Two steps forward, one step back: Enabling collective action to rehabilitate rangeland commons in Bhutan

Joanne Millar, Karma Tenzing

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review


    This paper explores the institutions and actions that are enabling and challenging collective action to rehabilitate rangeland commons in Bhutan. Semi-nomadic yak herder communities are experiencing severe landslides and fodder shortage due to overgrazing and climate change (Tenzing et al. 2017). Herding families are caught in a vicious poverty cycle caused by decline in rangeland resources, labour, and poor access to services (UNDP 2013). To compensate, herders retain more livestock, resulting in greater pressure on pastures and tree lopping for fodder which is labour intensive and dangerous. A crisis point was reached in 2015 with rapidly widening landslides in winter grazing areas that are occupied for eight months of the year. A partnership was formed to take collective action involving 120 households from Merak village, Bhutan Department of Forest and Park Services, the Department of Livestock,World Wildlife Fund, Charles Sturt University and the UK Darwin Initiative Fund.A program based on the community landcare approach in Australia was developed using gender sensitive capacity building, on-ground works, action research and social learning. With a history of conflicts in Merak and unresolved issues over land tenure, it was important to build a collective commitment to fixing the rangeland degradation problem. Herders learnt about group dynamics, conflict resolution and group management with a facilitator who had a history of working with the community and was not working in government. Local forest and livestock officers then worked with herders to plan, fence and plant a 20ha eroded gully and sow pasture for winter fodder. The physicality of camping and working together formed a common bond in challenging conditions. Herders have gained confidence in dealing with what seemed an unsurmountable problem. They have formed two women’s savings groups to invest in income generating enterprises.However not all households have engaged with the program due to lack of agreement onimproving large communal areas with many leases. Until the government reallocation of rangeland leases is finalised, some herders are reluctant to make decisions lest more conflicts arise. Further challenges have been frustrations over the slowness of government agencies to transfer funds, procure materials and organise activities. Collective action efforts often struggle to operate in the highly regulated government environment in Bhutan where rangeland commons are owned by the state (Tenzing et al. 2018). Non-state actors such as WWF and the Red Panda Network have provided advice and funding to enable forest rangers to play a more educational role. Collective steps will need to continue to build resilience of rangeland commons and communities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationIn Defense of the Commons: Challenges, Innovation and Action, the Seventeenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
    PublisherIndiana University
    Number of pages12
    Publication statusPublished - 2019
    Event17th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons - Catholic University of Lima, Lima, Peru
    Duration: 01 Jul 201905 Jul 2019 (program) (call for papers)


    Conference17th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
    Abbreviated titleIn defense of the commons: challenges, innovation and action
    OtherThe XVII Biennial IASC Conference, entitled ‘In Defense of the Commons: Challenges, Innovation, and Action’ will be held at the Catholic University of Lima, Peru on July 1-4, 2019; July 5 will be dedicated to field visits in Lima and other regions of Peru.
    For the first time the IASC Global conference will be co-organized by two leading universities of the Andean region: PUCP’s Faculty of Social Sciences, and the Department of Economics of the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia).
    The program will include:
    - Policy Dialogues with National Authorities from Colombia and Peru and International Cooperation Agencies active on the field
    - 50+ parallel research panels
    - Film and video exhibit on the commons
    - Half-day workshops on key common issues
    - Keynote Lectures by international leading experts
    - Practice Workshops with renowned Chefs and Artists
    - Master classes for early career researchers
    - Field visits in Lima and other regions of the country
    - Poster exhibitions
    - Book fair with international publishers
    - Exhibit stands of grassroots initiatives
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