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

PhD Thesis


Aryal, Suman. 2015. The socio-ecological impacts of structural changes in the transhumance system of the mountainous area of Nepal. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

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

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorAryal, Suman
SupervisorCockfield, Geoffrey
Maraseni, Tek Narayan
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages266
Year2015
Abstract

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. Understanding the nature, extent and impacts of these changes will inform both policy and practice. 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 suggest that adverse impacts were confined to very limited areas near goths. In fact, the results indicate that light or
medium grazing intensity promotes species richness and composition in other areas.

Globalisation, particularly tourism and labour migration, state conservation policies nd 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. Tourism
and labour migration created shortage of labour for transhumance systems and reduced local economic
dependency on such systems. The conservation programs run by government agencies produced unintended outcomes in the transhumance system. It was found that the operational freedom and flexibility of transhumant herders were reduced by conservation policies and programs creating
negative attitude and perceptions among herders towards different schemes of conservation. The trends of key climatic variables (temperature and precipitation) and
perceived changes in different biophysical indicators by herders indicated that the climate change has emerged as an additional threat and has the potential to impact different components of transhumance systems (rangelands, livestock and herders).

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. The likely social impacts are decreased livelihood options, reduced agricultural production, loss of customary lifestyle and traditional knowledge and culture. The potential
ecological impacts from the loss of transhumance systems can be on biodiversity, vegetation and land use, and ecosystem functions and services.

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 as by introducing value addition technologies, certifying and levelling transhumance products, and integrating with alternate livelihood options can encourage some families to continue transhumance.

KeywordsNepal; Himalayas; transhumance
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020300399. Animal production not elsewhere classified
441002. Environmental sociology
410499. Environmental management not elsewhere classified
440699. Human geography not elsewhere classified
Byline AffiliationsInternational Centre for Applied Climate Science
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