Maldharis, a traditional pastoralist community, move with their native Kankrej cattle. Photo by Ovee Thorat.

Changing climes

Climate change could also be adding to these woes. A Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC) report in 2011 on the changing climate of the Kachchh district indicates that average rainfall here has increased “significantly”. The frequency of heavy rains increased drastically between 2004 and 2013 across the state, shows an analysis of rainfall patterns by scientists at the Indian Meteorological Department. A 2015 modeling study also finds that monsoonal rainfall is likely to increase by up to 17 percent in the 2050s, as are the minimum and maximum temperatures in the Kutch region too.

The increase in rainfall seems to have benefited some grass species in the Banni. For instance, the productivity of grass species such as Dichanthium annulatum (an important fodder species for cattle that also boosts milk production) has increased, claims the GEC report. However, increased rainfall could also be aiding the growth of Prosopis: a study in 2014 suggests that even in harsh, arid environments where the possibility of Prosopis invasion is ideally low, a singular event of rain could trigger an invasion. On the other hand, increased rainfall has also made settling down to agriculture a more agreeable proposition for many traditionally nomadic families.

Ultimately, while factors such as rainfall and Prosopis invasion may be drivers of change in the Banni, it is important to ensure that any government-led management intervention – such as grassland conservation and restoration – are made more community-centric, said Joshi.

“We need to recognise the traditional knowledge of the Maldharis, and the government should recognise this too,” Joshi added. 

These local pastoral communities still see Banni as home, as a rich landscape that supports their livelihoods, a landscape that has shaped their culture, said Thorat. “None of them look at it as a wasteland, in fact, they have increasingly started seeing it as an asset to which they still don’t have any rights.”


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Banner image: A member of the Maldhari community along with his native Kankrej bulls in the Banni grasslands. Photo by Ovee Thorat.

Article published by Mayank Aggarwal

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