The Wolf Intelligencer


Pastoralism in Bhutan

The Future of Transhumants’ Sustainable Resource Use in Bhutan: Pressures and Policies. Namgay K, Millar JE, Black RS. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 2021 Feb

Transhumant pastoralism in a changing world: Challenges and opportunities to sustainable yak farming in Bhutan. Dorji, N., Bokkers, E.A.M., Derks, M. and Groot Koerkamp, P., 2020

Good fences are key to sustainable pasture management and harmonious pastoral society of Merak and Sakteng in Bhutan. Wangdi S, Norbu N. Pastoralism. 2018 Dec


;There is limited knowledge about the traditional tsamdro management practice, particularly the building of walls and fences by the pastoral nomads of Merak and Sakteng. Conflicts related to tsamdro resource access are not a new phenomenon in Bhutanese pastoral communities. In the recent past, as an adaptive response to external economic, political, social and ecological changes, the tsamdro was nationalized. This change in policies brought a host of challenges specifically in managing the existing and building new tsamdro border structures.

The objective of the study was to elucidate the motives and purposes behind the building of tsamdro structures, and to explore the historical development, significance and future of yak farming by Brokpas. We used a semi-structured questionnaire and face-to-face interview for collecting both quantitative and qualitative data from 40 yak herders opportunistically selected from both Merak and Sakteng gewogs, village block, refers to a group of villages in Bhutan Trashigang district.

The study revealed that tsamdro border structures were primarily built to ensure harmony within the Brokpa society by reducing conflicts caused by livestock trespassing, but structures indirectly assisted in tsamdro management. The structures were one of the encashable family assets passed across generations and played a critical role in shaping the socio-economic developments of Brokpas. Though the tsamdro was nationalized, the Brokpas still continue to hold tsamdro ownership rights and build new tsamdro border structures to protect their livelihood. The contradiction between the government’s policy and Brokpas’ livelihood pattern will have a detrimental effect on both the social harmony of nomadic herders and the traditional tsamdro management practice. We suggest the government develop nomadic-centered policies that encourage tsamdro resource sharing within the Brokpa communities. Socio-economic development incentives are required to address the trespassing conflicts.

Tshering K, Thinley P. Assessing livestock herding practices of agro-pastoralists in western Bhutan: livestock vulnerability to predation and implications for livestock management policy. Pastoralism. 2017 Dec


In contrast to pastoralists whose focus is almost entirely on livestock, agro-pastoralists may focus primarily on agriculture and derive less than 50% of their income from livestock rearing (Rota and Sperandini 2010). Occupying less arid regions and investing more time in agricultural activities, agro-pastoralists may have higher densities of livestock but care less about the quality of livestock as compared to pastoralists (Brandström et al. 1979).

As in many developing countries (Tulachan and Neupane 1999), agro-pastoralism is the major source of livelihood for rural communities in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Approximately 90% of rural farmers raise some form of livestock (RGoB 2009) for dairy products, draught power, meat, and dung (Miller 1987). Livestock rearing is part and parcel of the Bhutanese agricultural system, contributing 7% of the national GDP and 22% of rural income (MoA 2009). Most of the livestock belonging to agro-pastoralists are grazed in the nearby forests during the daytime and are enclosed in sheds each night. Livestock grazing occurs in almost all forest types (Roder et al. 2002); this is possible, because Bhutan retains about 72% of original forest cover (DoFPS 2015). Farmers provide pine-needle or oak-leaf bedding for livestock in sheds. Dung from these sheds is then used for crop production, greatly reducing or eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers. Some rural people are transhumant agro-pastoralists (Namgay et al. 2013) who seasonally migrate their cattle from one ecological zone to another (Waters-Bayer and Bayer 1992). Largely influenced by Buddhist traditions, Bhutanese agro-pastoralists seldom kill their cattle for meat; rather, they are left to die of old age, disease, and accident. Consequently, many farmers end up owning sizable number of cattle, ranging from 1 to 20 but with an average herd size of 6 (Dorji and

Mountain pastoralism in transition: Consequences of legalizing Cordyceps collection on yak farming practices in Bhutan. Wangchuk K, Wangdi J. Pastoralism. 2015 Dec


Yak farming is the main livelihood source for the high altitude communities in the eastern Himalaya. With increasing access to modern facilities, market opportunities and changes in the legal framework, pastoral systems in the Himalaya are undergoing an unprecedented change. Questionnaire-based qualitative surveys were conducted in five villages of northern Bhutan, to understand how the recent changes in the legal framework for Cordyceps (known as caterpillar fungus) collection have caused specific changes in yak farming practices. Survey results revealed that women were increasingly involved in yak husbandry and household work, after the legalization of Cordyceps collection in 2004. After legalization, the Cordyceps business overtook yak farming as the main income-earning activity. Post-legalization saw a decline in the overall grassland condition and most herders migrated a month earlier to the summer grazing land. Legalization also led to increase in the number of households buying commercial feeds for yaks. Yak mortality increased and fodder scarcity became more acute, which is a major constraint to yak farming. Despite the good income from the Cordyceps business, yak farming was the preferred earning activity over Cordyceps due to herders’ confidence in yak farming as a reliable source of livelihood. Of several measures proposed by yak herders to improve yak farming, increasing grassland productivity and providing subsidies for feed purchases were the most important measures. The study concluded that yak farming practices have undergone a few positive but more undesirable changes after the legalization of Cordyceps collection in 2004. The results suggest multi-disciplinary approaches to address adequately the emerging issues of yak farming e.g. introducing schemes to make yak farming attractive to the mountain youth. The paper suggests interventions to strengthen yak farming and help herders make informed choices in the high altitude rangelands of Bhutan. Essentially, yak farming is at a crossroads where a firm decision is needed to either encourage and strengthen the farming practices or witness the gradual extinction of the age-old tradition.

*WI NOTES “Following legalization of Cordyceps collection, women are being increasingly involved in animal husbandry and household work, suggesting the growing leadership of women in domestic affairs. This is a positive development, indicating considerable improvement in women’s role at the family level, suggesting that women might have more control over yak farming in the future. It would also mean that such positive developments may overcome gender-based constraints hindering women as farmers and managers of natural resources, particularly from the perspective of the future of yak farming.”
“Wangmo and Wangchuk (2008) reported that Cordyceps collection involved digging up soil, which is often left unattended, exposing the bare soil to erosion by monsoonal rain. Similarly to findings by Wangchuk et al. (2012), key informants mentioned littering of non-degradable plastic food wrappers and bottles by Cordyceps collectors and lack of proper garbage management as one of the causes of environmental degradation.”
“According to a quarter of respondents, overgrazing is another cause of grassland degradation. Herders mentioned that, the Cordyceps collection has led to an increase in the number of horses grazing the grasslands. With the rising number of collectors over recent years, a large number of horses are used to transport basic necessities to the collection sites in order to support a month-long collection of Cordyceps in a difficult terrain. Furthermore, in the informal discussions, the herdsmen described the situation being aggravated by grazing pressure from horses used for tourism activities. Wangchuk et al. (2006) equated grazing by one horse to grazing by ten adult cattle for one day in the same area. Further, the carrying capacity of high altitude grassland is low, with one livestock unit requiring about 4.5 ha of well-managed grassland (Wangchuk et al. 2013).”

hanges in transhumant agro-pastoralism in Bhutan: a disappearing livelihood?. Namgay K, Millar JE, Black RS, Samdup T. Human Ecology. 2014 Oct


This paper presents research on changes in the practice of transhumant agro-pastoralism (TAP) in Bhutan within the context of global changes to pastoralism. Households practicing TAP migrate their cattle to lower elevations during winter to access pastures and gain employment. Information was gathered from in-depth interviews (n = 24 households), focus groups (n = 7) and a semi-structured survey (n = 75 households) from six villages. Nine government and non-government agency staff and six livestock extension staff were involved in interviews and focus groups respectively. There has been a 31 % decline in the number of households practicing TAP between 1990 and 2010, due to farm labour shortage, alternative livelihood choices, government policies and climate change. Nevertheless, TAP practice persists, forming the mainstay of many families. The historical legacy, economic and social importance of cattle and a desire to gain formal rights to common land keeps TAP alive today. We conclude that TAP is likely to continue to decline as Bhutan develops, however, households need to be supported to make informed choices about their future.

*WI NOTES “There has been a 31 % decline in the number of households practicing TAP between 1990 and 2010, due to farm labour shortage, alternative livelihood choices, government policies and climate change.”

Transhumant agro-pastoralism in Bhutan: Exploring contemporary practices and socio-cultural traditions. Namgay K, Millar J, Black R, Samdup T. Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice. 2013 Dec


This paper presents research findings on the contemporary practices and socio-cultural traditions of transhumant agro-pastoralism (TAP) in Bhutan. Despite the widespread practice of TAP in Bhutan, there has been limited research on the nature of the practice and associated socio-cultural traditions. Qualitative research methods were used to interview 24 migrating households and nine relevant agency staff in 2010. A structured survey of 75 TAP households gathered background quantitative data.

Migration takes place in April/May and September/October, and may take four days to over a month. The main reasons for migration include (1) avoiding production reduction and mortality of animals from cold, (2) shortage of forage, (3) off-farm income opportunities, (4) avoiding parasite infestation in the south and (5) vacating grazing areas for yaks in winter. Additionally, the study revealed that there are several other factors and indicators that herders consider in planning their seasonal transhumant movement.

We conclude that TAP is an important part of the living cultural heritage in Bhutan. TAP herders have not only adapted their livelihoods to ecological niches at different altitudinal levels but also used resources sustainably while synchronizing their socio-cultural activities with seasonality of the transhumant practice. However, the system is under increasing pressure. Today, TAP communities are faced with family labour shortages due to the increasing participation of children and adults in education and alternative livelihood options. They also face policy and climate change issues making their TAP practice more difficult. Strategies are needed that will allow herders to make informed choices about their futures.

*WI NOTES “TAP herders have not only adapted their livelihoods to ecological niches at different altitudinal levels but also used resources sustainably while synchronizing their socio-cultural activities with seasonality of the transhumant practice.”

Yaks and grasses: Pastoralism in the Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan and strategies for sustained development. Miller, D.J., 1987

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