Zahoor Ahmad Dar
The change in global precipitation, increasing surface temperatures, receding of glaciers, and unseasonal snowfall are all manifestations of climate change, posing an unprecedented threat to mankind. Pastures have turned into barren lands. Due to a decrease in rainfall over the past 20 years, the transhumance calendars have shifted and rainy seasons are not predictable.
The livelihood and existence of marginalized communities comprised of Gujjars and Bakarwals are no exception to this.The Gujjars and Bakarwals are nomadic tribes who live in the Himalayan mountains of South Asia, from the Pir Panjal Range to Hindukush and Ladakh. They can be found throughout the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, as well as in Nuristan Province in northeast Afghanistan.Jammu and Kashmir has 12 Schedule Tribes. The Union Territory’s total population of Schedule Tribes is 14,93,299, according to the 2011 Census. Gujjar is the most populous of the 12 Schedule Tribes, with a population of 9,80,654 whereas Bakerwals constitute the third-largest tribe, with a population of 1,13,198. The third-largest community in the Union territory is made up of the nomadic Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes.
Bakarwals are forced to take their animals to graze in pastures that do not provide adequate grazing due to the rapid melting of snow. Temperatures in their summer pastures are too low due to the early arrival, which has impacted their livestock population. As a result of the comparatively higher temperatures in March and the lack of rainfall, they are forced to move earlier, affecting their production. The herds’ mortality rate has increased in recent years.
Increased temperatures in March and April have an impact on the animals because this is the breeding season. The following table presents the total number of livestock in J&K during the 20th livestock census 2019.
Due to an unusual rise in daily temperature in Jammu and Kashmir, the Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes began their seasonal migration to the upper reaches of the Himalayas one month ahead of schedule in 2009.
However, the season changed and they were trapped in the mountainous range of Himalaya, where unseasonal snowfall continued for two weeks, killing more than 50 people and killing lakhs of animals.
The problem is further aggravated by the rising trend of urbanization in Jammu and Kashmir hampering their traditional migration routes. The government does not also provide veterinary support to the livestock of Gujjars and Bakarwals.
Table 2 shows the state-wise number of veterinary institutions (as of 31/03/2019). Their economy is entirely based on livestock, which has been devastated by the region’s droughts, unseasonal snowfall, and other climate-related issues. The issue of climate-related displacement in Kashmir poses serious threats to the Gujjar and Bakarwal societal sustainability.
The availability and utilization of natural pastures is critical to the pastoral economy of Gujjars and Bakarwals. These pastures appear only at certain times of the year. As summer approaches, the lower reaches of the pastures dry up, while the upper reaches begin to thaw.
As a result, a significant number of Gujjars and Bakarwals migrate from the lower Himalayan ranges to pastures in the upper Himalayan ranges. In their traditional meadows, 79 percent of respondents reported poor fodder quality and scarcity. They are dissatisfied with their pasture land, and as a result, the milk yield of the buffalo and the economy of the Gujjars and Bakarwals suffer, but they continue their transhumant adaptive activities in these areas. They rely on their buffalo herds and would like to relocate them to better pastures.
However, resource depletion can be caused by overutilization. And we know that overuse is a direct result of rising human and animal populations. These pastures have been depleted as a result of overgrazing, and the cattle are unable to obtain sufficient quantities and quality grass to meet their needs.
Furthermore, neither the forest department nor the graziers involved take any care to plant good quality grasses, nor is any attention paid to make up losses due to overgrazing, such as receding, which should be a permanent and regular feature of pasture development programmes.
Almost all of them believe that they are not safe in the hands of natural disasters. They faced a number of natural problems such as rain, snowfall, heavy storms, hailstorms, and landslides, which resulted in the loss of not only their loved ones but also their livestock. The unprecedented snowfall that lashed the entire Kashmir valley and parts of Jammu in June 2009 took a heavy toll on life and property. According to reports, approximately 25,000 cattle were killed, in addition to the destruction of hundreds of houses, the majority of which were migratory population huts.
Policy Intervention Needed
Urgent policy intervention is required to address the impending issues of livelihood of Gujjar and Bakarwals. Development of grazing land with the help of forest department and cooperative societies should be a priority. A multi-stakeholders approach should be applied to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. This could be done by synergizing and converging policy parameters. Gujjars and Bakarwals need to follow the weather advisory broadcast by the meteorological department to avoid major losses of livestock and human life. The government could also reach out to the community by training them on how to face and mitigate the effects of climate change.