Crisis of the Pastoral Commons

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= Report: Crisis of Commons



"Pastoral system and pastoralism as a way of life and viable economic system find little space in development discourse. The issues relating to pastoral communities and their dependent resources get rare notice of policy makers and planners in national development agenda. The importance and interconnectedness of pastoral system and pasture commons, the resource base, has been missing from public consciousness and policy discourse as a result of which it has been an all time area of negligence from development planning and policy making. Such critical interconnectedness between dependent communities with their resources is largely misplaced while framing the policies of governance.

One of the ultimate objectives of this study is to facilitate an environment engaging the key stakeholders in alliance building and policy advocacy of pastoralists and their community leaders, civil societies, policy makers and state level actors for a legal and policy space for recognition of rights of dependent communities and better use of pasture commons."

Executive Summary

"Common Property Resources (CPR) constitute all such resources meant for the common use of villagers, collectives or a community without any exclusive individual ownership or access rights. In India pasture commons, as a part of larger CPRs, contribute significantly to the rural economy in multiple ways. For the last several decades, such resource base has been eroded mainly due to diversification of land use, inadequate legal and policy support, non-eliciting the community institutions for their protection and management, non-regulation of encroachments, non-recognition of rights of pastoral communities, state development interventions and its dominant control regime, among others. Such factors have restricted the community’s right to access, use and conserve the commons. Chapter One deals with understanding the concept of commons and pasture commons, as part of larger commons, analyses its importance and examines the existing legal and policy space for governance of village common land including the process of dispossession from pasture lands.

Chapter Two deals with the methodology adopted for the study with short and long term objectives. The former has generated knowledge and information, as pre-requisites, in understanding the issues to complement the later in building alliance and striving for policy advocacy. The study covered five states including Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan with 500 sample HHs. The primary information was collected through HH surveys, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and case studies, covering ten sample villages of each State. The selection of districts was made on the basis of major grazing animals present such as sheep and goats. It has also experimented on a pilot basis using GPS/ GIS mapping of the routes of migratory graziers in Himachal Pradesh identifying different indicators.

Chapter Three focusses on the status of pasture commons and profiles of sample states by analysing the information on land use data status, status of pasture and other land categories. It also uses primary baseline information like the demography and gender based educational and occupational status of sample HHs in the analysis.

The study found highest area of pasture land in Himachal Pradesh (33%) and the lowest in Punjab (only 0.08%) of their respective geographical areas. Such situation in Punjab is created due to massive focus on agriculture (82.6% of the geographical area) coupled with faulty land use laws of the state. In other states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan the pasture land is not exceeding 5 percent of their geographical areas despite significant partaking in pastoral system. The literacy rate of the pastoral HHs in all five states is very low. Further illiteracy among women in this community is much higher. The contribution of women to pastoral occupation is also found very significant across the states.

Chapter Four focusses on the analysis of village level information on pasture land, pastoral communities, nomadic and local pastoralists, the status and trends of livestock, income generated by HHs from livestock, their access to grazing, nomadic or migratory pastoralists and their issues related to grazing permits. The analysis and interpretation relates to factors such as changing livestock, reduced areas of pasture land, status of grasslands, impact on pastoral communities, contribution of women in pastoral occupation, problems and plight of pastoralists related to healthcare, insurance, theft, harassment, conflicts including their problems during mobility in the routes. Chapter Five deals with conclusion and recommendations emerged from the study.

Major findings

Pastoralism is a healthy and viable economic system that has a lot of potential to reduce poverty and promote prosperity of the rural poor. It is a significant source of revenue for rural HHs and can ensure a better livelihood for them. The declining pasture commons has led to decline in the number of sheep and goats, affected income level of the pastoral HHs. The reservation of gochar lands only takes into account, cattle and not the sheep and goat population.

The shrinking of pasture lands and depletion of vegetation due to encroachment on pasture lands by vested interests, cultivation by landless, diversion for development projects, agriculture expansion and land grabbing – are some of the major factors. This has affected the livelihood and economy of pastoral communities.

An effective institutional arrangement for protection and management of commons is required. Though the Gram Panchayat is endowed with the formal responsibility of management and protection of pasture land, it is largely non-functional or non-effective, and not consulted for any initiative on pasture land.

The lack of a comprehensive land use policy and regulation, creates serious challenges in the governance of common land, a crisis in vital land use for commoners.

The plantation undertaken by the Forest Department over traditional pasture land, minimises the community’s access to grazing commons.

The restriction by local villagers caused due to the reduced area of pasture lands and scarcity of quality grasslands, has brought down the number of nomadic graziers and led to conflict between local and nomadic or migratory graziers. The lack of grazing permits has led to the harassment and exploitation by forest officials and the police, which impacts the morale of the pastoralists, alienating them from their traditional occupation.

The rush for individual accumulation of property, the impact of the current development agenda, coupled with the increasing value of land has led to “individualisation” and “corporatisation” of common land and resources. Thus these are factors promoting encroachment and grabbing of pasture land.

The non-recognition of CFR of the nomadic pastoral communities under FRA 2006, has been due to vast and complex process and overlapping use of areas across districts without any proper strategy by the government.

Water bodies close to the pasture lands have dried up as a result of which quality grasses and fodder are not being grown.

Despite the significant contribution of women to pastoral economy, they are not recognised as pastoralists.

The lack of proper market arrangements at local levels has created problems for sale of livestock products. Facilities are required at the district and state level."


Received from Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director. ActionAid India and Managing Editor, Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy (SAGE)

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