Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dzo: The Mule of the Himalayas in a Changing Climate


by Nakul Chettri

With a large number of ethnic societies having their own social, economic and cultural attributes living in a highly heterogeneous mountain environment, any developmental initiative in the Himalayas has to be based upon a value system that they understand, practice and is sustainable.

The Himalayas are characterised by highly complex socioecological systems, with rich cultural diversity linked with equally rich biological diversity. However, it is a paradox that the majority of people living in this biologically rich region are among the poorest in the world. Agriculture, being the most dependable livelihood option available to these people has evolved significantly over the centuries to cater to their subsistence needs. Based on the agro-climatic zones and farming practices, the Himalayas can be broadly categorised into five major systems. Each of these systems can be characterised by i) specialised pastoralism (purely livestock based, a high altitude transhuman subsistence livelihood); ii) mixed mountain agropastoralism (livestock, agriculture and agro-forestry livelihoods based in the mid hills); iii) cereal based hill farming systems (agriculture based livelihoods in the low and mid hill areas); iv) shifting cultivation (livelihoods based on rotational agro-forestry with slash and burn practices) and v) specialised commercial systems (livelihoods based on monoculture and other commercial crops). In each of these specialised systems, there is a variation in crops and cropping patterns which supports a
wide range of agro-biodiversity that is the sources of food, nutrients and economic prosperity for the region.

Among these broad farming systems, specialised pastoralism is one of the oldest systems in the world. The people living in one of the harsh ecological zones in higher and trans-Himalayan region have been practicing this system for a hundred years providing vital nutrients to the majority of the mountain people. This practice is widely found in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region starting from Afghanistan in the west to the Himalayan and trans-Himalayan regions of Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan and India.

For more read Nakul Dzo MF 09

Mr Nakul Chettri, PhD

Biodiversity Specialist/Deputy Team Leader

Biodiversity Conservation and Management (BCM)
Environmental Change and Ecosystem Services (ECES)
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
Khumaltar, Lalitpur, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu - Nepal

Tel:+977 1 5003222 Ext 323, Fax: +977 1 5003299/ 5003277
Emails: nchettri@icimod.org, chettrin@rediffmail.com
Web: www.icimod.org