PASTURE ALLOCATION AND RE-ALLOCATION

Page68_1.gif (97677 bytes) THE LONG-TERM VIABILITY OF all pastoral groups requires that their system of livestock management pr-event overgrazing and destruction of their resource base-the vegetation. Critical to this endeavor is maintaining a balance between livestock numbers and the carrying capacity of the pastureland, and the nomads of Lagyab Ihojang traditionally had an elaborate system of pasture reallocation that accomplished this. The role of their lord, the Panchen Lama, is clearly seen here.

Traditionally, Lagyab Ihojang was divided into thousands of named pastures of various sizes, often small, with delimited borders recorded in a register book. Although these pastures were not fenced off, boundaries were known by all and were enforced by the Panchen Lama's officials. Households received pastures proportionate to the number of animals owned, including multiple pastures appropriate for use in different seasons. Individual nomad households could use only the pastures allocated to them by the Panchen Lama's officials, even if they experienced drought or untimely snow. A nomad official explained:

Every pasture in our area and all the contiguous nomad areas in Western Tibet are named and allocated to some family (or small group of families) which has exclusive rights over it. While nomad custom allows us to use any group's pasture for one night while in transit, we cannot use such pasture areas for longer periods of time. This is as true of Pala today as it was during traditional times.

Nomad families were completely independent of each other in terms of control over their pastures and animals. Thus, when we talked earlier of the nomads' migration to the fall camp, we meant more precisely each family's (or encampment's) move to its own fall pasture. There was no "common" pasture open to all. Ties between neighbors were weak unless they were kinsmen, and the backbone of the social and political system was the vertical link to the Panchen Lama, or today, the government. The nomad families of Pala, moreover, never joined together to form a single camp. 'fhe extent of this was strikingly revealed to us when we found that people living on one side of Pala could not identify children and youths in Polaroid photos taken on the other side. They simply had never seen them. However, when we explained who they were, they invariably knew of their existence and would say things like, 'Oh yes. So that is what Dorje's son looks like."

Traditionally, each named pasture was considered suitable to support a fixed number of animals calculated on the basis of marks, a unit that literally refers to a weight of butter but was actually computed on the basis of the number of animals. One marks of pasture was suitable for use by 13 yak in the 1950s. One marks also equalled 78 sheep or 91 goats since seven goats or six sheep were calculated as the equivalent of one yak. In other words, a one-marke pasture would be assigned to a family with either 13 yak, 78 sheep, 91 goats, or some combination. A pasture with a two-marke rating would contain double that number, and so on.

Taxes were calculated on the basis of the number of marks assigned to a fancily The main tax collected by the Panchen Lama was butter, followed by a potpourri of products such as: lamb skins, kid skins, salt, baking soda, money, wool, livestock (yaks and sheep), woven wool bags, and cloth, felt saddle pads and leather ropes. The nomads also had to barter large quantities of wool with the Panchen Lama at exchange rates that were often lower than the open market, and they were also responsible for delivering their taxes to one of the Panchen Lama's agricultural estates about a month's trek to the east.

Pala's traditional pastoral system balanced pastures and livestock by shifting pastures between families according to the results of a triennial household livestock census conducted by the lord and the local nomad officials. Families whose herds had increased were allocated additional pasture(s) and those whose herds had decreased lost pastures, the aim being to maintain only the specified number of animals on each pasture. Local fluctuations in herd size, therefore, were matched to the productive capacity of pastureland by: 1) shifting pasture areas every three years among families within a single nomad sub-group such as Pala; 2) shifting pasture areas among the Panchen Lama's 10 sub-groups in Lagyab lhojang; and in more extreme cases 3) moving entire households and their herds from one sub-group to another. Pastures (and taxes) remained fixed during the three-year interval between censuses.

The viability of this re-allocation system rested on the assumption that over a large area such as Lagyab lhojang and a relatively long period of time, disease and climatic disasters such as blizzards Page71_1.gif (91887 bytes) and drought create a //natural" (overall) balance between herd size and the carrying capacity of the pastureland. However, this "natural" culling of herd population does not operate evenly over a large area, wiping out equivalent numbers of livestock in each section. Instead, heavy losses tend to be very localized. For example, while some households in Pala in the spring of 1988 suffered 100% neonatal mortality of sheep and goats, their neighbors lost none or just a few percent. And in the summer of 1986, one area just west of Pala had five consecutive days of snow, losing about 30% of its herds since the animals could not get at the snow-covered grass, although Pala was unaffected. The snow prevented the nomads from moving to another area, making moot the legal question of their need to secure permission from another group to use their pastures. Thus, at any given time, some families and areas within Lagyab Ihojang would have expanding herds while others' herds would be shrinking. Any single locality, therefore, might experience substantial sustained growth over time and potential overgrazing, even though losses in neighboring areas might keep the average number of animals unchanged and/or decreasing. So while climatic and disease factors probably precluded exponential growth of livestock over the large area, they would not prevent overgrazing on specific pastures unless the pattern of herd growth and decline on each pasture area was also accommodated. This, of course, is precisely what the traditional system of re-allocating pasture every three years accomplished. It conserved the resource base in specific localities by shifting pasture and herds to ensure that each pasture contained only the specified number of livestock. This system of re-allocation is no longer in effect-a point to which we shall return.

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