Pastoralist Knowledge Hub

High Asia

The High Asia region spans the highlands of South and Central Asia ranging from 2000 – 8800 m. From a traditional socio-economic perspective, this region is known for yak herding, a unique type of pastoralism that is specially adapted to the cold, rough and fragile environment found here, and which takes place in altitudes between 2000 and 5500 m. Most of the world’s yak population is found in the Tibetan plateau (China). The yak is a sturdy multi-purpose animal that provides food, through meat, milk and blood, means of transport and fuel as well as fibres and hide. In lower altitudes of High Asia, pastoralists also breed specialist hybrid crossbreeds between cattle and yaks generically called “yakows”, locally known as dzo in the Tibetan context, khainag in Mongolia, and chauris in Nepal, to fulfil specialist functions when used as draft and pack animals. Despite this the yak industry is mostly domestic with poor linkages to market, although several advances have been made in recent years, especially regarding yak wool in China and Mongolia.

The Pastoralist Knowledge Hub supported YURTA Association to establish the World Yak Herders’ Association and funded the ‘Community Dialogues in High Asia’ programme between 2016-2018 and which was implemented in Nepal, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and India. Many communities / regions within these countries were mobilized to come together as yak pastoralists and to organize to improve prospects for yak herding. While the community dialogues were directed towards the community, attempts were meanwhile made to engage institutional stakeholders to hold dialogues with them and include them within the meetings of the yak herders. This programme has been extended up to 2021 and will seek to involve more  countries in High Asia (Russia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bhutan) with important yak-herding communities.

Along with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the YURTA Association, the Hub also supported the participation of yak pastoralists from several Asian countries at the 6th International Yak Conference (IYC) in China in August 2018. The IYC is the biggest forum of its kind bringing together science and industry working on yak husbandry. For the first time, yak herders were included in this forum and their contributions heard.