Push for forest conservation destroying Pakistani yak herding practices

Photo courtesy of Andrew Purdam/flickr

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (9 February, 2012)_Local government efforts to promote forest conservation in a Pakistani village are blocking access to common lands and destroying traditional yak herding practices that villagers depend on for their livelihoods, says a recent study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“We need to rethink our current understanding of conservation, as creating protected areas which people cannot enter can clearly be very detrimental to the livelihoods of forest communities,” said Syed Ajijur Rahman, CIFOR Associate and co-author of Commons becoming non-commons in the efforts for reconciliation between conservation and livelihoods: A case study of northern Pakistan.

Rearing yaks is vital to the survival of most households in the village of Shimshal in northern Pakistan providing dairy and meat, as well as a source of income. However, with limited land to feed their yaks and other livestock, the Shimshal people –especially the poor – rely oncommon lands as grazing pastures.

Recent efforts by the local government to protect forested areas have forced traditional yak herders to abandon previously accessible pastures.Once viewed as a viable solution for protecting natural ecosystems, the study argued that many protected areas use top-down management approaches that “fail to recognise and respect the rights and values of local and indigenous peoples”. This was the case in North Pakistan’s Khunjerab National Park, where the establishment of state control over common resources did away with centuries-old herding practices, and igniting conflict over the access to and use of natural resources.

To help bridge the gap between conservation and livelihoods, the authors recommend handing over decision-making and pasture management to communities, allowing villagers to act as stewards of the commons.This transfer would restore traditional yak herding practices by freeing up pastures for “supervised grazing.”

“Returning control of the lands to the community means, they will treat it as a communal resource, [and] thus lead to better management of their own resources [such as Yaks],”Rahman said.

While the common lands would remain state-owned, community control would allow locals to manage it for use of resources. Any income generated would then be invested in community development schemes, research and educational material.

The state’s task would be to “monitor… and support the communities with necessary resource management training/education. That could ensure peoples’ motivation to manage resources in a more efficient way,” Rahman said.

This community-led approach is not new to Shimshal. Before the introduction of protected areas in 1974, traditional management and customary laws regulated rights and access to the resources at the local level.

However, many feared that free access would lead to the over exploitation of common lands that should instead be protected from humans – a stance that CIFOR scientists argue against.

“There is ample field-based evidence that the communities have effectively managed their common resources… commons traditionally are a well-managed and maintained resource that replenishes itself as long as human activity acts to maintain the landscape,” the study said.

While offering a solution to the yak herding problem, Rahman emphasised that this undertaking would not be risk-free. After such a period of land access restriction, intra-community conflict could kick off as groups begin drawing their own boundaries. In addition, he said communities could still overexploit the resources.

Nevertheless, this “new experiment” would give an important role to communities and their management practices.

As for the state, by monitoring activities, it would still achieve its goals by conserving natural resources while reducing conflict with communities.


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