Adapting to Climatic Changes: Agro-pastoral communities in Himalaya

Posted on May 17, 2011


With over 1.3 billion people living in extremely fragile ecosystem of Himalaya, its mountains provide sustenance, livelihoods and prosperity to millions of people downstream.

Given the scenario of lifestyle of various communities living in far-flung areas of Himalayan Mountains, the process of development is taking its own course, which is also happening with agro-pastoral communities in this region in terms of their changing lifestyle to sustain. It was only possible due to some awareness among various communities about the cost-benefit in their various traditional livelihood approaches and their interaction with people living in downstream areas having better opportunities, education and life style.

In Himalayan Mountains the population is still dependent primarily on subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry practices; while very few are dependent on tourism, government and private services. The youths in the region are migrating at a rapid pace to lowland areas in townships and metros for better livelihood and employment opportunities. The remaining ones are looking options in horticulture, seasonal tourism, setting their small businesses, opportunities in private and government services. The changing climatic scenario and weather pattern has further impacted the agriculture and horticulture productivities and seasonal tourism.

Various mountain communities, those earlier used to only purchase sugar and salt from outside market, are now totally dependent on the food supply from downstream farmers. The daily use produce like vegetables, milk products, cereals, etc. are coming from low-lying areas. The people in this region are also struggling with basic amenities in health, education, water, sanitation among others. All this has lead to the situation of high morbidity and mortality, poor education, unavailability of safe water for drinking and productive purposes and high pollution leading to further health problems ecosystem dysfunction.

One wonders about abysmal evidences from leading scientific and research institutions in the region in keeping people informed in timely manner and build their capacities in various livelihood and practical aspects. It is interesting to note that the research and scientific projects in the region have peer reviewed publications and presentation in the journals and scientific conferences across Europe and US, while local people are not aware about such knowledge and their practicality. Even times, it become the issue of accessibility and availability of such resources. One wonders that, how come the research wings in these institutions have inadequate coordination with their research extension department. The publications are meant for the sake of publishing and missions like ‘Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystems’ a government record in policy documents.

In this context I would quote example from one of the reports published by Government India during fall 2010 ‘Climate Change and India: A 4×4 Assessment in India’ Link- that contains information related to production potential of various rain-fed crops and other allied agriculture production sectors from Himalaya. This report even didn’t cover various important issues related to indigenous agro-biodiversity, agro-pastoral practices, water resources related processes and various interlinked ecosystem functions from Indian Himalayan region. I feel that such cursory publications will have implications in planning various programmes in climatic vulnerabilities and adaptation related issues.

Following are a few suggestions towards sustaining traditional knowledge and climate change adaptation in the region:

  • For the conservation of ecological resources and traditional practices in various domains, we could network and collaborate with various existing institutions in the region and also consider developing their capacities on specific issues. We should also consider that the agro-pastoral communities would also expect a shift from tradition and we need to make balance of traditional and contemporary science towards our adaptation approach.
  • It seems that Himalayan region is deficit of knowledge and technologies on eco-tourism and judicious use and conservation of medicinal plants and herbs. We need to look in to this aspect with two important considerations of government policies and available players / resources.
  • Many attempts in revival of traditional healers and medicines have been done in bits and pieces by various civil society groups with the help of international agencies and government funding. They need to be tracked for learning and furthering.
  • Strengthen local governance system that contains elements of Environmental-Justice, Information sharing and Capacity building in available TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) and practices.
  • Need more research on various traditional ecological knowledge aspects in Himalayan region and see the ways and means to link it with contemporary science and technologies
  • Need for greater collaboration between the national and international science community and policy makers to share information and overcome the knowledge gaps in the region
  • Adopting various Ecosystem approaches those benefits locals for environmental actions

I will reiterate a quote from one of the India’s prominent analytical News daily, which says, “Politicians and educationists talk about relevant and appropriate local knowledge, but there is no evidence of it in what happens in our universities and research institutions. A modern society needs to constantly update its knowledge and information. It is part of the preparedness of a government”.