The role of property rights in natural resource management: the case of high altitude rangelands of Bhutan

Karma Tenzing

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    The research explored the role of property rights in achieving equity, efficiency and sustainability (EES) goals in the context of high altitude rangeland (known as tsa-drog) management in Bhutan. The type of property rights assigned to the resource users can influence the management and governance of natural resources such as rangelands. Bhutan has a complex system of rangeland property rights evolved over many centuries in response to settlement patterns, monastic regulations, elite capture and government policies. The aim of this research was to 1) describe property rights and management regimes across three rangeland sites, 2) determine people's perceptions of traditional and pilot leasing systems, and the proposed nationalisation program in relation to EES goals, 3) explore how property rights influence conflicts and collective action and 4) elicit views on how property rights and rangeland management can be improved in Bhutan.This research adopted a qualitative comparative case study method based on a constructivist paradigm, a relativist ontology and a subjectivist epistemology. Three distinct geographic livestock systems were selected: i) a traditional tsa-drog system involving many semi-nomadic yak and cattle herders within a protected area but with significant NRM problems and conflicts with downstream communities; ii) a system in which the government has intervened in order to 'improve' the traditional system by leasing government land for improved pasture development to support sedentary high altitude livestock rearing involving dairy cattle and iii) a traditional more extensive tsa-drog system with fewer yak herders. Semi-nomadic yak herders, high altitude sedentary livestock farmers and government officials participated in the semi-structured interviews (n=40) and focus group discussions (n=9).Traditional high altitude rangeland property rights did not meet EES goals but herders adapted NRM governance principles to tsa-drog management. This research revealed that herders access and use multiple tsa-drog holdings under different property rights and management regimes (private and communal) either in isolation or in combination under a complex property rights and management regime. Having access to multiple tsa-drog at different locations requires herders to move their herds between private, communal and rented tsa-drog at the right place at the right time thereby ensuring that a particular tsa-drog is not grazed for too long. Herders also differentiated common property according to a hierarchy to enhance the prospect of achieving EES goals. Hence, a more nuanced understanding of 'common property resource' is needed to better reflect ground realities than often described in literature.Equity and tenure security of rangelands must be addressed first and linked with adequate bundle of rights not left to market forces. Tenure security is important to reduce boundary issues and conflicts and encourage long-term investment for efficient and sustainable tsa-drog management. The findings from this research confirm inequity, poverty and environmental degradation are mutually reinforcing. Therefore, poverty and its underlying drivers must be addressed concurrently to achieve optimal NRM. The proposed nationalisation program provides a rare opportunity to redistribute tsa-drog equitably and put in appropriate measures to enhance both efficiency and sustainability of tsa-drog management. However, a practical implementation plan must be developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders and should be based on local ecologies and sociologies to enhance its success. A group-based mixed property regime approach using a tripartite partnership involving individuals, communities and government provides a practical platform for integration of EES goals at local and national levels as it takes into account the strengths of private and common property regimes.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Black, Rosemary, Co-Supervisor
    • Millar, Joanne, Co-Supervisor
    • Samdup, Tashi, Co-Supervisor
    Award date01 Aug 2016
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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