- A study finds that plantations in Himachal Pradesh have replaced fodder species with unpalatable trees; contributed to the spread of invasive species, disrupted migratory routes and changed Gaddi access to pasture lands.
- A greater representation of Gaddi pastoralists and other local communities in forest policy development in the region will help in addressing these issues and increase the resilience of vulnerable livelihoods.
- However, one expert said that the spread of invasive species is due to lopping and overgrazing and that plantations are a minor factor among the drivers affecting pastoral livelihoods.
Worldwide efforts to curb climate change include widespread and large-scale afforestation activities. But a recent survey-based study finds that plantations in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh enhance vulnerabilities of migratory Gaddi pastoralist livelihoods. It stresses the need to boost the representation of local communities and Gaddis in forest policy development to minimise its negative impacts on their livelihood.
For centuries, Gaddi pastoralists have been herding goats and sheep in the Himalayas. The study found that plantations replaced fodder species with nonpalatable trees; contributed to the spread of invasive shrubs; disrupted migratory routes; and changed access to pasture lands.
“Although we found an overall decline in pastoral livelihoods in our study area, we also found that the households that had shifted away from pastoral livelihoods, prospered — enabled by their social and political networks, educational and family backgrounds,” said Vijay Ramprasad, lead author of the study and senior fellow at the Dehradun-based non-profit organisation, Centre for Ecology, Development and Research.
Gaddis, like other pastoralists worldwide, were already transitioning to non-pastoralist income sources due to other pre-existing socio-economic, cultural, and biophysical stressors. Plantations have added to and accelerated the decline in the number of pastoral households and the size of migratory herds. However, many households have successfully diversified their income sources and this ability to adapt distinguishes between Gaddi herders who are vulnerable and those who are not, the team observed.
“Plantation policy could be more effective when plantations are co-produced with greater representation of local users and Gaddis in developing forest working plans, greater rights, and involvement in plantation activities such as selecting plantation location, species, fencing timeframes and permit monitoring,” Ramprasad suggested.
Listed as a scheduled tribe by the Government of India, Gaddis are agro-pastoralists tracing their ancestry to Bharmour in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Gaddis mainly earn their income through selling sheep wool, goatskin and goat and sheep meat. An average Gaddi household in the study area maintains about 250 goats and sheep and earns between Rs. 2.5 to 3 lakh (Rs. 250,000 to 300,000) a year from livestock. Using migratory paths, they navigate to low-altitude pastures in the winter to graze their livestock.
Gaddis use forests, high-altitude commons, village commons, and privately-owned land for grazing their livestock. While forests and high-altitude commons are accessed by permits issued by the forest department, permission to graze on village commons is obtained from local landowners and private lands are accessed by customary relations between Gaddis and individual farmers.
Unpalatable and invasive species
The research team, which included Abha Joglekar and Forrest Fleischman, interviewed 23 Gaddi herders as well as community leaders and government officials in three villages in Kangra district. Seven out of the 23 Gaddi households interviewed have transitioned to non-pastoral livelihoods such as employment in government and private jobs.
In three panchayats, they found 64 plantations that were planted from 1960 to 2017 and covered a total area of 658 hectares. They mapped randomly selected plantations and noted the dominant species planted, canopy cover, disturbance, and other factors.
Afforestation policy analysis showed that over the past 40 years, the proportion of palatable trees planted by the forest department declined from 28 percent in the 1980s to 20 percent between 2009 and 2015. One herder noticed that grasses such as garna (Carissa diffusa), a favourite among goats, basoti (Adhatoda vasica) and plants such as peepal (Ficus religiosa) are now almost absent from pastures during winters.
At the same time, the spread of invasive species such as Lantana camara has intensified over the years, particularly in winter grazing grounds, revealed the interviewees. Invasive shrubs were found in 23 out of 29 of the surveyed plantations. Ramprasad’s team observed that lantana was able to thrive under the thick leaf litter of chir pine, a species that was widely planted in the study area. Lantana’s copious seeds, which are dispersed by a large array of species, has played a role in its successful invasion in Kangra and the lower foothills of the Himalayas.
In one incident, 180 goats and sheep from a flock of 250 died after they fell ill from grazing on a foreign, unidentified species in their winter grazing pastures in Kangra. As a caution, Gaddis resorted to shifting their herd composition to more goats than sheep because the former can “trample over” Lantana while sheep wool gets stuck in the bushes leading to a fall in income.
G.S. Rawat, an ecologist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), cautions that the study is based on a small number of interviews with Gaddi families in the lower parts of Himachal Pradesh. He agrees that pastoralists in the Himalayas are “facing quite a few challenges including availability of sufficient grazing areas both in foothills as well as alpine meadows.” However, Rawat said that the “loss of forest cover due to excessive anthropogenic [human] pressures including lopping and overgrazing are responsible” for the spread of Lantana.
While the forest department moved towards joint forest management in the 1990s, many Gaddis were largely left out of the schemes owing to their migratory practices and hence they were not consulted prior to plantation activities; they were also blamed for forest degradation.
Fencing of plantations and land access
Because grazing is a threat to the survivorship of planted tree saplings, plantations are fenced off for the first four to five years restricting access to fodder. Some afforestation practices involve the use of live fences composed of unpalatable species, which can harm livestock. Installation and removal of fences is often unpredictable for Gaddis and as a result, they become more dependent on private lands and village commons for grazing their livestock, posing other challenges such as competition from local livestock owners and negotiating with panchayats.
Although access is restricted in reserve forests, prohibited in new plantations and allowed in some un-demarcated forests with a permit, Gaddis have resorted to diverse strategies to graze illegally on or around plantations including drawing on their political power to negotiate access, noted the study.
“If local users, including migratory users such as Gaddis, can influence the plantation process, including the timing of fencing and its removal, its placement, quality, it would make plantations and its fences a bit more responsive to the needs of vulnerable social groups,” Ramprasad proposed. “However, we know very little about the political economy of fencing, its institutional dimensions, and implications on the larger landscape. Hence, research on these aspects will be necessary especially, now if we aim to protect vulnerable livelihoods such as pastoralism.”
Rawat, of WII, stated that the area under plantations for herding is very small compared to the total pasture area available for grazing in other areas, adding that “forestry plantation is just a minor factor in the entire set of drivers in the framework of pastoral livelihoods.”
Another hurdle faced by Gaddis: increasing urbanisation in their migratory routes, leaving little space for herds. Gaddis were forced to either shorten their migration or shift routes to other areas.
“Working with pastoralists to plant palatable species in grazing areas and/or prioritise plantations away from migratory corridors and toward less productive pastures could be effective ways to mitigate conflicts between plantations and pastoralists,” suggested the authors.
Ramprasad, V., Joglekar, A., & Fleischman, F. (2020). Plantations and pastoralists: afforestation activities make pastoralists in the Indian Himalaya vulnerable. Ecology and Society, 25(4).
Banner image: Gaddi herd of sheep and goats moving toward Bharmour from the lower ranges of plains of Chamba. Photo by Harvinder Chandigarh/Wikimedia Commons.