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Crop encroachment over alpine pastures in the Himalayan mountains of northern Pakistan: Socio-economic implications for pastoral communities


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This paper analyses the socioeconomic impacts of crop encroachment on pastoral communities. The data was collected through semi-structured interviews and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) with stakeholder communities. Paired t test was applied to compare past and current herd size, composition and herding labour. The results show that crop encroachment significantly reduced herd size and changed the herd composition. Furthermore significant proportion of family labour shifted from herding to cropping. The previous cattle herders occupying the key pastoral niches have shifted to cash crop, while the sheep and goat herders are still following the pastoral occupation. It is concluded that in high Himalayan pastures income diversification through the introduction of cash crop have positive economic impacts for the crop producers but have negative economic consequences for the herding communities. The results of this study can contribute to the development of pastoral land policy and high mountain ecosystem conservation in developing countries in general and in mountain valleys of northern Pakistan in particular.
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Range Mgmt. & Agroforestry 37 (1) : 93-97, 2016
ISSN 0971-2070
Crop encroachment over alpine pastures in the Himalayan mountains of northern Pakistan:
Socio-economic implications for pastoral communities
Inam-ur-Rahim1, Muhammad Khurshid2*, Henri Rueff3, Muhammad Nafees2 and Daniel Maselli4
1Foundation for Research and Socio-Ecological Harmony, Islamabad, Pakistan
2Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Peshawar, Pakistan
3School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford, UK
4Climate Change and Environment Network, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Switzerland
*Corresponding author e-mail:
Received: 13th April, 2015 Accepted: 25th April, 2016
This paper analyses the socio-economic impacts of crop
encroachment on pastoral communities. The data was
collected through semi-structured interviews and
participatory rural appraisal (PRA) with stakeholder
communities. Paired t test was applied to compare past
and current herd size, composition and herding labour.
The results show that crop encroachment significantly
reduced herd size and changed the herd composition.
Furthermore significant proportion of family labour shifted
from herding to cropping. The previous cattle herders
occupying the key pastoral niches have shifted to cash
crop, while the sheep and goat herders are still following
the pastoral occupation. It is concluded that in high
Himalayan pastures income diversification through the
introduction of cash crop have positive economic impacts
for the crop producers but have negative economic
consequences for the herding communities. The results
of this study can contribute to the development of pastoral
land policy and high mountain ecosystem conservation
in developing countries in general and in mountain
valleys of northern Pakistan in particular.
Keywords: Agriculture, Herding, Labour allocation,
Livelihood, Pastoral system
The cultivation as cash cropping is a common form of
livelihood activity in high mountains, which restricts the
access of pastoral communities to all grazing niches
(Nautiyal et al., 2003). This cultivation shifts pastoralists
to crops farming and decreases their dependency on
livestock. (Desta and Coppock, 2004; Galvin, 2008). The
ease of supply of agricultural inputs and outputs (harvest)
with the development of road infrastructure further
accelerates the encroachment of cash crops onto
marginal lands (Tulachan, 2011; Dong et al., 2011). Due
to crop encroachment pastoralists access to grazing
niches has squeezed (Dong et al., 2011) and their herd
size has been reduced (Ekaya, 2005). The push of the
pastoral communities to increase the livestock
concentration on the remaining grazing area (Harris,
2010) results in over-grazing that has direct negative
impacts on natural vegetation, soil erosion, and hydrology
(Koulouri and Giourga, 2007) and it contributes to
accelerated pasture land degradation (Tschopp et al.,
2010). Singh et al. (2011) revealed that better soil quality
and sustainable use of grazing niches enhance pasture
land productivity. Those who favour crop encroachment
over native pastures argue that this process leads to
increase integration of crop and livestock and
accommodates surplus labour available from herding
communities (Berhanu et al., 2007; Okoruwaa et al.,
1996). However, such labour shift has also contributed
to eroding the traditional pastoral practices (Farah et al.,
2001) and have negatively impacted the livelihoods of
communities that opt to continue herding as a primary
occupation (Dong et al., 2011; Bhasin, 2011; Ekaya,
Off-season cash crops cultivation is gradually occupying
the key pastoral niches in western Himalayan of northern
Pakistan. This irrational cultivation is leading to alteration
in traditional pastoral system and has different
consequences for different pastoral groups. Despite the
on-going debate of advantages and disservices of crop
encroachment over marginal lands, the socio-economic
impacts of crop encroachment at high elevation pastures,
in the context of upland-lowland mobile pastoral systems,
remains undocumented. We posit that by shrinking the
available grazing area, crop encroachment leads to
reduced herd size, changes in herd composition, and
alter ater family labour division. Therefore this paper
intends to investigate the impacts of cash cropping on
Crop encroachment over alpine pastures
herd size, herd composition and herding labour allocation
for different household groups.
Materials and Methods
Study area: The current study was conducted in
Buhrawai of the Naran upland pastures, situated on the
left bank of the Kunhar river in the Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa
Province, Pakistan. The elevation of Burhawai valley
ranges from 2980m to 4860 m a.s.l., and the average
annual precipitation is 1600 mm with a cumulative snow
depth of up to 6m (Sardar, 2003). The total area of
Buhrawai is 16300 ha, with 2% occupied by cropping,
48.2% used for grazing and the remaing 49.4% is
permanently occupied by glaciers and snow.
Geographically, the study area is located on the extreme
western boundary of the Himalayan range (Khan et al.,
2012). The mean minimum temperature of the area
reaches -8.9°C in January, while the mean maximum
temperature reaches 24.6°C for both July and August.
The relative humidity varies from 42 to 84% (Sardar,
2003). The valley is used as summer pasture by
transhumant livestock that arrive after a three to four
month grazing period in the Potohar foothill scrub plateau.
The valley pastures are owned by absent landlords
(Syed) living in the town of Naran and are rented out
annualy to herders. Crops are sown from late May to mid
June and harvested in September.
Data collection and analysis: Participatory rural
appraisal (PRA) was used to identify the households to
be surveyed and to categorize them. The four categories
distinguished are: i) herding sheep and goats as the
sole occupation (Group A); ii) herding sheep and goats
with occasionnal labor service in cropping (Group B); iii)
engaged both in cropping and herding (Group C); iv)
engaged mainly in cropping with only a few cattle for
homestead milk (Group D). One-third households of
each of the four groups (126 out of 378) occupying the
study area since before 1985 were interviewed (Table 1)
regarding their past and present family labour allocation,
herd size, herd composition. Field activities were
conducted in 2009 and 2010 summer seasons. The data
collected was analysed using paired t-tests to compare
past and current herd size, herd composition and herding
labour allocation.
Household groups A B C D
Table 1. Category wise distribution of interviewed
households in Burhawai
Results and Discussion
Impact of crop encroachment on herd size: The impact
of crop encroachment on the herd size of different herding
groups in Burhawai by comparing the 1985 and 2010
situations is shown in table 2. The encroachment of crops
over key previous grazing niches contributed to the
reduction in herd size of all groups. The total livestock in
animal unit with all the herd type groups was reduced
from 9568 to 3488 animal units, indicating a reduction in
stocking pressure on the remaining pastures. This
reduction is, however, more pronounced for group D,
followed by C, B and A, respectively. The increase in
population among all the herd type groups further
reduced the availability of animal units per person. During
the 1985-2010 period, the total number of household
members in all herd type groups in the study area
increased from 988 to 1745, thus reducing the number
of animal units per person. Group A still continues
herding, as their relatively larger herds make them
reluctant to shift their dependency from herding to
cropping (Desta and Coppock, 2004). Group D on the
other hand now only has less than 20% of their 1985
herd size and have shifted their dependency from herding
to cropping. Groups B and C appear between groups A
and D because they occupy the slopes near the crop
land. Hence, they are more motivated to initially shift part
of their labour force to cropping, and with the availability
of alternate income from cropping, they consequently
reduce their herd size. The partial shifting to cropping
(group C) or partial shifting to cropping labour (group B)
may depend on their livestock wealth status, i.e. the herd
size. This also shows that the increased stocking
pressure on the remaining pastures is not because of
animal numbers, but because of the duration of their
stay beyond the permissible limits.
Impact of crop encroachment on herd composition:
The data presented in table 3 shows the impact on herd
composition of different groups as a result of crop
encroachment in Burhawai. The least reduction was
noticed for cattle (36.7-43.1%) with comparatively less
variation among the groups. The reduction in sheep and
goat was highest for group D and lowest for group A.
There was only a fractional reduction in the number of
equines for group A, but for other groups, partially or fully
involved in cropping, the reduction was highly significant
and more than 58%.
Herd composition determines the occupation of pastoral
niches (Prins and Fritz, 2008) and its balance grazing is
essential to fully exploit the available grazing lands (Manoj
Rahim et al.
Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
Lower Upper Absolute Per person
N Mean 95% confidence interval tdf
Paired difference (animal unit / person) Reduction in animal unit [%]
Time-wise pairs
(1985 and 2010)
Table 2. Comparison of average herd size for different herd type groups (1985-2010)
Table 3. Comparison of average herd composition for different herding groups
Lower Upper
N Mean 95% confidence interval tdf
Paired difference
Time-wise pairs
(1985 and 2010)
Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
Reduction in
herd size [%]
Source: Survey data. (Significance level ** P<0.01)
Source: Survey data. (Significance level ** P<0.01; NS, P>0.05)
Table 4. Change in labour allocation for herding with crop encroachments
Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
Lower Upper
N Mean 95% confidence interval tdf
Paired difference
Time-wise pairs
(1985 and 2010)
Reduction in
herding labour
allocation [%]
Source: Survey data. (Significance level ** P<0.01; NS, P>0.05)
et al., 2015). Hence, cattle based herds occupy the valley
bottoms with gentler slopes, as cattle generally avoid
grazing on slopes steeper than 5.7° (Bailey et al., 1996).
Sheep and goat herds can graze and browse on much
steeper slopes. In the past, group D with cattle dominant
herds were the occupants of valley bottoms where the
available land turned out to be most suitable for cash
crop cultivation. They are now the main cropping tenants,
but still keep a few cattle for their homestead milk cons-
-umption. They also regularly buy and use crop residues
and concentrates to feed their animals intensively. The
herders with smaller sheep and goat herds (i.e. group B
and C) used to occupy the slopes near the valley bottom
with a vertical seasonal movement. The herders with
larger sheep and goat herds on the other hand had to
shift horizontally to remote and relatively wild grazing
niches for three months.
This occupation pattern, as a result of herd size and
composition, has played a key role in triggering the
cropping activities and their encroachment throughout
the area. Cattle mainly serve the homestead milk needs
of all the herd type groups. They, therefore, cannot be
reduced beyond certain limits (1.2-4.5) depending on
the number of family members in a household. The
sheep and goats are primarily reared for sale; hence,
the reduction in their number is related to the shift in
household dependency from herding to cropping. The
higher reduction of sheep and goats with group D is due
to the limited availability of grazing niches for animals
grazing around their settlements and of the fear of
possible damage to cash crops. Group A still occupies
the remote niches and have to come through the
mountain or road side routes by foot. As such, they still
require equine for load carriage. On the other hand,
groups B, C and D enjoy better road access, making
equine load carriage obsolete.
Impact of crop encroachment on herding labour
allocation: The changes in family labour allocation for
herding between 1985 and 2010 for different herding
groups in Burhawai were presented in table 4. The data
depicts reduction in herding labour from Group A to D.
Group D has diverted most of its family labour from
herding to cropping, while in group A, the change in family
labour allocation for herding is non-significant.
Apart from Group D which shifted from herding to
cropping, higher economic returns from cash crops
attract family labour from herders with smaller sheep
and goat herds viz., group B (Shaoling et al., 2007).
Group C, while occupying the slopes near the valley
bottom, also converted part of the grazing slopes under
their occupation to cropping. According to Berhanu et al.
(2007) the low marginal return to labour in traditional
pastoralism suggests the existence of surplus labour
that can gainfully be transferred to non-pastoral activities.
This sets the stage for a gradual labour shift from herding
to cash cropping. The cash crop encroachment also
attracted special cropping labour most of them belong
to the Kohistani communities coming from further north
in the Indus valley. Twenty five households in Burhawai
(i.e. 6.6% of the total households) are now pure cropping
labours without any livestock. They are new comers to
the area after initiation of crop encroachment in the valley.
Group A on the other hand, still retains its original
occupation due to the larger herd size. Apparently herders
of that group have little intention of changing (Desta and
Coppock, 2004).
The cash crops extension to Himalayan uplands forced
the herders to reduce their herd size leading to reduced
economic returns from livestock production. This
situation also created competition on land use for crops
and grazing. Thus off season cash crops cultivation
provides high cash income to the crop producers on one
hand and negatively affects mobile herders on the other
hand. To fulfil their subsistence needs with reduced herd
size the part of herding family labour is forced to work as
cropping labour and the children and aged family
members are left to look after the livestock herd. The
reduced availability of herding labour leads to over use
the accessible niches and remote pasture areas are left
under used leading to unsustainable pasture use.
This study was conducted within the framework of the
Joint Research Partnership funded by the Swiss National
Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation (SDC). It was also
conducted within the framework of the Swiss National
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South: Research Partnerships for Mitigating Syndromes
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... The consequences of vegetation production in the uplands are still being debated. On one hand, off-season agriculture encroachment is driven by the growing demand for vegetable crops in the lowland markets, which provide diversified income opportunities, engage surplus labor, and ultimately contribute to poverty alleviation and socio-economic development [15,16]. On the other hand, this agricultural encroachment has become a key driver of land use change, having profound consequences for the socio-ecological systems in the uplands [8]. ...
... In the uplands of Naran, agro-pastoral societies have shaped a complex socio-ecological system, in which agriculture and transhumance are closely overlapped and influence each other in profound ways (Figure 7). Within this system, off-season agriculture has been adopted by an active and influential mountain society (Syed tribe), while century-old transhumance has been sustained and shaped by landless pastoralists for their livelihood subsistence [8,15]. The uplands in the Himalayan region of Northern Pakistan are ecologically fragile and economically underdeveloped [25,42]. ...
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Citation: Khurshid, M.; Nafees, M.; Khan, A.; Yin, H.; Ullah, W.; Rashid, W.; Han, H.; Lashari, A.H. Off-Season Agriculture Encroachment in the Uplands of Northern Pakistan: Need for Sustainable Land Management. Land 2022, 11, 520.
... These pastures are attractive destination for graziers and tourists. Traditionally, continuous seasonal grazing is practiced by the local as well as nomadic graziers (Rahim et al., 2016). During early summer, livestock are driven up to alpine pastures which continuously graze untill late autumn. ...
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In the past, transhumant pastoralists in the Indian Himalaya used resources available in various subsystems for their livelihoods. Recent sedentarization of a section of the transhumant pastoralist population resulted in competition with the existing sedentary population for resources in some areas. Resources such as grazing areas and forests are becoming less productive and can no longer cover growing demand (both human and livestock). In the Niti valley (Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve [NDBR] buffer zone), changes in government policies during the past 50 years have produced a land-use system that is not conducive to traditional transhumant pastoralism. The present article analyzes the impact of loss of grazing area on transhumant pastoralism, the current state of monetary return from livestock rearing, and the output-input ratio in terms of energy currencies in villages inhabited by transhumant pastoralist populations and villages now practicing sedentarized lifestyles. Although small ruminant-dominated animal husbandry is providing monetary benefits to local populations, the system is consuming more resources than it produces in terms of energy currencies. The prospects for transhumant pastoralism in the buffer zone villages of NDBR are discussed.
Northern Kenya, as in other sub-Saharan arid and semi-arid regions, has faced challenges related to the prevailing socio-economy, ecology and polity in the last quarter of last century. In some of these areas, pastoralists have been settled on the peri-urban fringes of towns and have been exposed to flood-retreat cultivation; a culture that has been traditionally practised by the riverine Bantu communities. From the late 1960s these pastoralists started irrigation agriculture with assistance from the government and nongovernmental organisations. The outcome has been the mushrooming of irrigation schemes along rivers. This paper looks at the development of small-scale irrigation schemes and their sustainability. It also analyses their socio-economic and ecological effects on pastoral households and the drylands, taking Garissa District as a case. Interviews, a questionnaire and existing literature on irrigation schemes were used to collect data. Logistic regressions were carried out to assess the socio-economic effects of irrigation on the pastoral households. The results show that irrigation farming plays a supplementary role in pastoral economies, takes away child labour from pastoralism and reduces pastoral mobility. The implication is that irrigation farming in arid areas does not seem to offer a long-term sustainable economic livelihood.
Balanced feeding is essential to fully exploit the genetic potential of livestock.The green fodder availability for livestock in the arid region of Rajasthan is restricted to selected areas and seasons. The production and productivity of green fodder can be increased by ensuring adoption of production technology and by overcoming the constraints. The present study was conducted by interviewing 120 randomly selected green fodder crop cultivating farmers of Jodhpur district to know the adoption level and constraints experienced by them. Majority of the respondents either not adopted or partially adopted the improved cultivation practices of green fodder crops. Poor knowledge of green fodder cultivation technology, lack of awareness about importance of green fodder for animal health, inadequate irrigation facility or irregular supply of electricity for irrigation were the top three ranked constraints experienced by the respondents. The farmer participatory approach needs to be adopted by the extension agencies to disseminate green fodder production technologies for increasing the productivity of livestock resources of the study area. © 2015, Range Management Society of India. All rights reserved.
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The present paper analyzes the changes in migration patterns of a Tibetan-style transhumance livelihood system for a period of 20 years in northwest Yunnan, China. Between 1984 and 2005, the average number of pastures for rotational use in the 12 investigated villages decreased from 6.2 to 3.9, and the average number of stops on the annual migration route decreased from 8.3 to 5.8. The number of days during which the animals depend on stall feeding and low-elevation shrubs increased from 231.3 to 270, while those spent in forest belts decreased by 32.6% and those in alpine rangelands by 25.5%. These changes have intensified the pressure on low-elevation ecosystems and grazing resources. Winter fodder supply, rather than carrying capacity based on overall grazing resources at all elevations, should be used to determine the scale of pastoral development. Encroachment of woody plants is a major cause of alpine rangeland degradation, which used to be unjustifiably attributed to a growing livestock population. Reintroduction of traditional management tools such as burning can effectively increase the area of available rangeland resources and curb localized degradation processes by evening out grazing pressure.
Ten case studies from seven major pastoral regions across six continents were studied in this paper by conceptualizing three factors (agro-ecosystem resilience, livelihood options, and institution capacity) as the axes of a three-dimensional vulnerability framework. This analysis highlights the vulnerability of agriculture-based livelihood systems to global changes and helps identify what institutions have the potential to mobilize effective relief in different pastoral regions. In terms of results, this vulnerability assessment shows that the vulnerability of pastoralism was very different in all the cases across the globe. As such, a further analysis, based on the pressure-state-response (PSR) model was undertaken to enhance our understanding of the ways that global changes put pressures on pastoral livelihoods worldwide. From this we conclude that climate change and climate variability are driving fragile pastoral ecosystems into more vulnerable conditions. Socioeconomic factors, such as changes in land tenure, agriculture, sedentarization, and institutions are fracturing large-scale pastoral ecosystems into spatially isolated systems. The implications of this analysis are that professionals, practitioners, and policy makers should jointly develop a coupled human and natural systems approach that focuses on enhancing the resilience of pastoral communities and their practices. This requires institutional developments to support asset building and good governance to enhance adaptive capability. In addition, pastoralists' adaptation strategies to global change need to be supported by public awareness and improved by institutional decisions at different scales and dimensions.
In order to better understand the state of mountain agriculture, this article analyzes trends for 3 integral components of mountain farming systems-production of foodgrain crops, horticultural and cash crops, and livestock-using time series data published by national governments in 5 Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) countries. Results show that, although the area under foodgrain crops has not increased, their yields have not declined as much as is often perceived. In some cases, crop productivity has increased. This evidently implies that mountain farmers are maintaining productivity of foodgrain crops for food security reasons. Results also suggest increasing trends in crop diversification toward horticultural and cash crops. Present trends in rapid expansion of areas under these crops indicate the growing importance of horticultural and cash crops in mountain farming systems and the household economy across the Hindu Kush-Himalaya. These trends have positive implications for the future development of mountain agriculture in terms of harnessing mountain niches and comparative advantages. In the livestock sector, there is a general decline in the cattle population across the HKH. Trends indicate the possibility of greater development of smallholder dairies with improved buffaloes in the Himalayan subtropics. The number of stall-fed buffaloes and goats is rising with increased use of external inputs and purchased feed, thus contributing positively to food security and nutrition in mountain households.