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Chapter XII - Pakistan case study 2: High altitude pastoral systems in Malakand Division, Pakistan - Khan Sanaullah and Ahmed Mukhtar


Swat has been a traditional winter grazing area for transhumant herders, who graze the alpine pastures of north-eastern Pakistan in summer. Changes in political structures and land use patterns over the past thirty years has led to a great reduction in the grazing area available to nomads (who are of a different ethnic group from the landowners, and raise sheep and goats) in winter, as well as blocking many of their transhumance routes. The incorporation of Swat into Pakistan in 1969 weakened traditional relationships between landowners and landless graziers. The revision of land ownership in 1972 led to the privatization of much land that previously had been regarded as communal grazing - the ensuing legal disputes are still not yet settled. Landowners formerly rented grazing on a seasonal basis to nomads, but this is also much reduced because of fears that it might compromise litigation.

Large afforestation programmes from the mid-1980s have created large areas of private plantation that are closed to grazing, and many block traditional transhumance routes, although such forestation has had a very positive environmental effect and, until the canopy closes, provides large quantities of forage for cutting. Herd travel on roads is difficult because of high traffic density, and night travel on roads carries risks of armed robbery. Increased cultivation and plantations have increased the labour needs of herding; previously, a herder could handle one to two hundred head of small stock; now the average is 33, so nomads’ herd sizes are falling. Among the settled population, who mainly keep large ruminants, stock are now mainly stall fed. Cattle numbers have fallen sharply and there are more buffaloes, which are easily stall fed and give richer milk. Some nomads have managed to settle, but many have left herding for labouring jobs elsewhere. The drift from herding has been mainly in the past twenty years, during which the number of herders has fallen by 60 percent.


This chapter is based on the results of a rapid appraisal study, undertaken to gain information on the livelihood of nomadic graziers and trends in hillside development that affect them. Malakand Division is in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (NWFP). The area concerned begins about 150 km NNE of Peshawar (Site I in Figure 9.1).

Since the merger of the State of Swat with Pakistan in 1969, many social and political changes have affected the use and management of natural vegetation on the hillsides, land ownership and the distribution of ownership and user rights. The impact of these changes on communities differs according to the population group. Nomadic and seminomadic graziers seem to have been affected by three major developments:

There is a worldwide trend for nomadic lifestyles to disappear as rapidly expanding populations reduces the amount of grazing land available; the nomadic life is hard and those with a reasonable alternative will definitely change their way of living, but in NWFP many families still live by transhumant herding and they cannot be ignored. The main objective of the study was to discover the trends, options and constraints of hillside development and the seasonal patterns of grazing.

Objectives of the study

The main objectives of the study were to:

Nine villages linked with ERP were chosen for study. Selection criteria were: presence of different user and owner groups in the village area; different rates of afforestation; and no major disputes between owners and users. Six of the villages - Kuza Bandi, Kanju, Gado, Dadahara, Parrai and Kucha - were in Swat, in an area where much plantation has taken place and graziers have many problems related to hillside development. In Buner, three villages were chosen - Pantjar, Kingeralai and Kuhai - and, in addition, four non-ERP villages - Balera, Techma and Bampoocha - were included to compare villages with extensive plantations and those with none. The survey team comprised ERP and Forest Department staff. Questionnaires were used to collect data from Village Development Committee (VDC) representatives and nomadic graziers; they were interviewed separately. In non-ERP villages, only nomads were interviewed. For mapping, one or two VDC members and Ajars were asked to join the team and inspect the village area. Topographical sheets and existing ERP range base maps were used to plot past and present land ownership, grass cutting and qalang areas, and block plantations. Field data collection was done in February.

Some local terms have to be used, defined here as follows: Ajars are nomadic or semi-nomadic commercial livestock raisers, mostly keeping goats and sheep and producing meat and wool. They are of Hinko origin and speak Gujroo. Gujars are mainly settled or semi-nomadic commercial livestock raisers, mostly keeping cattle and buffaloes and producing milk. They are descendants of original Ajars and also speak Gujroo. The main difference between Ajars and Gujars is the type of livestock they keep. The confusion, however, comes when the settlement pattern is examined, with several types each of Ajars and Gujars distinguished.



The terms Ajar and Gujar are confusing, even to local people. There is a gradual move from nomadic to settled Ajar. With increased settlement there is a shift from small ruminants to cattle; this is a gradual change and results in confusion between the terms Ajar and Gujar. Many Gujars call themselves Ajars as that was their original background; similarly many Ajars call themselves Gujars.

General trends in hillside development

Land ownership and settlement

Land ownership and settlement can be categorized into four periods:

Most land was owned by inheritance groups (khels) or was communal during the Wali period; there were hardly any private hillsides. During the Bhutto period, many communal hillsides were divided between khels. Purchased (new) ownership increased, especially among tenants, then Ajars. Over the past ten years, individual purchase of hillsides has decreased due to high prices. Redistribution continues of hillsides purchased earlier by Ajars and tenants.

About 21 percent of the once communal land is now privately owned. Communal hillsides, as well as khelowned ones, are also often divided between shareholders, without marked boundaries on the ground. These areas are not yet, however, registered as being individually owned and are considered to be communal. They are often given on lease (qalang) as a whole. Qalang is usually paid to the head of the khel. Due to increased individual ownership, areas given on qalang have been significantly reduced.

In the Wali period, people lived in clustered villages; owners lived in the main village, surrounded by the landless and artisans. Tenants lived in the village or near their crop land. Gujars either lived on the fringes of major towns or in small hamlets on the hillsides. With population explosion and increased land ownership, a more scattered settlement pattern has developed. Gujars and Ajars began to live further up the hillsides, often cultivating small areas once they bought housing and land. In this way, 42 percent of Ajars purchased land recently in Swat (Dadahara and Kulai), 26 percent had in the past 30 years purchased hillside, compared to 1 percent in the four non-ERP villages. The main villages show explosive growth, especially those on the main road in the Swat valley. In Swat, the encroachment upon high hillsides and conversion into terraced crop land is much greater than in Buner.


The six Swat villages have afforested 15 percent of their hillsides with the help of the Watershed Project and 48 percent with assistance from ERP. In Buner, 28 percent of hillsides have been planted. Plantations cover just over half of the hillside area. With protection, the quantity and quality of the vegetation has increased and the catchment area has been improved. Almost everybody interviewed was positive about the results of afforestation and enjoy the increased availability of grass. Afforestation gave many poor and landless people temporary employment. Now livestock raisers are more dependent on grass cutting for stall feeding because of the temporary closure of young plantations. Nomadic and seminomadic graziers have more difficulty in finding winter grazing than before. In Swat, qalang areas for winter are down by 91 percent, of which 38 percent is due to afforestation. Some plantations block traditional seasonal trekking routes.

The overall trend is that the number of livestock per family is decreasing among all classes, with a shift from small ruminants to cattle and buffaloes. Data collected on stock numbers are few and probably not very reliable, but the rough trends can be discerned from this survey.

The number of sheep and goats owned by Ajars is decreasing rapidly; figures for Swat show a decrease from 340 to 140 goats and sheep per flock. In Buner, flock size fell from 200 to 140. According to IUCN (1998), the average flock size in NWFP was 110 small ruminants. The main reason given for the reduction is the scarcity of winter grazing due to afforestation, increased crop area, privatization of hillsides and closure of trekking routes. The number of stock per family has decreased (by 48 percent for small ruminants), as well as the number of families. Comparing field data with that from the Livestock Survey (1976-1986), similar trends are found. In Buner, livestock is mostly goats as the vegetation is mainly scrub; in Swat sheep predominate. According to Ajars, 20 small ruminants is the minimum flock size needed to marginally sustain a family (equal to a daily wage of PRs 70.00 [US$ 1 = PRs 51 at time of writing]); this minimum number ignores the risks of theft, accident or disease. About a quarter of Ajar families have sold all their livestock and found jobs in agriculture or as urban labourers.

Livestock, especially cows, of landowners, tenants and Gujars has decreased on a per family basis,. The number of cattle per land-owning family in the past was three to twelve, and one or two buffaloes. Now a family has one to five cows and one or two buffaloes. Tenants show the same pattern. Gujars used to have 15 to 30 cows and two to five buffaloes; now they have reduced cows to between four and six and increased buffaloes to between two and ten. Buffaloes give richer milk and are easily stall fed.

A survey in the adjacent Social Forestry Project, Malakand and Dir, shows the same pattern: 59 percent of the 200 respondents had switched to stall feeding due to the ban on grazing in afforested areas; and 39 percent had reduced livestock numbers, especially tenants and landowners (Nizami, 1998). The Livestock Census of 1976-1986 showed an annual increase in buffaloes and cows of 5.25 and 0.91 percent, respectively.

Impact of hillside development on nomadic graziers

The main source of income for nomadic herders has always been small ruminants, and they have depended entirely on a transhumant system. In summer they graze alpine and subalpine pastures (Upper Swat, Kohistan), moving in winter to the lower altitude hillsides or the plains. In the past, hillside grazing was communal and Ajars paid rent (qalang) in cash or kind (wool, manure, ghee, etc.) to the owners. There was harmony between owners and graziers on the use of respective hillsides. Gujars had the same pattern of movements, although their animals had different requirements in terms of fodder and terrain. Gujars tend to stay near agricultural land or mountains that are not too steep, rough or rugged.

In 1973, with the passing of the land reform act, disputes over land ownership arose between tenants, Gujars and landowners. Tenants and Gujars began to claim hillsides without the owners’ consent. Landowners began to divide communal land between themselves to strengthen their claims to ownership, to be able to manage it more strictly and give it more protection. This has affected the area available on qalang to nomadic graziers, especially in Swat.

FIGURE 12.1. Major trekking routes and distribution of seasonal grazing areas in Swat and Buner.

In the mid-1980s, forestry-related projects accelerated the restriction of the grazing areas and increased pressure on graziers seeking winter grazing. Since 1994, with the launching of ERP in Swat and Buner, more hillside grazing has come under protection due to afforestation. In the nine villages surveyed, 51 percent of the total hillside has been afforested since the mid-1980s. This is perceived by the owners as insurance (or confirmation) of their ownership, and has resulted in an expansion of protected areas. New-purchase owners (both tenant or grazier communities) protect their land from grazing by outsiders and thus increase pressure on landless Ajars to reduce their herd size or seek grazing elsewhere. Owners are reluctant to open old watershed plantations to grazing due to the many land ownership conflicts and court cases that are still pending over land claimed by Gujars and tenants.

Trekking routes are centuries old (see map - Figure 12.1). Nomads used to move their stock from the lowland winter grazing to subalpine and alpine summer grazing, and mostly passed along hillsides on their way to and from the summer pastures. Most spent five or six months at summer pasture, of which three were on subalpine pasture (Chail, Lalko, Bishigram, Behrain Kalam, Maydan, etc.) and two to three on alpine pasture (Mahodand, Mankial, Saigadi Lol Panghalai, Daral, etc.). The remaining six months were spent on winter grazing.

A number of problems concerning migratory movements were identified in the individual questionnaires. Traditional routes have been blocked by plantations, which cannot be traversed. The herders have to take alternative routes, such as main roads. There are problems of travel and stopovers while travelling, including lack of fodder and access to grazing along the route. The old routes are blocked and there are plantations along the main roads so it is difficult to feed the stock during migrations and to camp overnight. Those who can afford it use trucks to move animals quickly. Trucks are expensive and not all Ajars can afford their hire.

Traditional and current trekking routes in Swat and Buner are basically the same, but now many nomads use trucks and follow main roads. Major changes in trekking patterns have been forced on herders:

This shows that the major changes are in the Kabbal area (Suigalai, etc.) and Matta (Biakand, etc.). Minor short-cuts have disappeared in the Saidu Range (Barikot/Amlook Darra - Ghaligay). It is of great importance for the future to keep the Alpuri - Fatehpur (Swat) track and others in Buner open.

Nomads formerly travelled in a piecemeal fashion, going to and from seasonal pastures and grazing their stock on the way. It was accepted that a nomadic grazier would not stay in an area en route for more than two nights, and only one flock per season would be allowed. Now, with protection of individually owned land, it is difficult to find forage for one- or twoday stops. Another reason for trucking is the high traffic density on the roads, which makes droving very dangerous. Theft of livestock and armed robbery is frequently reported during night travel on the road.

The number of Ajars leaving herding in the past thirty years is indicated in Table 12.1. Field findings gave a huge range of answers, so it is difficult to interpret average data, but the main trends can be discerned. In the nine villages in the three periods - the Wali period, the Bhutto period, and the recent period - 3 (1 percent), 30 (8 percent) and 95 (37 percent) left herding. Nomads are increasingly seeking other employment, mostly on farms or as day labour. The shift in jobs by Ajars has mainly occurred in the past fifteen years. Those still in herding have reduced their flock numbers considerably and some have moved their winter grazing to the plains around Mardan and Peshawar. The amount of labour required to herd a flock has increased due to the restriction of areas by cropping and plantation. Whereas a herder could manage 100-200 small ruminants; now they can only tend, on average, 33.

Nomadic graziers’ perception of problems

Ajars and Gujars were invited to one-day workshops, one in Kabbal and another in Matta, before the case study was designed, to list problems related to herding and livestock production; prioritize problems and suggestions on how to solve them. The main problems raised were:

TABLE 12.1
Numbers of Ajars at different periods and those leaving herding.

Wali period

Bhutto period

Recent period

Swat - total




Swat - left herding




Buner - total




Buner - left herding




Non-ERP - total




Non-ERP - left herding




Total left herding




Total families




The Ajars’ suggested solutions include opening up plantations to grazing after 5-7 years; provision of mobile education; and provision of watering points and tents during migration.

Ajars and Gujars in Swat stressed the problem of winter grazing, and put the whole blame on plantations. Study results show about an equal impact from privatization of hillsides.


i. The six villages in Swat have afforested 63 percent of their hillsides so far. In Buner, 28 percent of the area has been planted. The average plantation over the whole area is 51 percent.

ii. Qalang grazing areas have been reduced during the past 30 years due to plantation (31.5 percent), privatization of hillsides (21 percent) and other reasons (20.3 percent), including low qalang rates. Qalang was still available on 24.1 percent. The winter grazing area - important for survival - has been reduced. Due to protection, areas have become greener and produce more and better forage, but grass cutting is too labour demanding to maintain large flocks, and small ruminants are not adapted to indoor life.

iii. Grass cutting without charge is permitted by VDCs on half of the plantation area and seasonal controlled grazing is allowed on half. Taking the entire hillside area, 24 percent is now under controlled cutting instead of free cutting. In a few cases, users have to pay for grass.

iv. Villagers, as well as nomadic graziers, are positive about the results of afforestation and enjoy the improved availability of vegetation, especially grass and trees. Many people have had temporary employment in afforestation and some are permanently employed by VDCs as chowkidars [guards].

v. A reduced grazing area means fewer animals, especially small ruminants. This also means a reduced use of the higher pastures; these are underutilized because of lack of winter grazing, so the overall resource is underused while demand for livestock products is rising. This is a negative development.

vi. Average numbers of stock per family is falling in all classes of society and there is a shift from cows to buffaloes by landowners, tenants and Gujars. There has been a sharp decrease in the size of Ajar flocks. Landless people have less access to grazing because of afforestation and privatization.

vii. The development of hillsides has affected the livelihood of nomadic graziers.

Alternative jobs are mostly found in agriculture or as day labour; the drift from herding has been highest among Ajars in the past fifteen years.


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