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Discussion and conclusions

The two proposed approaches to solving the land degradation-population pressure problem, characteristic of much of the Himalayan region, are almost as wide apart as the two perspectives - too many people versus not enough food. They have one fundamental element in common - in either case, any chance of success will depend on major changes to the existing institutional structures. This carries with it the concern that, to date, there is little evidence that such major changes are likely to occur rapidly. We will return to this pivotal aspect of the Himalayan Problem later.

Table 8.8 Feed requirements, fodder production and balances ('000 metric tonnes), by ecological zones, and major feed sources for Nepal, 1985-2005 (after Hrabovszky and Miyan, 1987).




Sources Mountain Hills Terai Nepal Mountain Hills Terai Nepal
Forest 190 324 221 735 238 405 276 919
Grazing 318 677 76 1071 350 374 83 1171
Crop by-products 150 1038 1707 2895 214 1433 2817 4464
Grains and kitchen residues 2 17 5 24 4 35 9 49
Risers and bunds 75 368 102 545 55 235 96 386
Homestead fodder trees 12 65 57 134 24 130 114 268
Fallow grazing 16 77 85 178 15 62 80 156
Private forestry - - - 16 37 13 66  
Cultivated grasses - - - - 53 146 42 240
Total TDFR1 supply 763 2566 2253 5582 969 2857 3530 7719
Total LSU '000² 709 3167 1964 5840 779 3562 2155 6496
Total TDFR¹ requirement 736 3286 2038 6060 893 4081 2469 7443
Feed balance 27 -720 215 475 76 -1224 1061 276
Feed balance, % of requirement 3.7 -21.9 10.5 -7.7 8.5 -30 43.0 3.7
Total production (values in Rs million³       4962       8181

1 TDFR = Total Domestic Feed Requirement.
2 LSU = one Livestock Standard Unit, which is defined in terms of metabolizable energy sufficient for an average cow, producing the average amount of milk,
and has an average calving percentage.
3 Also includes products for poultry and piggery.

Table 8.9 Projected fuelwood and timber production demand, and balances, by ecological zones for Nepal, (1985 2005) (after Hrabovszky and Miyan. 1987).




Regions Production Requirement Balance Production as % of requirement Production Requirement Balance Production as % of requirement
Mountain 227 672 445 -34 846 1137 -291 -74
Hill 511 3614 -3103 -14 2378 6201 -3823 -38
Terai 630 2617 -1987 24 1208 4845 3637 25
Nepal 1368 6903 -5535 20 4432 12183 -7751 36
Mountain 1322 228 1094 580 2627 385 2242 682
Hill 2956 1269 1687 233 5943 2204 3739 270
Terai 1957 1226 731 160 2977 2298 679 130
Nepal 6235 2723 3512 229 11547 4887 6660 236

Both case studies and their accompanying prescriptions depend, to a certain extent, on the degree of reliability of their data bases. The Kumaun case is less vulnerable in this respect because it is essentially tied to a detailed university survey of a limited number of villages in a single administrative unit: Dwarahat Block of Almora district. In view of our earlier criticisms concerning data reliability and degree of representativeness, however, this point must be raised. In this context the claim for a stable population for the 1971-81 decade is fascinating. Is Dwarahat Block entirely unrepresentative, or has a large part of the problem already been solved? If so, how? Is there a massive outflow of emigrants? In any event, if the prediction of continued population stability, as used in the model for land recuperation, is borne out, what will happen to a progressively ageing subsistence-partial cash-crop community, dependent upon extremely high inputs of physical labour?

As already implied, the Nepal case study and prescription is the more vulnerable of the two because it relies upon a very much more extensive data base, that of the entire country. There are also some particular problems which are not addressed by the prescription. A large measure of the success of the long-term food plan depends upon highly efficient introduction of sophisticated technology - large-scale irrigation aided by hydroelectric power; inputs of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides; and high-yielding varieties of food crops. Who pays, and who benefits from such massive interventions? Messerschmidt (personal communication, March 1987), discussing the question of introducing higher-quality domestic livestock, as one example, indicated that so far experiments with introduced exotic or hybrid cow varieties in Nepal have been disastrous. During the recent RCUP project (United States Resource Conservation and Utilization Project), for instance, there was an attempt to introduce highly productive milk cows for breeding purposes. They all died because their requirements for survival could only be met by stall feeding under highly controlled conditions; when left to roam the village like the other more resilient local cattle, they perished! Of course, it can be argued that this is an institutional problem, and once institutional adjustment has been achieved, it will be solved. But it must also be considered that extensive increases in irrigated land will provide equally more extensive habitat for malaria-bearing mosquitoes and other disease vectors. And the spread of malaria over the past few years has already been noted with some concern.

The whole thrust of the Nepal prescription is to effect a more intensive and ultimately high-technology land-based solution. Ives, Messerli, and Thompson (in Ives and Ives, 1987) focus on this issue by asking if there are not other approaches that need to be considered - especially light industry, appropriate and clean industry, preferably, and other entrepreneurial activities that would make more off-the-farm work available. The same argument would apply equally well to the Kumaun prescription.

To proceed into an exhaustive treatment of the socio-economic and political situation in the Himalayan region is not within our current means. It would be the next logical and necessary step, so that a number of central issues must be at least introduced. Again, however, we are beset with the problem of the unbalanced availability of data and description that leaves us with an overrepresentation of Nepal. Here a combination of the Pitt exploration of poverty, women, and children (Chapter 7), and the Hrabovszky and Miyan predictions of agricultural trends (this chapter) can show a particularly gloomy scenario, ameliorated somewhat by a number of bright spots and 'virtuous circles,' in partial contradistinction to the seeming prevalence of vicious circles. We must suppose, nevertheless, that the situation of the women and children, and poor people in general, is not unique to Nepal, and is probably characteristic across the wider Himalayan region. It is also of more than passing interest to consider the concluding condemnation of Blaikie, Cameron, and Seddon (1980). This is based upon an extensive study of the West Central Planning Region (Dhaulagiri, Gandaki, and Lumbini zones) of Nepal, with extrapolations to the entire country. Much of their writing may be contested, yet considering the large data base that they have accumulated in comparison with the general scarcity of reliable data, their findings deserve careful consideration.

Blaikie, Cameron, and Seddon's view of Nepal is that it is a small landlocked country facing a crisis situation partly on account of its geography, its history as a near-colonial marginal frontier region, and its neo-colonial peripheral relationship to post-1947 India. The final sentences of their book: Nepal in Crisis: Growth and Stagnation at the Periphery (p. 284), are thoughtprovoking:

Expansion of 'marginal' employment opportunities in the administration for domestic producers may have reached a peak; work for the Nepalese in India has probably declined ... and it would be safe to say that prospects here will certainly not improve. As the hill economy becomes increasingly precarious and the terse's potential disappears, the dependency relationship between the Region and India will become clearer. In addition, we see no reason to believe that the peasantry of Nepal will discover a collective political expression of its needs which reaches beyond mere populist rhetoric in time to save millions of people from impoverishment, malnutrition, fruitless migration, and early death.

This view may be too bleak and should be contrasted with the Hrabovszky and Miyan optimism that the population growth-food production gap can be largely closed if the political will and organizational ability can be harnessed. Nevertheless, even if the future lies not only in between the two, but significantly to the optimistic right of centre, there would seem to be good reason to contend that Nepal, and the entire region, is moving into a situation of supercrisis. This contention is based upon a political angle that sees the peasantry - that is, the subsistence farming sector that accounts for almost 90 percent of the entire population - as victims of exploitation by central elites which are themselves victim of the periphery versus the centre forces vis-à-vis India and the world market economy in general. This is supported by Pitt's assessment of the extremely stratified nature of Nepalese society whereby 46.5 percent of total income is controlled by the top 10 percent of households (see p. 151). The immediate question is: can the agricultural development strategy illuminated by Hrabovszky and Miyan (see pp. 194-204) function with sufficient speed and efficiency to avert a break-down in subsistence agriculture, or at least provide a longer breathing space to allow additional measures to be identified and applied? Certainly, we have some points of optimism to look up to, and the outstanding early successes of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Pakistan's Northern Territory (Malik, personal communication, 1986) would indicate that sensitively assisted village level and more traditional self-help measures can make a significant difference. This view is also supported by the remarkable successes of the Chipko Movement (S. Bahuguna, personal communication, 1986; Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, 1986b). Also, in terms of development of understanding of the linkages between subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry (Jackson, 1983, unpublished; this chapter, pp. 176-91), it would appear that a promising start can be made to reduce the degradation of uncultivated land and eliminate the pressure on common property resources. To this must be added Thompson's (personal communication, February 1987) insistence on searching out the 'bright spots' end learning how to utilize and expand them for the wider good - the Sherpa and Thakhali women entrepreneurs, the trade in Tibetan rugs from Kathmandu, Darjeeling, Dharmsala, and other centres, that have high enough value added to overfly India profitably and find effective markets in industrialized countries. Thompson concedes that the neo-Marxists do have a point but believes that history may show them as latter-day Cobbetts (Cobbett rode the English countryside and chronicled the appalling declines and miseries but completely missed the non-land-based industrial revolution where the future of Britain actually lay).

These optimistic comments, nevertheless, must be set against the depressing record of major development 'break-throughs,' such as the Green Revolution, only within recent years hailed world wide as a panacea for India's chronic food shortage (and for that of other developing countries). Undoubtedly the Green Revolution transformed India from a food-importing to a food-exporting country, but only at the high cost of a drastic increase in landlessness, a system whereby the relatively well-to-do farmer prospered and the marginal peasant suffered (Redclift, 1984).

The analysis of social forestry misdirection in southern India, by Shiva, Sharatchandra, and Bandyopadhyay (1981), adds weight to this record in its provision of a detailed case study of how easily 'outside' intervention can serve to widen the gap between the poor and the not-so-poor. The danger of this situation, of course, is that access to common property resources is restricted in various ways, thus placing further pressure on remaining commonland forests and pastures. The rapid spread of chir pine forests throughout the Garhwal and Kumaun Himalaya bears witness to this and is part of the justification to Bahuguna's protest that the World Bank poses the greatest single threat to the environment of the Himalaya (see p. 73).

These points will be taken up from a somewhat different perspective in Chapter 9. It should be apparent, however, that, to the problems of uncertainty and complexity, must be added those related to institutional failure or lack of development. At this juncture we only wish to conclude that, while the Himalayan region presents a serious physical challenge both to 'development' agencies and to subsistence agriculturalists whose numbers seem to be rapidly increasing, the main issues are social, economic, and political. To this we must add the need to identify causes and effects better, to reduce the level of uncertainty where possible, and to translate findings into political will and action.

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