Shrinking pastures and disconnected pastorals
Our government and the policy makers rarely recognise the economic contributions of pastorals
Ours is a place which is inhabited by a mix of communities- settled as well as nomadic. The latter are an important component of our populace with the pastoral Gujjars and Bakerwals being the most prominent. They represent our state’s most populous scheduled tribe and third largest ethnic group and continue to be unique with their own social, cultural and linguistic identities. An age old practice of these people is their movement along with their herds from one pasture to another along the traditionally allocated routes called as transhumance. Quite contrary to the common perception, the transhumant behaviour of our nomads is not a case of their unchecked exercise of will and want, but is an ecological imperative and an absolute necessity for their survival. In fact the distribution of pastures and routes connecting them constitutes a well knit system which is both structurally and functionally integrated in the socioeconomic set up of these nomadic tribes. Talking ecology, the pattern of this transhumance is not only reflective of our unique environmental set up but also brings fore the profusion and distribution of the natural resources of our state.
Since ages, the transhumance has come to be intimately connected to the physical environment of our state. These people have developed a socioeconomic establishment which not only operates in line with our regional ecosystem but also facilitates these communities to survive in a harsh environment. These nomads make a sizeable contribution to the bovine economy of our state both in terms of supporting their own households and in supplying protein to villages and towns across our state. But our government and the policy makers rarely recognise these contributions by an equivalent investment in the pastoral sector. No doubt, on a global scale the pastoral systems are also under tremendous pressure but the governments tend to work with the pastorals and nomads to find an acceptable solution to the problem. But back home, the government seems to be hostile to pastorals and nomads. It has literally given up to a particular lobby and in the name of potential income from tourism and allied activities, places that have previously been the territory of nomads and pastorals are all the time more in the name of unexplored areas coming into focus as our potential tourist attractions, sites, places and what not. By putting a pasture or a grassland area to a non pasture use, we might be adding a new place, say to our tourism map, but on the other side we are not merely losing a place but are interfering with the basic layout of these nomads and disturbing their long established migration routes. This deliberate destruction of our natural ecosystems for short term profits seems to stem from a blend of having the wrong mental model of how a natural system works and applying inequitable solutions to perceived problems. We must recognise and value that our decisions are sure to bring about far-reaching changes in the socioeconomic organisation of this section of our population. While taking such decisions we seem to forget that these very places are also a reserve of our pristine biodiversity and by altering the use of these reserves we are exposing these fragile natural ecosystems to the fury of nature. Clarifications apart, all would agree that it is the very inaccessibility of our high altitude pastures and grasslands which has permitted the survival of several species eliminated in high-density agricultural areas at the lower altitudes of our valley.
Inaccessibility is generally being observed as a reason for the virginity of mountain ecosystems world over. But to our sheer bad fortune, this too has operated otherwise and further compounded the quandaries of these nomadic tribes. Years of unrest and political instability and insecurity has taken a heavy toll on their pasture ecosystems and changed their status from a freely accessible to a restricted zone. Many have even been lost to the military barricades. Because of lack of any hard evidence and a detailed study such argument might seem speculative and many might debate as how much area has been lost to such conversions, but what should not be debatable is that a major share of this conversion has come from our high alpine pastures. In such a scenario, a sheer force of burgeoning numbers is sure to constantly trim, rip, heave, crush and trample our remaining grasslands and provide too little time for the forage to recover. So squarely blaming the pastorals for this deterioration without separating the fancy from the fact can have serious ramifications of all sorts on our long term objectives. We can not afford to base our decisions and derive conclusions on prejudice which will obscure the truth. If one puts it bluntly, nothing seems to be more luring and more fascinating to us all and our policy and decision makers than the tranquil and luxuriant surroundings and greenery of our grasslands and pastures.
Easily accessible, there is always a threat that the grassland will be lost to some non pasture use, whatever that might be and if inaccessible but close to some strategically important area say an international border in the remote Gurez valley, in the name of keeping the nation integrated, it would be disintegrated both structurally as well as functionally. Let’s face it, this is the reality, this is the truth. Repeatedly our decisions are forcing these nomads to go deep and deep inside into an increasingly inhospitable terrain. If one ponders and recalls places which previously were well within the realm of user rights of our nomads but are now serving some other segments of our society, I bet anyone familiar with our previous land use pattern would come up with at least a dozen names. It can well then be said that if, of late, outside the state it is between T and T i.e. tribals and the tigers, back home it has been between P and P i.e. pastorals and pastures, since long, albeit we pretend ignorance and don’t consider it worth debating. If anything divides the two, it is the far more legal support which the former enjoys while due to their uncertain pastoral tenure, the latter are not able to lodge effective land claims and are thus made to suffer more and that too mutely. Expecting these tribes to withstand these diversified and ever threatening pressures of our times looks sceptical mainly because of their marginal political platform, inability to voice their concerns at proper podium, hostile nature and the ill conceived perceptions of the policy makers and above all the complex and complicated interactions and connections of the nomads with the settled populace. In such a situation, the future of pastoralism in our state will rely profoundly on political decisions and policy resolutions made at various levels. Floating the idea of Pasture Development Board with narrow powers and entrusted with disseminating mainly technical knowledge will not suffice over a long run.
Let alone the extension of our existing pastures and grasslands, with every passing day the situation will become more knotty as different segments like farmers, tour operators, defence circles and the conservation lobby will walk off with additional chunks of land allotments. Visualising these tough circumstances, I firmly opine that whatever be the magnitude and scale, our technical inputs will only have a very restricted impact on long tem basis. If anything is going to protect, support and sustain pastoralism and make it more profitable and vibrant it would be a major policy re-orientation. Crop livestock amalgamation, co-conservation and co-existence, extension of ecologically-sensitive low value tourism with pastoralists providing pivotal services and more sympathetic understanding of our pastoral production systems and their life style should be major attractions of this re-orientation programme. Good Ecology can also make Good Economy, provided we take correct decisions at times when it matters most.
Lastupdate on : Thu, 30 Aug 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 30 Aug 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 31 Aug 2012 00:00:00 IST
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