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Chapter XVII - Future directions


Two kinds of transhumant systems have developed under different geographical conditions. Those in the Himalaya overwinter in lower, warm areas; in cold semi-arid Asia they have no access to warm pastures. Grassland is by far the most important vegetation type; browse is important in the subtropical end of Himalayan systems. Cyperaceae form a major part of the forage in the highest areas, especially in yak grazing. Lack of clarity in grazing rights was identified as a serious problem; this has been exacerbated in those countries that earlier had collectivized extensive stock rearing, since livestock were distributed at decollectivization without definition of grazing rights. Methods of decollectivization varied, as has their impact on the herding industry. Conflict of interests between settled farmers and herders is increasing with rising population pressure and intensification of agriculture throughout the Himalayan zone.

Poor pasture condition figures highly among technical constraints. Since there is no base data, the evolution of degradation can only be guessed; there is a serious need for more monitoring of pasture condition and trends as a management tool, and to measure environmental impact. Winter and spring feed are major problems and winter shelter is highly desirable in cold semi-arid areas. Water supply is a local problem. Fire is little used as a pasture management tool and does not seem to be a serious problem.

Technical problems are not the main ones facing transhumant herding; the major ones are socio-economic. The importance of clarifying problems of grazing rights is overweening. The “technical” approach that has been advocated for improving extensive pastures and livestock production in the past has not been successful, and in most cases an integrated methodology would be needed. Educational levels among herding communities in the study areas vary greatly but it is not obvious that the level of literacy affects the main traditional herding skills. In the Himalaya, herders were generally perceived as being poor, but in cold semi arid Asia they are in the mainstream population and are not a poor group. The studies have shown that most of the usual technical “grassland” suggestions for improving pasture management and herding productivity (better grazing management, reseeding with high-yielding species and herder training) are impracticable, although localized fodder production is an option in some areas.


The main methods of improving pasture condition involve manipulation of grazing pressure and grazing management. It is necessary, therefore, that the grazing rights to the land involved be clear, that the necessary laws and regulations be in force and that the mechanisms exist to see that they are respected. Application of regulations for improvement - such as only grazing land at the correct season and regulating the overall stocking rate - require the agreement and compliance of all who have rights to graze a particular piece of land. Participatory methods are indicated, but the whole issue may be very complicated. Where the human population is dense, and the pasture - even correctly managed - cannot provide a reasonable livelihood, it is very difficult to get agreement on destocking. Throughout most of the area there is lack of information on pasture condition and trends, although China has just completed a national grassland survey; even areas are often only approximately known. If management of grazing land is to be improved, more information is required for both planning of work and monitoring vegetation trends. Transhumant systems are potentially less damaging than sedentary ones because they exploit the herbage at fixed seasons, and leave it to recover for the remainder of the growing season. While many herders would prefer a more settled life, and many governments would like to settle nomads, alternative employment would have to be found; in the Himalayan context this would mean finding livelihoods in a labour market that is already oversupplied; in the cold semi-arid zone, extensive herding seems to be the only practical way of earning a living from the land. It is likely that transhumant herding will continue for many years yet. In the Himalaya zone, the settled stockowners who use the same pastures as transhumants have considerable opportunity for improving feed supply through growing hay crops.

Two very different kinds of transhumant herding systems have been identified, which have developed under different geographical conditions. Those in the Himalayan region can overwinter in lower, warm areas, but in cold semiarid Asia they have no access to warm winter pastures. The Himalayan group have followed their ancient routes more or less undisturbed (except for increasing encroachment by sedentary farmers), whereas all the herding industry of cold Asia was collectivized for a large part of the twentieth century and decollectivization has only taken place in the past two decades: there the reconstruction of herding systems is still ongoing.

Transhumant systems are an efficient way of using extensive grazing land that cannot be exploited in a sustainable manner by sedentary agriculture, as well as for making use of highly seasonal pastures, notably alpine grasslands. Provided that the basic rules of grassland management concerning stocking and movement are observed, transhumance is a far more ecologically friendly way of grazing than the uncontrolled grazing practised by sedentary groups where these overlap with transhumants - as in the Himalayas.

Herders mostly keep mainly local breeds of livestock. Attempts at “improvement” have had little impact, except sometimes with cattle, since exotic stock are less hardy and do not travel as well as local landraces. In cold semi-arid Asia, multispecies herds are the norm (although the species may be herded separately) and horses are important both for riding and as a source of food. In the Himalaya, herding groups tend to specialize in either large or small ruminants, and equines are unimportant. Yaks are kept where conditions are too cold for other cattle and feed is adequate.

The pastures

There is a wide range of pasture types over the great area involved; they are described in the individual studies. Grassland is by far the most important vegetation type; browse is locally important in the subtropical end of Himalayan systems, both as forest grazing and from trees retained in arable land. Herbaceous pasture legumes are generally scarce, although they are important in some high-altitude sites in Pakistan; elsewhere they probably suffer from a dry pedoclimate or low soil fertility, or both; Trifolium spp., as well as Lotus, Medicago and Trigonella, are present throughout the region on favoured sites. Technicians in the Himalayan zone seem particularly interested in the scarcity of legumes. Non-gramineous plants are, however, very important as forage. Cyperaceae form a major part of the grazing in the highest areas, especially in yak grazing. Artemisia spp. are very important throughout the drier areas, according to species, both as browse and invasive pasture weeds. While trees are unimportant as fodder in the cold semi-arid zone, they are - where present - very useful for shelter, as well as their other uses: fuelwood and timber.

Major problems and constraints

Legal and land tenure problems

Land tenure, or lack of clarity in grazing rights, were identified as a serious problem in most of the Himalayan zone, although less so in Bhutan. There are traditional rights in most areas. In some of the temperate tracts of India and Pakistan, these rights were documented over a century ago at the time of land settlement, but much has changed since then, including vast increases in the settled population and in the proportion of land under crops. For land under the jurisdiction of Forest Departments, laws and regulations on access, stock numbers, timing of grazing and grazing fees were enacted long ago, but regulations have little effect unless there is both political and popular will to enforce them. Fees have remained minimal and no attempt has been made to keep them in line with present values. The problems of land tenure in countries that collectivized extensive stock rearing are discussed below; in most cases livestock were distributed at decollectivization long before any attempt was made to define grazing rights.

Impact of political and social change

There have been many political and social changes throughout the region during the past century, which have had an impact on herding and transhumance. The collectivization, and subsequent decollectivization, of livestock in the communist era had a marked effect, as described in Chapter II - the end result varied from country to country but, in general, those systems that maintained mobility and used hardy landraces have proved the most sustainable. Border closure to transhumant herds, as has occurred between Nepal and China, has increased grazing pressure on many Nepali pastures - but has probably protected Chinese ones. The disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir are great areas of transhumant stock rearing; the troubles since partition must have had an effect on migration routes, although it has not kept herders from using the alpine pastures. Prolonged civil war in Afghanistan initially led to most of the livestock leaving the country, but herd numbers in both the settled and transhumant sector rapidly returned to normal once conditions in the countryside became quieter, so peace is not a prerequisite for herding - especially when borders are open to herds moving to market.

In central and northern Asia, livestock ownership has been privatized but graz ing resources have not, and the problems of grazing and hay-cutting rights (and maintenance of grazing resources) have still to be resolved.

Conflict of interests between settled farmers and herders is increasing with rising population pressure and intensification of agriculture throughout the Himalayan zone. This is clearly described in one of the Pakistan studies, where agricultural and silvicultural development, with a double role of income generation and catchment protection, has been very successful in achieving its own aims, but has simultaneously created many barriers to traditional transhumance.

Changes due to decollectivization

Most of the countries of the cold semiarid zone underwent a period of collective agriculture. Political and economic changes towards the end of the twentieth century resulted in decollectivization everywhere. The methods of decollectivization varied, as did the impact on the herding industry.

In Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, stock were distributed to members of the collectives without much thought for the impact on management or to distribution of grazing rights or to assuring technical and marketing support for the livestock industry. The results have been generally unsatisfactory. Mongolian herders are currently suffering great economic difficulties, with problems in obtaining veterinary and other services, and grazing disputes are common. Fear of losing winter grazing land is disturbing transhumance routes since some herders are afraid to go too far lest squatters take over traditional winter camps.

The Kyrgyz livestock industry, which had become dependent on imported feed and “improved” but less hardy breeds, has almost collapsed. China took a more positive approach and codified the use and allocation of extensive grazing land. The Xinjiang case study describes a different approach, where areas of land throughout the transhumance system are leased to households, who are obliged to manage them correctly to retain the lease, on a “family responsibility” system. Services have been maintained. The Tibet and all-China studies indicate that the national preference is for sedentarization, even on lands of very low carrying capacity.

Technical constraints

Poor pasture condition

This is widespread and is due to overstocking and poor management techniques. Much of the overstocking is due to increases in human population and a lack of alternative means of earning a livelihood. Mismanagement is exacerbated by lack of defined rights to grazing, by lack of grazing rules to assure proper land use or by lack of will to apply either. Degradation varies from changes in the specific composition, through drop in yield, to invasion by undesirable plants and erosion.

Winter and early spring are problem seasons throughout the area. Systems vary in their ways of dealing with the problem. Some make hay, but usually in quantities wholly inadequate to do more than provide some roughage to assist survival of a few weak stock. Those that are in contact with agricultural areas may have access, usually for payment, to crop residues, stubble grazing and grain. The Himalayan systems overwinter in areas of mild climate where there is usually browse and some grazing, as well as agricultural land. The systems of the steppe, however, have no natural winter forage resource and traditionally have had to rely on getting their stock fat enough to survive the winter.

In the cold zone there are two situations: systems that rely on grazing, with very little feed other than grazing - fattening their stock in autumn to survive winter and spring, of which Mongolia is the classic example; and those other systems that use, or have used, large quantities of supplementary feed. Supplementary feeding, whatever its economics, is obviously beneficial to the livestock; it keeps them in good condition through winter and early spring; it should reduce losses and allow the overwintering of larger numbers of stock. It reduces the amount of forage grazed and is not additive to grazing.

The environmental impact of winter feeding of transhumant herds, however, is often very negative. In systems totally dependent on grazing, overall numbers tend to be kept in check by how many can be overwintered. When concentrates are fed, however, large numbers can be maintained through the lean season. This greatly increases the pressure on the grazing land, especially if the livestock are allowed to graze before the herbage has fully recovered in spring, which is, unfortunately, often the case. Winter feeding seems to have been largely responsible for the serious degradation of Kyrgyzstan’s pastures during the collective period, and may be a contributing factor to pasture problems in Inner Mongolia.

Extreme examples of the effect of the negative impact of concentrate feeding can be found in some semi-desert grazing lands of western Asia. Jordan is one example (Al Jaloudy, 2001). Subsidized cereals were made available to herders and this greatly increased their capacity for overwintering. In addition cheap fuel and open country allowed transport of water, feed and sometimes the stock, and allowed grazing wherever rain had brought on a flush of green. Previously, the duration of grazing had been limited by the availability of drinking water and the speed at which flocks could walk. Vast areas of grazing have been destroyed in this manner. The constant use of motor transport on fragile vegetation is also very damaging. Winter feeding has a definite role in transhumant systems, but it must be used in a rational manner.

Winter shelter is important in the cold-semi-arid zone, where herders cannot migrate to milder areas in winter. Natural shelter, through correct selection of winter campsites, is of primary importance, considering aspect, seeking foothill valleys with some protection from wind, and using forests. The value of artificial shelters has been well demonstrated in many areas during collective times, and there is a strong need for such shelters to be repaired and maintained.

Other technical constraints

Poisonous plants are mentioned in many of the studies, but nowhere seem to be a serious problem, although transhumant stock unfamiliar with such vegetation may be more susceptible than those that graze the same land all the time. Predators are a problem in some areas - with conflicts of interest between conservationists and herders.

Poor access to services - especially veterinary - and to good breeding stock is mentioned in several studies, with the problem varying greatly in intensity between countries. Veterinary care can probably not be expected to extend to the highest alpine pastures, but herders have a right to access to routine vaccination and facilities when on more accessible parts of their routes. No serious incidences of disease were reported, but the transition from free, state-supplied care to private causes double problems in some countries: herders are unwilling to pay for what they had become used to receiving free, and veterinarians find it difficult to make a living in areas of extensive stock rearing.

Transport of tentage and equipment is very labour demanding in those areas where motorized transport was once supplied by the state, and herders now have to use pack animals or pay for lorry hire.

Socio-economic constraints

Technical problems are not usually the main ones facing transhumant herding. The major ones are socio-economic. The overweening importance of clarifying problems of grazing rights has been discussed above. The “technical” approach that has been advocated for improving extensive pastures and livestock production in the past has not been successful, and in most cases an integrated methodology would be needed. This would involve not only technicians, but also the administration to provide a suitable legal framework, and sociologists to deal with the organization of the herders and other groups involved. This is not a traditional approach and would require, amongst other hard tasks, the training of sociologists in the basics of pasture, land and livestock management.

Educational levels among herding communities in the study areas vary greatly. Mongolian herders have all completed at least junior secondary school and are among the most literate in Asia. Chinese herders also generally have a good standard of literacy. In the Himalayas, herders are minority groups and generally have less access to schooling than do settled farmers in the same area, and their level of literacy is very low. It seems to improve from west to east. It is not obvious that the level of literacy affects the main traditional herding skills, although it could hinder any training programmes that might develop. Low educational levels, of course, limit access to outside employment and, perhaps, to markets.

In the Himalayan studies, herders were generally perceived as being poor. No direct comparisons are made, however, with settled, subsistence cultivators in the hill tracts. Herders certainly have a hard lifestyle and can carry few possessions, but they do have considerable capital in their herds. With a series of good years, they can accumulate wealth to invest in, amongst others, land. The groups studied generally owned medium-sized flocks; larger flockmasters may be quite rich and even employ shepherds for the transhumance while carrying on some other business, including stock trading. In cold semi-arid Asia, herders are in the mainstream population and are not a poor group.


Technical improvements in livestock production must be accompanied by adequate marketing facilities if they are to lead to better livelihoods for the producers. Therefore marketing will have to be kept in mind in any programme of grazing management improvement. Marketing of stock and produce was a problem in many of the areas studied. The Nepal study was different in that the specialist milk producers were linked to cheese making or marketing organizations. Groups far from main markets complain of lack of infrastructure and unscrupulous dealers - a complaint heard in many other stockrearing zones. Absence or breakdown of trekking routes is also a problem locally. Loss of or diminution in processing capacity is also having adverse effects. In the cold semi-arid zone, large volumes of stock are slaughtered in autumn, so abattoirs with freezing capacity are necessary to handle this; the system was well organized, allied to trekking stock over large distances, but financial difficulties have reduced capacity and this affects offtake.

World markets for meat and wool are, at present, depressed; this is clearly felt even in remote herding areas. Wool in particular is affected, and most of that produced by herding systems is short, rather coarse and dirty; it cannot compete with imports from Oceania. In Afghanistan, mechanized wool-washing facilities have ceased to function; now traditional hand-knotted carpets are being made from Oceanian wool imported via Pakistan - although local wool may be used for the carpet web.

Conclusions by zone

Conclusions from the Himalayan studies

The main conclusions of the series of Himalayan studies were brought together at the Meeting of the Working Group, held in Peshawar in June 2001. They are summarized by Morrison (2000b):

Several gaps were identified in the information available.

The views of herders were recorded in some studies. They would welcome “improved” seeds for oversowing, pro vided that the government provides them. None are willing to pay higher grazing fees. All would like to see reduction in weeds and more veterinary attention.

The Himalayan studies overall have shown that most of the usual technical “grassland” suggestions for improving pasture management and herding productivity are impracticable. Common suggestions are: better grazing management; reseeding with high-yielding species; and providing herder training. However, any management improvement would require major changes in the present vague allocation of grazing rights (especially in some of the cases where two or three very different groups use the same land at different seasons). Reseeding could only be done if all the management faults that caused the degradation had been resolved and suitable ecotypes of desirable forages identified, tested and seed supplies assured - before deciding on the economic sustainability of the activity and the operational problems of reseeding in very inaccessible regions on steep slopes. As to training, what can a technician tell a herder who has no real secure right to land nor protection from trespass? Herders probably know full well the grosser faults of their practices: grazing too early in spring, overstocking, and so on, but usually they have no choice but to feed their stock as they can today since they have not the finance to plan for the longer term.

Pasture condition in the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya

Most of the case studies from the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya state that pastures are generally in poor condition; this may not apply to all the pastures of the zone but most are said to be seriously overstocked.

The causes of pasture degradation are the usual ones associated with poor pasture management: overstocking, putting stock to graze too early in spring before there is adequate herbage growth and keeping them on pasture too late in the season (where there is no snow cover); grazing every available piece of pasture all the time without spelling may also cause damage; the stock of sedentary owners may be more culpable than those of transhumants, since the latter move seasonally. Further degradation of the vegetation is caused by excessive felling of trees, and uprooting of shrubs for fuelwood and harvesting of medicinal herbs.

Many of the middle-altitude hay lands in the Himalayas are closed to grazing throughout their growing season and only mown at the end of the monsoon. This probably explains why they generally maintain a good cover, generally of a few grasses (Chrysopogon is often prominent), with very few herbaceous legumes since these are shaded out by the management regime.

Some of the studies, notably that from Nepal, record very high stocking rates indeed. Many countries and localities have grazing rules and regulations, often old but quite logically formulated and designed to maintain the natural vegetation while allowing livestock production to continue along traditional lines, especially in forest areas. It is clear, however, that these have little effect in controlling stock numbers or in improving grazing management. Rules are not a solution in themselves, they require the means for their application and a political will, at all levels, to see that they are respected.

Fortunately, it appears that most of the pastures are quite resilient and respond to resting, so management changes could be used as a means of improving their vegetative cover. The effect of short-term protection has been shown in many of the enclosed versus open cutting trials. Another demonstration of rapid regrowth of rested pasture was that of Afghanistan during the troubles, when most of the livestock had left the country.

Manipulation of grazing pressure and management is only likely to affect the pasture vegetation - improvement of the tree layer may be more difficult.

Conclusions from the Cold Semi-Arid studies

The systems are almost purely pastoral with little or no interaction with crop-growing groups. The thermal growing season over most of the zone is too short to allow easy crop production or the use of sown forage. Extensive, mobile herding of mixed herds, using hardy landraces, is the traditional, and most sustainable strategy. Survival through winter and early spring is mainly assured by having the stock as fat as possible, through skilful grazing, in autumn.

The Mongolian studies describe how migration routes develop to suit the terrain, climate, available grazing and livestock types. They also show how political change, and lack of attribution of grazing rights, can have a disruptive effect on migration patterns, leading to overuse and unseasonable grazing of some areas while others are underused. The second study demonstrates the feasibility of making hay from natural vegetation, by herders, using simple equipment. It also showed, however, that yields are generally low and only some hay for emergency use could be produced. This technology, however, is only suited to some zones, notably the mountain steppe, and to situations where hay land is close to where the hay will be required, the spring and winter camps. In the mountain steppe, transhumance distances are usually short and meadows relatively abundant.

Conserved winter feed is usually limited, therefore, to a small amount of mediocre hay. The Altai study describes the effect of introducing quite large amounts of high quality legume hay into the winter feeding of transhumant stock. Not surprisingly, the effects are very positive. However, the situation of the project is special: abundant water for irrigation is available and the hay growing area in the Junggar Depression is at much lower altitudes than most of the zone and with a growing season of about six months. The abysmally low average hay yield attained by herders, compared to the crop’s proven performance in the area, confirms that it is not easy to convert herders to competent farmers in a short time.

Possibilities for pasture improvement - feasibility

The management of natural pasture, especially in areas with unclear title to land and grazing rights, is complicated both legally and technically. Sometimes, as in many of the Himalayan studies, grazing land is interspersed with forest and both land uses have to be taken into consideration. Protection of catchments and minimizing damage to and siltation of downstream works may also be an issue, although these are probably of little direct interest to the users of mountain grazing. Attempts at “improvement” of grazing are futile without rectifying the management faults that are to blame for the initial damage.

The main practical methods of improving pasture condition involve manipulation of grazing pressure and grazing management. It is necessary, therefore, that the grazing rights to the land involved be clear, that the necessary laws and regulations be in force and that the mechanisms exist to see that they are respected. Application of regulations for improvement, such as only grazing land at the correct season and regulating the overall stocking rate, require the agreement and compliance of all who have right to graze a particular piece of land - participatory methods are indicated, but the whole issue may be very complicated. Where the human population is dense, and the pasture even correctly managed cannot provide a reasonable livelihood, it is very difficult to get agreement on destocking.

If pasture improvement (or arrest and reversal of degradation) is to be brought about on a large scale, and catchment protection considerations would often indicate the desirability of this, then a very broad and integrated approach would be needed. The legal framework would have to be in place, the interests of all users - local graziers, transhumant herders, foresters, wildlife and those downstream who benefit from better flood control - would have to be taken into account. Where the land is no longer sufficient to support an increased human population, then the authorities will have to tackle the problem of providing alternative livelihoods - this may include, as is being done in parts of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, education and training of the youth so that they can seek employ elsewhere. Particular care would also have to be taken to see that localized development and improvement does not bar transhumance routes. Control of stock numbers in a particular area notoriously just moves most of the stock elsewhere to cause more damage - this could only be dealt with by planning on very large areas indeed.

Accurate and detailed information on many technical matters is essential in planning improvement work. In addition to the pasture-animal complex, many social factors have to be taken into account, as well as forest and livestock matters. From the pasture point of view, present management systems, vegetation composition, condition and trends over time, stock numbers and condition, other land uses and many other details must be known, and usually information from those isolated areas is fragmentary at best. Point-of-time surveys of vegetation may assist in project formulation, but they do not represent a solid enough foundation for making serious interventions in the management of large areas of vegetation. As Pratt (1997) points out:

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) may suffice to get a process project started, letting monitoring data guide subsequent inputs, but embarking on development in a state of relative ignorance is always a high-risk strategy.

Interventions on grazing lands in the light of constraints involved

Can pasture condition and productivity be improved under the conditions of the production systems described in the studies?

In the Himalaya

Several authors propose herder training. During early discussions of the FAO Temperate Asia Pasture and Fodder Working Group, many participants were keen on re-seeding with “high-yielding forages”. Interventions like overseeding and fertilization, even if they had a chance of being profitable, could only have a positive effect once the defects in the management which brought about the deterioration had been rectified! While fertilizer application would have a positive effect on yield (no information is available on what long-term effect it might have on species composition over time) it is impossible that it could be profitable on the grazing land as a whole; transporting fertilizer to and spreading it on steep, broken terrain far from motorable roads makes such an operation almost impossible. No cultivars suitable for reseeding of high altitude grazing land have been identified, and any disturbance of the natural vegetation is liable to do more harm than good. Collection of native pasture ecotypes is possible, but collection in itself does not mean that these ecotypes are suitable for reseeding, nor that their seed could be produced cheaply and in quantity.

Targeted sowing of forage on bottom land for hayfields, or close to dwellings, may be locally feasible on protected, privately- or group-owned land. Some experience of reseeding is mentioned in the studies on the eastern Himalaya (where rainfall is higher): failure was common but causes are not given, other than unprotected plots being grazed continually and excessively from the time of their emergence.

Herder training in pasture management also seems to have little promise at present in the Himalayan zone. Technicians have little of practical use to tell them. Grazing management will be difficult to improve until such time as problems of grazing rights and control of stock numbers are dealt with by the authorities. Most of the problems associated with overpopulated land are not technical. Some improvement of social organization may be possible, through a fully participatory approach to discussing grazing management and rights, but with severe overpopulation, several communities involved - both settled and transhumant, and sometimes land rights belonging to third parties, this will not be easy.

For cold semi-arid areas

In this zone, pastoral lands are usually large and discrete; there is little or no interaction with agricultural and agropastoral groups. Because of the climate, transhumance routes cannot avoid the severe winters, and opportunities for production and conservation of fodder are also limited. Therefore, herding systems must rely on optimum use of the natural pasture to ensure survival of herds through winter and spring.

The zone has seen considerable political change over the past century and this has had a marked effect in breaking down traditional herding systems and social organization. India and Pakistan also saw vast political changes with independence, but this does not seem to have had a very marked effect on their herding communities as they are marginal to the mainstream. The effects of decollectivization have varied according to the country, as described in Chapter II. All attempts at improvement involve organization of grazing management - in the widest sense - and some social organization.

The Chinese option, described in Chapter V, is allocation of land on contract; reseeding and investment in infra structure, including fencing, is encouraged. This is supported by a considerable technical and research establishment, at both national and local levels.

Mongolia is typical of areas where extensive, mobile systems have been maintained. Stock numbers have risen since decollectivization, but there are technical and social problems; grazing rights have yet to be allocated, herders are not yet socially organized, and only collaborate at the level of small groups. A large class of urbanized rural poor has arisen, including “new herders” who lost administrative and technical jobs on the disbanding of the cooperatives, but that is not a problem with a technical solution.

Where grazing must be very extensive and mobile, it is essential that herders be so organized socially that they can agree on the overall management of vast areas of land within a “four season” system, avoiding trespass and conflict while still maintaining the flexibility necessary for risk avoidance in bad seasons. In parts of Mongolia there is collaboration on herding tasks by small groups, but there is still a vast task to organize the entire herding population.

Reseeding and artificial pastures are not an option in the harsher parts of the zone. Sown fodder would only be possible under oasis conditions, such as the project described for Xinjiang Altai, and some areas of western Mongolia, where some irrigated lucerne has been grown. In the rare situations where such production is possible, its improvement merits study. Haymaking is being greatly encouraged by the Mongolian authorities, but the areas are limited where this can be done profitably by herders. It can be encouraged where suitable vegetation is available and where hay can be made close to where it is needed - winter and spring camps.

Need for more information on vegetation and trends

A common feature throughout most of the area is the lack of real information on pasture condition and trends, although China has just completed a national grassland survey. Even areas are often only approximately known. Pasture surveys are often only local, conducted for a specific project, and lack follow-up to determine pasture trends. In some cases where surveys have been carried out they are now out of date. Pasture deterioration is reported in many of the studies; this is almost certainly true, but there are no baseline data to confirm it. If management of natural grazing land is to be improved, then more information is required for both planning of work and monitoring vegetation trends. On the scale and topography of the lands involved, this would be a vast task, which would have to be organized at national level.

The need for more information is particularly acute in those areas, like the Himalaya, which are important watersheds and where the impact of grazing in not only local but can affect land and infrastructure far down the catchment. The deleterious effects of flooding and siltation may cross national boundaries, such as much of Nepal’s flood water. In such cases, the cost of survey, and much of the rectification of deteriorated vegetation cover, could not be met by the herders alone and funding would have to take into account beneficial environmental effects.

Environmental impact

Do transhumant systems differ from sedentary ones in their impact on the pastoral environment? They are potentially less damaging than sedentary systems because they exploit the herbage at fixed seasons, often at the peak of its production, and leave the vegetation to recover for the remainder of the growing season. Like all grazing systems, however, their impact on the herbage depends on the stocking rate, the timing of grazing and the length of time for which the livestock remain on the pasture. Since there has generally been little monitoring of pasture condition and composition, especially in the more remote grazing areas, except for local and usually short studies, the evidence for pasture degradation is anecdotal, but in many places damage is so severe that it cannot be denied.

Pasture degradation is usually even worse along transhumance routes than on the summer pastures. Where herders traverse settled areas, as in the Himalayan zone, they are often blamed for destruction of the pastoral vegetation but, in almost all cases, the settled population has risen greatly during the past century and their flocks and herds have increased in proportion. Transhumant stock pass fairly rapidly through transit areas: sedentary stock are there all the time and graze wherever there is a green leaf available.

Felling of trees and uprooting of shrubs for fuelwood causes considerable damage in populous areas, especially in the vicinity of agglomerations, where it may be more damaging than grazing. Collection of medicinal plants is locally important; its effect on the vegetation cover is not known, but, if uncontrolled, such collection can harm biodiversity.

In the cold semi-arid, more truly pastoral systems, pasture degradation may be linked, at least in part, to the degree of modification of traditional systems, limitation of mobility and artificial winter feeding regimes. Mongolia, for example, which retained a high degree of mobility and maintained native breeds as the basis of the system, has suffered far less environmental damage than other countries in the subregion, which opted for degrees of sedentarization and “intensification”. That Mongolia has suffered as a result of unusually severe weather in two recent years is not a fault of the system.

High levels of winter feeding from external sources appears to be an almost certain way to pasture degradation unless stock numbers and timing of grazing are in tune with the natural vegetation. This was discussed earlier in more detail.

The vegetation in the more northerly lands of Mongolia and the Xinjiang Altai is in somewhat better condition, while still giving cause for concern. They are less important as sources of rivers, and irrigated agriculture is much less important than in the south. Mongolia has few rivers and these mainly drain internally, apart from the Selenge system that flows into Lake Baikal. The Chinese side of the Altai is partly on the Arctic Ocean catchment: the Irtych joins the Ob; the other major river, the Ulungur, is internal, flowing into Fuhai lake. The overall situation in the pastoral areas of China is serious and while the “Long-term contract grassland use system” has been applied throughout most of the pastoral lands, pasture degradation has increased over the past decade (Table 5.9); changing pasture trends takes time and the contract system has not had enough time to show whether or not it will improve the pastoral vegetation as well as livestock output.

The status of wildlife on the pastures varies greatly from country to country; both destruction of habitat and indiscriminate hunting are taking their toll. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the situation seems to be particularly serious. Wildlife is effectively protected in Bhutan. Mongolia, with its relatively low population density and herding lifestyle, still has a relatively abundant fauna; in some areas where mechanized water points have broken down, domestic herds can no longer enter or can only use the pastures for very short periods. This has led to an increase in gazelle numbers; rodent numbers have risen with the reduction of control and their predators are also more numerous. Herders usually co-exist with wildlife and do not usually hunt a lot; other sectors of the community, in some countries, do hunt and destruction of habitat is serious where land is being cleared and forests felled.

The future of herding as a lifestyle

In much of the area under discussion, herding is under stress from incursions by agriculture and the stock of settled groups, loss of grazing land, and interference with traditional migration routes. There are also serious problems associated with increasing human and livestock populations. Modern transport and means of communication have raised the awareness of many of the herding community to other ways of life and to the attractions of urban or settled life. In some areas, such as the Northern Areas of Pakistan, improved education has encouraged the young to seek employment in “more skilled” jobs; but then other ethnic groups have taken over the herding tasks, so the pastures are still used.

Some authors (e.g. Blench, 2001) consider that nomadic herding is anachronistic and that it will have disappeared by the middle of this century; in the area under consideration, however, it is difficult to imagine herding’s demise. While many would prefer a more settled life, and many governments would like to settle nomads, alternative employment would have to be found for them; in the Himalayan context this would mean finding livelihoods in a labour market that is already oversupplied. If one group settles, then it is likely that others will arrive to scrape a living from the pastures.

In the cold semi-arid zone, extensive herding seems to be the only practical way of earning a living from the land; wildlife and tourism may have a niche but it is so cold and isolated an area that such prospects are probably limited. It is likely that Mongolia’s pastures will be exploited by livestock, under extensive grazing systems, for a long time to come. Recent information from Kyrgyzstan indicates that part of the population are returning to traditional herding. Transhumance need not exclude herders from access to services and education, and this was demonstrated clearly during Mongolia’s collective period.

In semi-arid and arid areas where the climate is harsh and herding risks high, mobility is very necessary to allow skilled herders room for risk-avoidance strategies; this is even more important in situations where they have no access to agricultural products for use as emergency feed.

Herding is a low external input, labour intensive system that provides employment in lands where other work is scarce; it provides both subsistence and income. Ranching is the “modern” capitalist system of using extensive grazing land for livestock production; it is far less labour intensive than traditional systems. Subsistence herders are the only secondary users of vegetation who depend on milk much more than meat. All others, from carnivores to ranchers and capitalist herders, depend on meat. No commercial dairy producer would choose arid and semi-arid grazing as the basis for their production. The logic for relying on milk is that it is available daily, but meat only sporadically, and the system can provide subsistence for far more people per unit area than any other arid zone production method. No data are available for temperate Asia, but, for African conditions, Jahnke (1982) estimated that if arid countries like Mauritania and Somalia organized their land use as modern ranching, they would have to reduce their human population by a factor of fifty.

For many authors, the need for continuing herd mobility and the need for planners and policy-makers to consider the special conditions of the extensive grassland environments remains. Merkle (2002) notes that Scholz (1995) proposed a modern form of mobile livestock keeping, but suggests that policy-makers and planners need to give priority to subsistence rather than market-oriented husbandry, to job security rather than to increased productivity, and to resource conservation rather than increased yields. Richard (2002), when reviewing the potential for rangeland development in yak-rearing areas of the Tibetan Plateau, notes that planners must recognize that animal husbandry and livelihoods on the Plateau are still subsistence based, and that the environment upon which these livelihoods depend is marginal, with limited potential for intensification. She recommends a number of policy guidelines, which include:

A recent article in the The Economist (Anonymous, 2002) suggests for Mongolia that “there is a desperate need... to restore mobility”.

Possible interventions for settled or agropastoral stock owners

While the main object of the studies was transhumant systems, quite a lot of insight was gained, at least in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush zone, on problems of the settled stock owners who use the same pastures. Feed scarcity is a major constraint and winter feed scarcity may be more serious for some settled groups than for transhumants, who can move to more clement areas.

Possibilities for improving feed supply

Improved pasture management is often mentioned, but, with grazing rights constraints, often multiple users of pastures, and high levels of stocking, this is only likely to be possible in a few areas. Cultivation of fodder is one option available to farmers.

Fodder from arable land is a possibility for those with adequate land (and sometimes irrigation) resources where it is economically interesting. Extra fodder does not, despite the hopes of many projects “take some of the strain off the grazing land”, but it does improve animal performance. Sown fodder, however, is a crop like any other and must compete with them on economic terms for land and inputs. Supplementation for milch cattle and fodder, conserved or fresh, to help survival in the lean season would seem to be the main applications. Better conservation and use of crop residues is an important part of improving fodder output from arable land. There has been considerable progress in parts of the Himalayan zone on winter fodder production in recent years. Berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum) is already well known in the lower areas. Introduction of improved, multi-cut oat cultivars in Pakistan in the 1980s resulted in that crop becoming a major fodder on the plains, for use for both farms and urban dairies; as described by Bhatti and Khan (1996). Oats have proved to be very successful in mountain areas as well, notably in the Northern Areas, where they have been widely adopted (Dost, 2001). Berseem is now also used there, up to above 1 300 m; this was introduced in the context of the overall cropping system, with parallel work on the main cereals (Dost, 1996). Oats have now been successfully introduced as a fodder in Afghanistan and are promising in Bhutan, as mentioned in Chapter XV.

Haymaking is useful where forage resources and climatic conditions favour it. In much of the Himalaya, overripe hay of low quality is made after the monsoon, but, for climatic reasons, it seems difficult to improve it. Better hay can be made under steppe conditions, if growth is adequate (see Chapter IV). Irrigated fodder for hay is traditional in some areas, notably Afghanistan and parts of China; lucerne is the major crop, with shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum) in Afghanistan. Haymaking from irrigated lucerne is described in Chapter VII. Oat hay has become commercially important in Pakistan (Dost, 2002). Haymaking for pastoral conditions and conservation of crop residues is discussed in detail by Suttie (2000a).

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