The future of transhumants’ sustainable resource use in Bhutan: Pressures and policies

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Cattle and yaks in Bhutan are mainly managed in a transhumance system, grazing common pooled resources. This is, however, changing due mainly to policy changes and development pressure. The unequal land policies now restrict mobility for cattle-based transhumance by agro-pastoralists although it is expected to remain the same for the yak-based pastoralists. Essential public infrastructures also are being built in the common pooled resources, thus reducing the grazing areas for cattle and yaks alike. This study uses qualitative interview and focus group discussions in conjunction with administrative data and policy documents to understand the forces that increasingly lead to the decline of transhumance and see how it might change the grazing landscape and socialscape in the future. The study finds that grazing in the future will likely transform from an extensive to a semi-intensive system with smaller herd sizes for cattle-based agro-pastoralists. This is being achieved through interventions implemented by the livestock department, promoting crossbreeding with European dairy breeds. Transhumant herder turned sedentary smallholder farmers are fast adopting a sedentary lifestyle. This is changing not only the landscapes from grazing in large expanses of forest and open meadows to restricted semi-intensively managed smallholder farms with a possible impact on biodiversity. Crossbreds of European dairy cattle are fast replacing indigenous siri cattle of the Bos indicus type. Yak-based transhumance is expected to continue with favorable policies and other opportunities, including collection of the highly priced caterpillar fungus, Cordyceps sinensis. The socialscapes are fast changing for both highlanders as well as mid and lowland herders. Many of these places inhabited by herders are now connected by motorable roads, shortening their travel time to the nearest health facilities or shops from days to hours.
Original languageEnglish
Article number618351
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2021


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