder and hay collection to which the entire village has to adhere. It also determines the rotational restoration practices in the forest followed by all community members and based on the faith and conservation approach. Punishments are foreseen in case these rules are violated. However, being dependent on the natural resources for their livelihoods, community members usually comply with the rules. This management practice is prevalent in majority parts of Uttarakhand State.

Sometimes after the monsoon, only dried firewood collection, and limited collection of green fodder from trees and hay, is allowed. The gram panchayat allots rights for forest use to each family. In addition, every year they allot one tree for production of timber to one family in the village. Although community members can collect firewood in large quantities, the collection of medicinal plants is only allowed in small quantities. The management committee of the van panchayat organises open meetings to discuss management issues with the community. When the community engages in plantation activities, one member from each household volunteers to contribute to the work.

Changes in governance of natural resources over time

Originally, the community mainly structured the governance of natural resources by social laws and norms involving all members of the community. Formal institutions such as van panchayats and the Forest Department progressively replaced these informal governance systems, bringing with them normative rules and regulations. This resulted in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in 2006, which stated that village communities were to be involved in the conservation of their natural resources. The act allocates individual rights to cultivate land in forestland, and community rights over common property resources to tribal communities and forest dwellers. A further notification on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, issued on 1 January 2008, has been considered a final effort to undo the “historic injustice” done to tribal communities and other forest dwellers. The management of these community forest areas now lies with the community, thus providing villages with the right to extract a limited quantity of fallen or dried firewood, fodder, timber and some wild plants from the community forest. The rights of each family are determined based on the size of their farm and family.

However, as the Government now takes care of most ecosystem protection, the community’s rights to land and other resources have decreased over time. Therefore, the community-based conservation of natural resources now primarily concerns community forestland. Indeed, since the 1972 Indian Wildlife Protection Act came into force, the Government has declared all forests, grazing grounds and water bodies such as lakes and rivers as national heritage. Thus, all wild species of plants and animals are now declared as protected. In the case of community grazing grounds, communities still have kept their traditional rights of grazing. The communities in the area have their own respective traditional grazing grounds. If someone from other communities uses their grounds, they must seek permission from the owner community and pay a fee.


A summarized assessment of 13 indicators of resilience is presented below.

1. Exposed to disturbance: The community has observed impacts of the changes in climatic conditions, such as decline in snowfall and hotter average temperatures, both causing negative consequences for production such as an increase of pests and soil degradation. Community members also noticed a decreased abundance of wild plants such as berries in forest areas. Further, rainfall has become unpredictable, causing soil erosion and landslides, and damaging crops, insects and habitats for birds. Community members have further noticed early flowering of wild plants, like rhododendrons, as well as new species of birds in the region that are affecting the crops and killing the bees.

2. Globally autonomous and locally interdependent: The community grows approximately 60 percent of the food within the village, whilst obtaining 30 percent from outside sources, 5 percent from the wild and 5 percent from barter. Only 5 percent of the species are introduced. The villagers sell only a small portion of their food to earn cash, as most of the extra produce is exchanged with adjoining villages or with traders who come to the village. However, the dependency on external food sources is slowly increasing, affecting the social bonds in the village as community members are used to helping each other out in case of crop failure, deficiency of seeds or shortages of food.

3. Appropriately connected: The closest road is almost 6 km away, and the closest big market, Bageshwar, is nearly 85 km away. The construction of the road in 2016 allowed for more regularity in receiving government ration supplies. The communities bring their handicraft products to Bageshwar, whilst they mostly sell or exchange their food products within the village or in adjoining villages. Due to the village’s remoteness, governmental authorities, research institutes, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or private sector actors rarely reach out to the community with agricultural development programmes. Frequent landslides occur during monsoon season, which can isolate the village temporarily.

4. Socially self-organised: The gram panchayat and van panchayat are strong local institutions. Whilst managing the community forests and natural resources, the community also mobilizes its strong social customs, associated with the conservation of natural resources. Strong social support exists between community members and between communities on the regional level, as it relates to seed exchanges and food shortages, as well as cultivation, house construction and marriages.

5. Reflective and shared learning: Community members conduct experiments and adopt best practices for their food systems. They have their own varieties of seeds for various crops that can grow well in the local conditions. They also have local breeds of goat, sheep and cattle, which are well adapted to the local conditions.

6. Honours legacy: Elders are the decision makers for the selection of crops and seeds, sowing time, harvesting, barter negotiation and marketing. Involving young children and youth in cultivation and management of food and natural systems helps pass the learning to the next generations. However, the trend of increasing migration to urban areas amongst the youth is a concern for the continuity of transmission of traditional knowledge.

7. Builds human capital: Community members do almost all the work themselves. No institution or higher education centre exists in the village to disseminate traditional knowledge. The village only has a high school. There is neither health institutions nor institutions for other social services. However, a trained health worker provides polio drops and basic health information. Non-governmental organizations such as the Central Himalayan Institute for Nature and Applied Research (CHINAR) support the building of human capital in the village by conducting workshops to increase awareness of environmental and livelihood issues.

8. Coupled with local natural capital: There is efficient use and recycling of nutrients within the system, supported by a strong link between the forest ecosystem and agroecosystem. The biomass that goes into the farms comes from the forest. Traditional insecticides are used to prevent the attack of pests. The community has their own crop rotation to maintain the fertility of the soil, which they have been practising for generations. Community members rely on the local landscape for traditional medicine and various other uses, such as construction, handicraft and cloth weaving. There is low dependency on imported energy sources, imported electricity or imported water, as the community has a sufficient supply from local sources. The community’s main challenge concerning ecosystem use and protection is the lack of waste disposals for inorganic waste.

9. Ecologically self-regulated: The forest ecosystem provides resources, whilst the agroecosystem also returns nutrients when herds of sheep, goats and cattle head to the meadows for grazing. The bees kept in log hives also provide pollination services to the forest ecosystem and maintain the forest biodiversity. Community members maintain biodiversity to control major pests, and they grow plants that are naturally insect repellent such as garlic and cannabis.

10. Functional diversity: The food system supplies various interrelated ecosystem services. Supporting services are noticeable through the recycling of nutrients between forest and agricultural land ecosystems. In addition to providing food, the forest also supplies timber and other raw material for fuel, construction, forage, medicinal resources and ornamental resources.

11. Optimally redundant: The diversity of forage and the storage capacity for most of the staple food indicates optimal redundancy for important food sources in the community. To meet their needs, the community maintains diversity in the forest as well as in the farmlands. The villagers have also developed a seed bank. They do not have many varieties of the crops for internal use, yet they have maintained various varieties of crops for barter and sale. As indicated, the villagers also have their own handicraft practices, using local natural resources.

12. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity: The landscape is composed of glaciers, water bodies, grassland, forest and agroecosystems. The higher landscape areas near the glaciers are used as pasture lands, whilst the land around the village is used for forest resources, and the agriculture land is in the centre. Thus, the landscape has diverse ecosystems. The community follows a definite rotation of crops, and practises land fallowing before growing potatoes, which take up lots of nutrients from the soil.

13. Reasonably profitable: Agriculture is the subsistence in the area and only a small portion of the traditional food products cultivated by the community are meant for the market. Still, most of the people, especially children and women, are malnourished. Some crops such as potato, kidney beans and garlic are bartered or marketed to get money. Men usually migrate to nearby villages for work or even to towns and cities to obtain small jobs to support their families.

  • 32 Equivalent to USD 42.5 to USD 283. Applying the UN Operational Rate of Exchange of 1 September 2018 (1 USD = 70.74 INR). This rate will apply throughout the entire chapter.

“Our traditional crops are not only part of our food but also an important part of our unique culture.”

Mr. Laxman Singh, community member of Namik village.