Dissertation Abstract

The socio-ecological impacts of structural changes in the transhumance system of the mountainous areas of Nepal

Aryal, Suman  2016  

Institute of Agriculture and Environment, University of Southern Queenslaand (Australia), 247 pp.

Traditional social-ecological systems such as pastoralism can be subject to major and rapid changes, resulting in adverse social, economic, cultural and ecological impacts. Transhumance, a type of pastoralism based on seasonal and recurring movement of livestock has been undergoing unprecedented changes. In the high Himalayas, transhumance is a threatened system due to social-economic and cultural transformations brought by globalisation, shifts from subsistence agriculture (e.g. grazing) to multi-functional land use (e.g. tourism and biodiversity conservation), conservation policies and practices, and climate change. However, knowledge of the current status of the transhumance system and its socio-economic, cultural and ecological significances is very limited. This study on the transhumance system conducted in or near three mountainous protected areas of Nepal Himalayas addresses the knowledge gap.

The study integrated both social and ecological components of transhumance systems using a system thinking approach. The study was multi-disciplinary in nature and applied mixed methods using a range of tools and techniques for data collection and analysis. Socio-economic data were collected by household surveys, focus group discussion, informal interviews and key informants interviews. The ecological data were collected from the rangelands sites using horizontal transects of grazed areas to collect data on grazing intensity, species richness and other environmental variables.

The study revealed that the transhumance system is a major source of household income of herders and is also embedded with culture and traditions. The results did not support the notion that transhumance grazing is necessarily detrimental to biodiversity. Though the species richness (α-diversity) was low and nitrophilous and grazing tolerant plants were abundant nearer to the goths (semi-permanent stopping and camping points), the highest species richness and occurrence of rare species at mid and further distances from goths within 800 m transects confined that adverse impacts were limited to areas near goths.

Globalisation, particularly tourism and labour migration, state conservation policies and practices and climate change were the major drivers of change to the transhumance system. However, the intensity of pressures from those drivers on the systems varied across sites. Herders perceived that fewer households were involved in the transhumance system, herd sizes had decreased, movement patterns have been changed, dependency on transhumance was reduced and the involvement of younger generations in transhumance systems has declined. These changes can decouple social and ecological subsystems that can induce adverse social-ecological impacts.

Complete collapse of the transhumance system could be detrimental; however, some level of transhumance could be desirable. How herders and transhumance systems respond to multiple change pressures will depend on how future policy decisions will support transhumance and whether transhumance systems appear beneficial and attractive compared to other available livelihood options. The incentives to motivate herders by creating a lucrative environment for doing transhumance such integrating with alternate livelihood options can encourage some families to continue transhumance.