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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Pastoralism without Herders in Limi, Nepal

Tara Bate


Parts of the Himalayas are inhabited by male and female pastoralists whose livelihoods are closely dependent upon land and natural resources. Hence, a crucial component of pastoralism is collective environmental management to maintain quality pastures, and the distribution of plots amongst the community. These are regulated by local (formal and informal) institutions (rules and regulations), which oversee the access, use, distribution and ownership of land and natural resources in a gendered manner. Yet, over the last few decades, the pastoralists of Humla, a district in the far north-western part of Nepal, have been facing various transformations. Firstly, the Himalaya region has undergone major climatic stress – resulting in an increased variability in weather patterns and the melting of glaciers – with repercussions on the environment and local communities depending on it. The government of Nepal, in compliance with international pressures to mitigate hazards and protect the Himalayas’ rich yet fragile ecosystem, has imposed a variety of measures to restrain local people’s access to natural resources, such as protected areas. Secondly, changing socio-economic parameters – from the closing of the border with Tibet, a major partner in trade, in the 1950s, to the booming commercialisation of the caterpillar fungus in recent years – are leading many pastoralists to change or diversify their means of livelihood. These opportunities and challenges impact men and women differently, because the skills required in pastoralism are gendered. In this context, this research aims to assess how gender roles and relations in pastoralism are renegotiated, in the face of political, socio-economic and ecological changes, and how this affects both the future of pastoralism as a culturally defining means of livelihood, and the sustainable management of the environment in Humla’s mountains.