Uncertain future of traditional Yak-based livelihoods among Monpa Community of Arunachal Pradesh

This community traditionally rely on yak herding as a vital part of their culture. However, modern challenges like climate change, resource exploitation, and changing interests among the younger generation are posing as a threat to this age-old way of life.

Local communities in the Himalayas have been sustainably utilizing diverse natural resources with the help of traditional knowledge and management systems since time immemorial. Monpa communities of India, residing in the western part of Arunachal Pradesh have been traditionally rearing the yak (Bos grunniens) which is an integral part of their culture and tradition. Traditionally Brokpas, one of the ethnic groups among the Monpa communities, specialised in yak and sheep grazing. The Brokpa communities living in these high-altitude areas have been utilizing natural pastures for grazing their animals for over hundreds of years and migrate from low hills to high hill areas during summer months. The high altitude summer grazing ground which is known as Jarbrok in local language are located generally in areas within altitudes ranging from 4000 m to 4500 m while the winter grazing ground known as Gunbrok are in areas below 3000 m altitude. Summer grazing period is generally from the month of May to October while winter grazing period mainly starts from November and continues till April.

The livestock that are moved from winter grazing to summer grazing sites and back depending on the melting of snow and start of snowfall include in addition to yak (pure male), sheep, bree (pure female), dzo (male cross breed), dzomo (female cross breed), galang (male cross breed) and kot (female cross breed). Brokpas also take horses and ponies along with them for transportation of goods. 

Good quality alpine pastures used as summer grazing ground are not very common in the region. One of the most favoured summer grazing grounds among Brokpas from nearly 10 villages is under the jurisdiction Thembang village of West Kameng district. The summer grazing area of the village is owned by members of four clans from the village – Dhirkhipa, Sherchokpa, Atejepu and Khocilu – together known as Bapu. As per the traditional management system, the herders from other villages who bring their livestock for summer grazing pay taxes in the form of live animal (sheep) or yak milk products (ghee and churpi) to the four clans of Thembang village. A portion of the total tax collected is deposited in the village Gompa (Buddhist monastery) and the rest is divided among members of four clans. 

The local communities are following traditional management systems, but many of their rules and regulations have not evolved with time in accordance with the changing threats and challenges. As a result, there has been an increase in cases of hunting of rare high-altitude herbivores and commercial extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), which in turn has a serious negative impact on the quality of summer grazing areas. Besides, Brokpas have also shared that with the increase in temperature in recent time the yak that are very temperature sensitive have started moving up to summer grazing sites earlier and returning to the winter grazing pastures much later. The increased duration in the summer grazing site is also putting pressure on the available alpine resources. Due to changes in socioeconomic aspiration of local herders and hardship involved in yak rearing, the younger generation are no longer interested in continuing with this practice. The future of this important age-old livelihood practice of Monpa communities, which is evidence of the capability of local communities to turn challenges in the form of physical condition of the area, climate variability and vegetation variations into opportunity, unfortunately seems to be very uncertain. 

About the author:

Pijush Kumar Dutta is part of the School of Development at the Azim Premji University.