Climate change is a global issue that affects everyone, but its impacts are particularly pronounced for certain communities. Among these are the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities of Jammu and Kashmir. These communities, whose livelihoods are closely tied to the environment, are finding their traditional ways of life increasingly challenged by the changing climate.
The Gujjars and Bakarwals, nomadic tribals from South Asia’s Himalayans, live in India’s Kashmir and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan’s northeast Nuristan Province. In Jammu and Kashmir, 12 tribals add up to a total population of 14,93,299 according to the 2011 census. The largest, Gujjars, number 9,80,654 and the third-largest, Bakarwals, 1,13,198. Both significantly contribute to the territory’s population.
In Jammu and Kashmir, during the 20th livestock census in 2019, the total number of cattle was 2,539,240, buffalo was 690,829, sheep was 3,247,503, and goats were 1,730,218. The total livestock in the state was 8,325,324.
Seasonal migration challenges
The pastoralist Gujjar and Bakarwal communities have historically practised transhumance, needing extensive knowledge of the local environment and climate for optimal seasonal livestock grazing. Increasingly, climate change disruption makes grazing forecasting difficult.
According to the study published in Neliti, In Jammu and Kashmir, the Gujjars and Bakarwals are primarily engaged in pastoral activities, meaning they earn more than half of their income from raising livestock and selling livestock products. Those who earn less than half of their income from these activities are known as agro-pastoralists. These communities rely heavily on rearing livestock for their livelihood, especially in dry and semi-dry lands.
Sajad Ahmad Mir the lead author of the study, told Ground Report “Climate change is not just a global concern; its effects are deeply felt by communities like the Gujjars and Bakarwals in Jammu and Kashmir”.
He added, “Their traditional, climate-dependent lifestyle is facing unprecedented challenges due to shifts in temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather events. Urgent action is needed to develop adaptive strategies and policies that safeguard their unique way of life.”
Sajad highlights the distressing effects of climate change on the Gujjars and Bakarwals’ transhumance economy, like reduced cattle numbers and poor fodder quality.
He noted that unpredictable weather disrupts natural pastures, prompting these communities to seek sustainable solutions for their pastoral activities.
The choice of livestock among pastoralists is influenced by several factors including the climate, environment, availability of water, forests, grasslands, and geographical area. Common types of livestock include cows, buffaloes, camels, goats, sheep, yaks, and horses.
As per the study, “The Gujjars, a pastoral community, live in various parts of the Kashmir valley, including the side valleys and slopes of Lidder, Sind, Lolab and their tributaries. Their settlements are scattered across the mountain slopes and valleys surrounding the main valley of Kashmir, in areas like Uri, Baramulla, Kupwara, Ganderbal, Kangan, Pahalgam, Anantnag, Daksum and Kulgam”.
Impact of climate change
One of the major impacts of climate change on these communities is the alteration of their seasonal migration cycle. Unseasonal weather events, such as droughts in the summer and heavy snowfall in the winter, have disrupted the traditional migration routes and timings. This not only affects the health and productivity of their livestock but also poses significant challenges to the communities’ food security and economic stability.
The study titled “Impact of the Climatic Change on the Seasonal Movement of the Gujjar and Bakarwals: Community Perceptions” discusses the effects of climate change on the seasonal migration patterns of the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities in Kashmir.
The Gujjar and Bakarwal communities, whose economy is primarily based on livestock, have been experiencing changes in their seasonal movement cycle due to climate change. This change has been observed over the past few years and is attributed to factors such as droughts and unseasonal snowfall in the region.
Community Perceptions and Displacement
The communities traditionally move throughout the year based on the availability of pastures for their livestock. However, their cycle of seasonal movement has been disrupted due to droughts in the Kashmir Valley and unseasonal snowfall during the summer months.
The study reveals that climate change poses significant risks to the societal sustainability of the Gujjar and Bakarwals, leading to climate-related displacement issues in Kashmir. The research involved surveying 400 households in both the winter pastures (plains) and summer pastures (higher reaches of Kashmir) to understand the impacts of climate change.
Another study examines the effects of climate change on the transhumance economy of the Gujjar and Bakarwal tribals. The study, transhumance, the seasonal movement of livestock between lowlands in winter and highlands in summer, has been a traditional practice for the Gujjar and Bakarwal tribals in Jammu and Kashmir.
Water availability and livestock production
Changes in rainfall patterns are affecting water availability and livestock production, leading to increased vulnerability in terms of food and water scarcity. This has direct consequences for livestock, forcing the community to relocate early to summer pastures in the higher reaches of the Kashmir valley.
A survey conducted in Pirkimarg’s summer pasture in Jammu and Kashmir revealed a significant decrease in cattle numbers over a span of three years due to untimely snowfall. For instance, Lentho, a resident of the same pasture land, had 154 cattle in 2006, and 162 in 2007, but only 55 in 2009, indicating a loss of more than 70% of the cattle.
Unseasonal snowfall trapped many in the upper reaches of various regions, including Pir Panchal, Doda, Anantnag, Kulgam, and others. Many believe this is a result of climate change. According to the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation (TRCF), between three to five lakh nomadic Gujjars and Bakarwals were trapped in mountain ranges in 2009 during their seasonal migration, which began in April.
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