The government-run afforestation activities in Himachal Pradesh have increased the vulnerability of pastoralists, leading to expansion of invasive species, as well as hindrance in seamless connectivity to green pastures. As these afforestation activities threaten centuries-old livestock rearing profession, a November 2022 order by the Chamba circle office of Himachal’s forest department sought to reverse the trend.
The order endorsed what research had highlighted – that tree plantation under various schemes on the migratory routes of local Gaddi and Gujjar pastoral communities caused them “tremendous losses and hardships” due to hindrance in their access to green pastures.
The seasonal migration of pastoralists is well documented in Himachal, as it revolves around travelling back and forth high altitudes so that livestock they rear get quality fodder and in return give them good economic returns.
But, the scarcity of fodder on their migration routes is making the profession very challenging, along with other risk factors such as livestock theft, wildlife-animal conflicts, rising disease load on livestock and less water availability in pastures, reveals a 2022 study by the Institute of Himalayan BioResource Technology in Himachal’s Palampur.
Another 2020 study, Plantations and Pastoralists, focusing on Himachal pastoralists reveals that the tree plantations on the migratory routes of the pastoralists replaced fodder species with non-palatable trees and invasive shrubs such as Lantana camara, an introduced ornamental plant, which has become one of the most aggressive weeds.
Another major disadvantage of such plantation, as it outlined in the study, is that such government plantations remain hard fenced for the first four to five years after planting, thereby restricting pastoralists’ access. “Without adequate institutional support to cope with emerging plantation-related and historical drivers of livelihood change, pastoralism is made vulnerable, pushing Gaddis to leave their traditional occupation and find alternate livelihood, ” the study adds.
Is One Circle’s Intervention Enough?
The Chamba order released by circle head Pushpendra Rana is a much needed wake-up call not only for the forest department, but other government bodies involved in tree plantation across forest areas and common lands in villages and high altitudes, on which these pastoralists traditionally survive for fodder.
Apart from directing field staff to stop any tree plantation inconvenient to Gaddis, the order also adds that if there is any specific need to divert land under migratory route to other plantations, an alternate site needs to be explored only after due consultation with pastoralist communities.
While Rana could not be reached for comments, Chamba’s assistant project director Rajneesh Mahajan told Mongabay-India that since their typical afforestation activities occur during monsoon season, the order will be enforced in the upcoming rainy season.
He said that earlier too, they took care of these things since it is in their benefit not to take up tree plantation on migratory routes due to their low survival rate.
However, does the order by one circle office tide over the problem, which, pastoralists claim, is widespread throughout the state?
Raj Kumar, who has just started his seasonal migration from his home town Palampur in Kangra district, told Mongabay-India that the Chamba order is welcomed, but the issue of tree plantation on their traditional routes is widespread now.
“Most of the pastoralists, whether from any part of the state, have to travel till high altitude of Lahaul valley since quality of fodder is good in high altitudes.” There are places en route in Mandi, as well as Kullu districts, however, that are no longer accessible to them due to government plantations.
“These places were once their resting place, as well as mid-way fodder avenues for their livestock. Ever since their inaccessibility, they (pastoralists) have to look for new routes, which are risky, as well as an economic burden.”
Raj Kumar added that they raised these concerns within the community, as well as with orest officials who grant them passes for grazing. However, they have not received any help yet.
Need For A Digitised Strategy To Ensure Livelihood Protection
Rajeev Kumar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), told Mongabay-India that there are already instructions of the State Level Grazing Advisory Review Committee which say not to do any plantation on the migratory routes of the pastoral communities. He added that two years ago, the grazing committee took up the matter and thereafter, the discussions of the meeting were sent to all forest circles in Himachal for necessary compliance.
“We do a review of the implementation and it will again be done in the upcoming grazing committee meeting,” Rajeev Kumar added.
However, Akshay Jasrotia, a forest rights activist and also state advisor to a pastoral body, Himachal Ghumantu Pashupalak Maha Sabha, told Mongabay-India that most of the instructions issued by the grazing committee have remained on paper and were hardly backed by executive orders.
“Why weren’t plantations stopped on migratory routes of the pastoralists if there was already such instruction to all circle offices,” asked Jasrotia, while informing that they recently gave representation to a forest officer in Kullu district, asking him to clear the government tree plantation on the traditional migratory route near the Hamta Pass and Jia Bridge. However, there was no action.
Jasrotia said that there are multiple issues linked to this problem. First, not all tree plantations on forest land are done by the forest department. Several external agencies have also assigned afforestation activities under different government schemes. But, the problem is that there is no inter-department coordination, leading to unwanted plantation on migratory routes of the pastoralists.
He added that the department does not have requisite data on migratory routes and halting points of the pastoralists in the state, besides proper identification of grazing land and their carrying capacity.
“Unless these things are digitised, a strategy cannot be formed to mitigate the livelihood concerns of the pastoralists,” Jasrotia said. “Chamba circle has done a good job by releasing the exact locations of the pastoral routes along with their order. Similar efforts are needed from different circle heads.”
He said that the problem with the existing system is that the livelihood protection of pastoralists is not given much priority, despite the fact that they have an important role to play in economic and ecological conversation.
Experts Call For Extending The Order
Vijay Ramprasad, a pastoral researcher with Dehradun-based Centre for Ecology, Development and Research, told Mongabay-India that the Chamba order is a positive step. But, the order needs to be replicated in other forest circles.
According to him, pastoral routes are long and diverse, passing through different territories back and forth and developed over long years of their travel.
“Therefore, it is important that all other forest circles of the Himachal forest department release similar orders and take good care of their migratory routes, which is very important for overall survival,” said Ramprasad.
He also added that the authorities in other pastoral areas in the country like Rajasthan or Gujarat should replicate this order, as pastoralists there are also facing similar accessibility problems due to afforestation activities.
Aniruddh Sheth, who is associated with Delhi-based organisation, Centre for Pastoralism, told Mongabay-India that mapping pastoral routes across India could benefit state agencies, private industry and civil society towards recognising the scale and spread of pastoralism in the country.
He said the Chamba forest division’s technical order is an encouraging step towards recognising the impact of plantation activities on pastoral grazing areas and migration. It is therefore vital that other forest circles in Himachal also follow suit.
(Published under Creative Commons from Mongabay-India. Read the original article here)