Transhumant agro-pastoralism in Bhutan: Exploring contemporary practices and socio-cultural traditions

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This paper presents research findings on the contemporary practices and socio-cultural traditions of transhumant agro-pastoralism (TAP) in Bhutan. Despite the widespread practice of TAP in Bhutan, there has been limited research on the nature of the practice and associated socio-cultural traditions. Qualitative research methods were used to interview 24 migrating households and nine relevant agency staff in 2010. A structured survey of 75 TAP households gathered background quantitative data. Migration takes place in April/May and September/October, and may take four days to over a month. The main reasons for migration include (1) avoiding production reduction and mortality of animals from cold, (2) shortage of forage, (3) off-farm income opportunities, (4) avoiding parasite infestation in the south and (5) vacating grazing areas for yaks in winter. Additionally, the study revealed that there are several other factors and indicators that herders consider in planning their seasonal transhumant movement. We conclude that TAP is an important part of the living cultural heritage in Bhutan. TAP herders have not only adapted their livelihoods to ecological niches at different altitudinal levels but also used resources sustainably while synchronizing their socio-cultural activities with seasonality of the transhumant practice. However, the system is under increasing pressure. Today, TAP communities are faced with family labour shortages due to the increasing participation of children and adults in education and alternative livelihood options. They also face policy and climate change issues making their TAP practice more difficult. Strategies are needed that will allow herders to make informed choices about their futures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13
Number of pages1
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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