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1 August 2001 Book Reviews: High Mountain Pastoralism in Northern Pakistan
Manuel Flury
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High Mountain Pastoralism in Northern Pakistan, edited by Eckart Ehlers and Hermann Kreutzmann. Erdkundliches Wissen 132. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2000. 209 pp. DM/CHF 88.00. ISBN 3-515-07662-X.

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The authors of this compendium provide 6 fascinating pictures of people and their lives in the high mountains of Northern Pakistan. They present and discuss pastoralism and pastoral practices and their role in complex livelihoods that are being dramatically transformed. Although they live in a remote area, the people and societies in Northern Pakistan depend on and interrelate with the global, outside world. The struggle for sustainable livelihoods requires adaptation to related dynamics and opportunities without endangering local natural and societal resources. The authors present the corresponding dynamics and challenges in a highly differentiated manner, resuming the long-standing tradition of research on the potential of high mountain economic and ecological systems. They dedicate their book to the memory of Carl Troll (1899–1975), the outstanding German geographer and scholar in this field.

The authors combine their investigations with a plea to conserve and preserve the upper reaches of mountain environments as an indispensable token of future sustainability and a viable protective resource for generations to come. They place particular emphasis on the key role of local farmers being aware of ecological necessities. They link their publication to the conviction that development decisions must be based on sufficient knowledge and expertise about local and regional conditions.

The compendium is the result of vast empirical research carried out by the Pakistan-German Research Project known as The Karakorum Culture Area since it began in 1989. In presenting the combined potential for sustainable future development of montane agriculture and animal husbandry, 2 questions are addressed: (1) How can the agricultural system provide the basis for a growing population without overexploiting available natural resources? And (2), what promising combinations of production strategies are there in the different ecological zones? Finally, the authors raise the question of the role and function of high mountain agriculture and related livelihood systems in a world dominated by a market economy, where low levels of sustainability determine competitiveness.

Appropriately, the authors place agriculture in the much broader context of a rural economy. They perceive rural livelihood strategies as combinations of activities in agriculture, including irrigated crop farming, animal husbandry, and forestry, as well as local industries and services, including tourism and mountaineering. Contributions by social networks of extended family systems and external support from nongovernmental and governmental organizations complement the economic base of the rural population. The authors conclude that, because of its significant share of household incomes, agricultural production still constitutes an important safety valve for the population of Northern Pakistan.

The book contains 6 case studies focusing on different localities in the eastern Hindu Kush, Karakorum, and western Himalayas, all in the northern areas of Pakistan. The synthesis section places pastoral practices in high mountain regions in an overall perspective of high mountain agriculture and offers a well-founded, common conceptual framework. In addition, it provides a concise review of state-of-the-art research activities in the field of high mountain pastoralism.

Ehlers and Kreutzmann, the editors of the volume, discuss 3 different adaptive and socioeconomic livelihood strategies relevant to Northern Pakistan: mountain nomadism, transhumance, and combined mountain agriculture. Mountain nomadism is developing into a sort of closed-frontier nomadism, with sedentarization and confined migration cycles. Thus, it faces decline in many situations and has become a feature of historical interest. Although all 3 practices can still be found, combined mountain agriculture (Almwirtschaft in the German-speaking Alps) dominates at present. Combined mountain agriculture, with its seasonal migrations connecting the different production zones, represents a flexible strategy and provides considerable potential for adaptation. Crop production and animal husbandry remain linked through production of fodder and manure.

Transformation in the high mountains of Pakistan is partly caused by endogenous sociopolitical change such as the abandonment of independent kingdoms and fiefdoms. Most important, however, are exogenous causes and the related new roles played by external agents of change. The construction of the Karakorum Highway, inaugurated in 1978, is the symbol of change and has been enhancing incorporation of these peripheral mountain societies into the lowland economies and the world market. This opening brought about a change in dependency on local natural resources. Out-migration affects both consumption patterns and labor availability for local production. Imports of subsidized grain from the Pakistani lowlands compete with local production and affect local food consumption. Chemical fertilizers replace dependence on farm manure, and modern implements such as tractors and threshers increase the productivity of crop farming. All this has substantially affected pastoral practices with heterogeneous consequences: whereas in some cases, a sharp decline in the use of high pastures is observed, in other valleys, due to improved accessibility by motorable tracks, use has increased and intensified. The general pattern demonstrates an increased dependency on external goods in relation to a continuously growing population. Although overgrazing of pastures or underfeeding of animals extends to almost one third of the pastureland, no irreparable damage is expected. Lower pastures and temperate-range pastures converge into higher-yielding cropland, which is considered favorable.

The case studies reveal interesting trends in the overall transformation process, for example,

  • Since young men attend schools or are trained in modern crafts and trades, agricultural work in general and herding in particular—a typical male occupation—become less attractive. In some areas, this has led to the pooling of herds, with families taking turns herding. This has brought about a change from household-based herding to communal, cooperative herding. Alternatively, there are trends in professional specialization. Certain tasks are carried out on a salary basis.

  • Local markets and food imports from lowland Pakistan improve the overall supply of food. As deficits in household production can be met by purchasing food, the population becomes less dependent on subsistence production. However, such external dependence may increase the vulnerability of the population to communication breakdowns.

  • Off-farm income and remittances from migrant laborers render traditional forms of mixed mountain economy uncompetitive. Traditional forestry is particularly affected in this respect. Although a lack of manpower has led to abandonment of fields, agriculture and animal husbandry still provide a wide range of basic nutritional requirements. Abandonment of fields and reduced exploitation of high pastures can also constitute an advantage for the fragile environment. Increased market orientation also provides a potential for focusing on high-quality products. The potential of the expedition and trekking industries to produce lucrative additional cash income has only been realized for particular families and villages so far. Changed labor and income opportunities may lead to altered use of summer settlements. When motorable tracks improve accessibility, use of such areas is intensified.

  • Large households are generally able to compensate for the absent labor force. In smaller households, women frequently have to replace absent laborers and carry out work that is usually done by males. This may lead to a bad reputation for the particular household and to a higher workload for women, although religious leaders define which kind of work can be carried out by women. Share-tending, again a communal and cooperative strategy, is increasing, especially among smaller households.

  • Socioeconomic differentiation between and within villages increases in these transformation processes. The transition particularly favors men, who actively utilize the opportunities of education and employment. Women are still confined to their homesteads and villages. Often they have to face increased workloads. Wealthier families with regular off-farm income have the opportunity to delegate tasks to relatives, shareholders, and tenants, thus transforming social structures.

Though an outsider's perspective, this compendium contributes to understanding of the enormous and rapid change in living conditions in Northern Pakistan. The research highlights particular adaptive strategies and options for sustainable livelihoods that do not drain the natural resource pool. The common perspective and conceptual framework for the extended field research allow consistent and coherent conclusions. These are a challenge in the debate on the potential for sustainable development by and among local societies and people. The authors also call upon Pakistani researchers to supplement the picture with their perception and views. It is to be hoped that an internationally recognized editor would help make Pakistani views known to a larger community.

Manuel Flury "Book Reviews: High Mountain Pastoralism in Northern Pakistan," Mountain Research and Development 21(3), 304-306, (1 August 2001).[0304:HMPINP]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 August 2001
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