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Human driving forces of environmental change

In the debate on environmental degradation in the Himalayas, it is not difficult to see two relatively extreme views. As discussed during the Mohonk Mountain Conference reported in Ives and Ives (1987), the conventional view blames subsistence hill farmers for deforestation, soil erosion, and associated resource degradation. The other view, instead of blaming humans, projects resource degradation as a consequence of the natural process of mass wasting. The reality lies somewhere in between. Various studies report an accentuation of resource degradation with increased human interference in the Himalayas. In assessing the role of human interventions in environmental change, it should be stated that a society's inability to live within the usable limits of the biophysical resource base of its habitat is the major cause of environmental degradation. The tolerance limits of any habitat via--vis the intensity and variety of human interventions differ according to specific characteristics of an ecosystem. In fragile resource zones like mountains, such limits are narrower than in relatively stable zones of high productivity.

Hence, resource-use patterns considered normal and non-extractive in the latter case may prove environmentally degrading in the mountain areas. To elaborate on this and to identify some of the human driving forces causing environmental changes in the middle mountains of Nepal, we may discuss their specific characteristics and their "critical imperatives" for the environmental or ecological health of the region. The same can then be related to public and private interventions (or their attributes) to facilitate the assessment of factors and processes associated with negative changes.

The relationships between resource characteristics and the attributes of resource-centred activities can be understood conceptually. But it may be difficult to determine causal relationships between environmental changes and specific factors. The lack of comparable information on benchmarks, differences in lead-times for fuller reflection of the impacts of interventions, and the difficulty of controlling the impacts of additional (compounding) factors emerging in the intervening period are among the complicating factors. Consequently, in relating negative changes to different human driving forces, we shall focus on "processes of change" and some contextual evidence.

Mountain specificities

Specific conditions or characteristics of mountain areas separate them from plains. We call these "mountain specificities" (Jodha 1990). The important ones considered here are: inaccessibility, fragility, marginality, diversity, ecological and other niches (products or activities with natural suitability and comparative advantage in mountain regions), and human adaptation mechanisms in mountain habitats. Most of the specificities are not only interrelated owing to common causes (like edaphic and terrain conditions, etc.) but share the consequences of disturbance to each other through human interventions. The operational implications of these mountain characteristics generate constraints and prospects for specific activities and products in mountains. They also condition and shape the patterns of activities based on mountain resources. As long as these activities are well adapted to mountain specificities, human interventions do not harm the environmental situation. However, the mismatch between mountain conditions and human activities insensitive to the limitations of the resource base leads to environmental degradation (Jodha 1995).

Table 4.6 presents the key imperatives of mountain specificities in terms of objective circumstances that, in association with specific human driving forces, may result in environmental degradation. The table is fairly self-explanatory. Its key purpose is to highlight the "critical" importance of some of the mountain features in the whole process of maintaining the health and stability of the environment as well as mountain production systems. Any disregard of these imperatives for short-term considerations would mean a definite step towards environmental degradation and long-term unsustainability of mountain resources and associated activities.

In the context of the foregoing discussion, the role of human driving forces in environmental changes in mountain areas can be understood in terms of how they handle or mishandle the critical imperatives indicated in table 4.6. The issues can be framed in terms of the following concrete questions.

Table 4.6 Mountain specificities and their critical imperatives relating to environmental protection/degradation

Mountain specificity Imperatives
Inaccessibility Relatively closed system with limited (and unequal) external linkages; limited scope for siphoning off local pressure on resources, compulsion and limits to local absorption of rising pressure. Improved accessibility tends to bring additional pressure on fragile resources.
Fragility Low carrying capacity, vulnerability to irreversible dam age under high use intensity. Forces of market, state intervention, and demographic pressures tend to ignore fragility and its implications.
Marginality Marginal resources and marginal people prone to neglect and overexploitation by mainstream decision makers as and when it suits the latter. Owing to "marginality," interests/concerns and contributions of mountain area/ people have high invisibility for the mainstream.
Diversity Sources of diversified, interlinked, self-sustaining activities as true indicators of pressure-bearing capacities of resource base; liable to be disregarded under production patterns encouraged by public intervention and demographic and market pressures. If understood and harnessed, they serve as a basis of "regenerative/ sustainable processes."
Niches Special activities/products with comparative advantage to mountains, serving as basis of links with other areas; usually overextracted and depleted (on unequal terms) by the mainstream; attractive basis for public intervention.
Adaptation mechanisms Traditional technological and institutional methods of resource management that help in balancing pressure on resources; inability of traditional mechanisms to with stand new forces of change (population, market, and public intervention) brings about degradation.

1. What are the factors and processes contributing to increased pressure (demand) on mountain resources?

2. In view of inaccessibility and low carrying capacity (owing to characteristics of fragility and marginality), how is the increased pressure absorbed or managed without straining and damaging the local resource base?

3. In the face of fragility and marginality, what are the means by which the use intensity and input-absorption capacity of land re sources are enhanced without negative side-effects in terms of resource degradation?

4. How are the niche- and diversity-based potentialities conceived of and harnessed (or overextracted) to enhance the pressure-absorption capacity of mountain resources? As a side-effect, how does the pressure on resources become accentuated?

5. What are the traditional mechanisms that have evolved over time to ensure a match between human activities and the attributes of mountain resources? And how have the forces identified in question 1 above affected their feasibility and effectiveness?

Answers to these questions may reveal the composition and role of different human forces causing environmental changes in mountains. The three basic forces in this context are: (1) population growth, (2) market mechanism and commercialization, and (3) public intervention in mountain areas. During different phases of growth and effectiveness of these forces, different mechanisms and strategies are consciously or unconsciously developed to respond to the issues implied by the questions. Tables 4.7, 4.8, and 4.9 summarize the relevant details. For each of the three categories of forces, historically specific phases are noted. For each phase, key features of the driving force are indicated. Similarly, for each phase, strategies for stress management (e.g. controlling or regulating demand and enhancing supplies) are indicated. Next, the implications of these strategies for environmental changes are examined. In some cases the discussion may go far beyond 50 years (the reference period used for reporting changes summarized in tables 4.2 and 4.3). This is unavoidable if the dynamics of change are examined in a historical context. Furthermore, for reasons stated earlier, it is difficult to relate these forces precisely to the specific changes noted in tables 4.2 and 4.3. However, the two could be linked as parts of resource-use/resource-degradation processes.

Accordingly, the process of environmental change can be presented as a rate and pattern of deforestation, soil erosion, disruption in water movements, reduction in biodiversity, and interdependence of various biophysical variables as a part of "regenerative processes." The immediate causative factors - the use of the plough in submarginal lands hitherto kept under natural vegetation, the push for monoculture in place of polyculture, a slackening of the social sanctions and traditional folk agronomic practices that helped to regulate the intensity of resource use - are rooted in basic driving forces. Tables 4.7 to 4.9 present major phases in these basic forces and their implications in terms of societal responses (strategies) and impacts on environmental parameters. Although the tables summarize information on different periods and phases of change, our main focus for elaborating human driving forces and their implications/impacts is on the past 40-50 years.

Furthermore, the processes of change discussed below cover the Himalayas or middle mountains in general, of which the Bagmati zone and the study villages are part. It may not be possible to capture fully all the specific causative factors and to relate them to the degree of environmental change, but some can be inferred from the data presented in tables 4.1 and 4.3. Some additional information relevant to these issues is presented in table 4.10, which indicates for the study villages significant demographic, technological, and economic changes that have a direct bearing on the environmental changes discussed above. In the following discussion, the focus will be on processes of change at the macro level, although similar changes occur in the study villages.

Demographic factors

As shown by table 4.7, during the different phases of history, population spurts have taken place in the Nepal Himalayas. In the recent past (over the last 50 years or so), mountain areas, like the rest of the developing world, have experienced an unprecedented rate of population growth (Sharma and Banskota 1992). This is interpreted as an outcome of the health revolution and some governmental welfare programmes. The quality and spread of health facilities in the mountains are nowhere comparable to those in the accessible and productive plains. The inaccessibility and marginality of distant areas and their inhabitants obstruct the spread of health facilities, as both welfare and wealth programmes betray a tendency to follow tarmac roads (Chambers 1983). Certain health interventions, such as smallpox eradication, which required a single inoculation or infrequent contact with distant communities, were less obstructed by these constraints. Demographic data from different studies summarized by Poffenberger (1980) reflect the impact of the health revolution in the post-1950 period. The crude death rate in Nepal declined from 3037 per 1,000 population in 1951 to 22 in 1971. The corresponding infant mortality figures are 250-260 and 172. The life expectancy for the same period increased from 27.1 to 42.9 years for males and 28.5 to 38.9 years for females. Health and welfare programmes, as well as the development activities (including foreign aid) that have contributed to these demographic trends, have yet to succeed in raising the living standards of the people to a level that could help reduce population growth. The obvious consequence is increased pressure on mountain resources. And changed expectations further accentuate the heightened subsistence needs attendant on the increased number of people. The rise in people's expectations, a product of increased commercialization, public intervention, improved accessibility, exposure, and also persistent economic inequities, has increased the average level of demand on resources.

Table 4.7 Population growth environmental changes in middle mountain areas of Nepalaa

Population change: phases and features Pressure (demand/ supply) management strategies Environmental implications
Migration-induced population growth    
12th century onwards Resource upgrading by ethno-engineering(terraces, irrigation), folk agronomy; mixed farming, diversified resources. interlinked land-based activities; demand rationed by social sanctions on resource use, etc.; population-food balanced. Increased use intensity of land, balanced land-use pattern; limited excess/ extractive burden on resources.
• migration from Indian plain following Muslim invasions    
• transformation from seminomadic to sedentarized population    
Food surplus-induced population growth    
Late 18th to early 19th century Facilitated use of uplands; surplus production, no (supply) constraints; greater use of resource diversity Increased replacement of perennial (natural) vegetation by annual crops; higher land-use intensity; gradual re source erosion
• introduction of maize and potato eased food situation, induced population growth    
Health revolution-induced population growth    
Post-1950 Collapse of institutional arrangements; infeasibility of land-extensive practices; overstocking and overgrazing; production and supply fail to keep pace with demand; dependency on external supplies (of products/inputs); recource to inferior/ marginal options; enhanced extraction capacities Decline of resource conservation measures; increased resource extraction; environmental degradation, leading to more severe situation
• welfare programmes, health improvements, control of epidemics; development programmes; changes in number and quality (in terms of attitude, enterprise, etc.) of population; reduced migration possibilities    

a For details on different issues covered by the table, see Blaikie, Cameron, and Seddon (1979), Frer-Haimendorf (1974), Hitchcock (1963), Mahat et al. (1987), Poffenberger (1980), Price (1981), Rana et al. (1973), Sharma and Banskota (1992), and Upadbyaya and Abueva (1974).

The broad overview of demographic changes and the responses of communities (in terms of out-migration and upgrading resources and their productivity) shows that earlier strategies no longer work. The pressure on mountain resources due to increased subsistence and "beyond-subsistence" needs has not enjoyed any concomitant development of human skills or increase in resource productivity through technological innovations. On the contrary, constraints imposed by inaccessibility, fragility, and marginality put a high premium on larger family size, thereby inducing further population growth (Sharma and Banskota 1992). As a consequence, high pressure on the stagnant production system has produced changes in the resource-use pattern, with adverse effects on the environment. Intensity of resource use, even without significant technological and institutional innovations, has increased. Submarginal lands hitherto kept under natural vegetation (forest and pasture) have gone over to annual crops. Cropping has extended to steeper and more fragile slopes. Overstocking and overgrazing have emerged as dominant patterns of livestock management.

Wherever permitted by agroclimatic conditions or improved market linkages, cropping intensity has increased. Land-use and overall agricultural activity patterns have changed. The area of forest and pasture has declined. The increased demand for food and consequent changes in the resource-use pattern have eroded the traditional resource-regenerative processes based on diversified, interlinked, land-extensive practices.

This has happened despite people's awareness of the situation. Helpless in the present serious demand-supply imbalance, people are aware but lack the means to combat the situation. A focus on short-term, inferior, and desperate options forms part of their forced adaptation to new changes. Options in terms of off-farm employment and migration are insufficient to syphon off the pressure from local resources (Banskota 1989). Inadequate improvements in human skills and an absence of non-agricultural activities reduce the potential for sizeable migration. Migration as a means to relax local population pressure is less feasible now, owing to the lack of resource opportunities in proximity to the mountains and to the increased border rigidities over recent decades.

Other mechanisms for managing the stress on mountain resources also have not had much impact. The options could include resource upgrading through infrastructural works (e.g. irrigation, slope stabilization), raising the carrying capacities of resources through resource-centred technologies, and yield-raising production technologies (Jodha 1991). In the public sector, more efforts have occurred since 1950 than at any time in past history. In limited pockets, at least in the short term, they have had some effect, but their general weakness, as in the case of other interventions in mountain areas, is their inability to internalize the mountain perspective - i.e. the conscious consideration of mountain specificities while conceiving, designing, and implementing the measures (Jodha 1992). Interventions are often based on the experiences of non-mountain areas and so are completely indifferent to the rationale of traditional systems that help match resource characteristics and resource-use practices. Consequently, we have huge infrastructural works that are not only indifferent to the diversified development needs of mountains but also insensitive to their side-effects (Banskota and Jodha 1992a). There are resource-centred projects with a dominance of "technique" oriented activities with little concern for "user perspective." Production technologies have focused on use intensity, with a high dependence on external inputs (e.g. high-yield varieties with fertilizers and plant-protection chemicals) and little sensitivity to diversity and interlinkages of other land-based activities (Jodha 1991). Moreover, access to such technologies is restricted to those who have the resources to use them. In the absence of appropriate technology, efforts at more intensive use of resources to secure a higher volume of production amount to mining the resource base.

Market forces and commercialization

Despite problems of high transport costs, poor mobility, and inaccessibility, mountain areas have never been completely isolated from other regions. Petty trading based on harnessing local niches, transhumance, and migration had always linked the mountain with the plains. Rarely self-sufficient in food supplies, the areas needed mechanisms for balancing demand for and supplies of food. Yet, markets traditionally served as the "servant" of the system. Exchange was largely local needs centred. Linkages and exchange activities fluctuated with changes in demand for mountain products and people (e.g. recruits for outside armies) as well as changes in trading patterns, partners, and routes.

Table 4.8 Market forces and environmental changes in middle mountain areas of Nepala

Market forces: phases and features Pressure (demand/supply) management strategies Environmental implications
Early 20th century
a. Focus on state revenue by timber trade a. Forests treated as "inexhaustible" resource; timber trade without productive reinvestment a. Heavy extraction of permanent vegetation in accessible locations
b. Local need-based exchange and upland/ lowland linkages, petty trading, transhumance, etc. b. Niche/comparative advantage as basis of petty trade; exchange-based supplies supplemented local requirements; in accessibility restrained overextraction b. Resource exploitation within limits
Latter half of 20th century: Commercialization as a part of transformation process
a. Selective opening of areas, infrastructure, linkages with mainstream markets a. Accessibility encouraging one-way flow of resources; unequal ex- change for mountains; distant markets insensitive to local resources and local demand a-c. Unregulated, over exploitation of resources; negative side-effects of infrastructure and large scale programmes to harness niches; reduced diversity of production activities; weakened regenerative processes, environmental backlash.
b. Development-induced commercialization (institutions, technologies for cash crops, etc.) b. Focus on cash crops, pushing food crops to marginal areas; highly extractive and inegalitarian development  
c. Concentration on mountain niches (timber, power, horticulture, tourism) c. Heavy extraction of mountain niches with unequal terms of trade, indifference to side effects  

a For details on issues covered by the table, see Banskota and Jodha (1992a,b), Hitchcock (1963), and Jodha (1990).

Since the early 1950s, mountain areas have become better integrated with external markets. Upland-lowland linkages have also become stronger and more varied. The subsistence hill economy has become rapidly integrated with wider market economies (Banskota 1989). Linkages with external systems provide some means to enhance the sustainability of a hitherto closed system with high pressure on resources (Jodha 1990). In the present phase of transformation of mountain areas, however, market integration has several negative side-effects, most of which also adversely affect the environment.

The issue of market and mountain economy interactions can be discussed at two interrelated levels: commercialization of production systems within mountains, and linkage of the mountain economy with the mainstream market.

Commercialization of mountain agriculture

Monetization of the mountain economy, or of agriculture as its dominant sector, can be judged in terms of the increasing role of the cash nexus (i.e. the cash economy). Following improved accessibility, technological and institutional interventions, and a rise in people's expectation levels, even extremely subsistence-oriented communities have slowly moved towards cash transactions (Banskota 1989). A rising proportion of external inputs, in both consumption and production activities, has accelerated the process. Domination of a cash nexus reduces the importance of other considerations (e.g. resource conservation, regeneration, interdependence of multiple activities) in farming decisions.

An increase in the extent of high-value cash crops (vegetables, fruits), supported by new technologies and state patronage, has been a major factor encouraging commercialization of agriculture in relatively accessible areas. This helps mountain areas in harnessing their comparative advantage. But commercialization of mountain areas with complete disregard for mountain specificities has serious negative consequences. First, its impact in terms of internal inequities and changed human attitudes has led to a rapid erosion of social sanctions and informal collective arrangements for the protection and sustainable use of resources. Secondly, the commercial orientation has introduced imbalances in land-use patterns. Relatively better land is put under profitable cash crops (especially vegetables), and staple food crops (e.g. maize) are pushed to submarginal land with low productivity, compelling the extension of crops to still more submarginal lands. An emphasis on both vegetables and fruit crops and high-yielding food crops in some areas has led to reduced diversity of mountain agriculture and a decline in the interdependence of different land-based activities (Mahat et al. 1987; Yadav 1992). This sort of narrow specialization has eroded the resource-regenerative processes mentioned earlier. Finally, "servicing" of cash crops (e.g. the provision of wooden packaging for fruits and wrapping material for vegetables, and the use of ecologically harmful chemicals) has negative side-effects on the environment.

Links with external markets

The environmental consequences of the market forces discussed above are accentuated by the side-effects of external linkages of mountain areas. The promotion of external market linkages is a part of the formal state approach to mountain areas. The guiding considerations are the transformation or development of these areas, and the need to harness the mountains' comparative advantages in some products and activities. Horticulture, tourism, irrigation, and hydropower production are the major areas attracting the attention of both the state and the market.

But the new market links produce an exchange between unequals, at least in the transitional phase. Because of their natural and manmade handicaps, mountain areas tend to interact with mainstream markets on unequal terms. External markets often treat mountain niches as virgin opportunities ripe for plundering. The whole process amounts to overextraction of mountain resources with adverse environmental and economic consequences. Resource extraction, even by the local communities, becomes a function of signals from distant markets that are not sensitive to local needs and resource problems. Several products and activities that contribute to diversity and sustainability of mountain farming systems become marginal and extinct if they do not fit into market-determined processes. Moreover, not even a small fraction of the economic revenue ultimately generated by mountain products (e.g. timber price in the final market) is ploughed back into mountain areas. The approaches to harnessing mountain niches (through investment, technology, support services) are guided by norms and procedures that are incapable of incorporating long-term environmental consequences (Jodha 1992).

Public intervention

State intervention in mountain areas is as old as the governance of these areas by the nation-state. Mountains, by providing refuge to political or religious dissidents, had in the past helped many who formed new states. Until the early 1950s, however, the state's intervention (under both colonial and other modes of rule) was largely for resource extraction to sustain the state apparatus with all its hierarchies. The last four to five decades have witnessed a new phase, which has involved the state in activities beyond resource extraction and administration. Welfare concerns, relief activities, and development needs have induced public intervention in mountain areas, including Nepal (Banskota and Jodha 1992a,b).

The interventions have also included the legal and institutional measures that affect people's access to natural resources. In mountain areas of Nepal, especially since the early 1950s, the compulsion to manage pressure on resources and the need to harness mountain niches set the stage for various public policies and programmes (ERL 1988; Shrestha 1988). Public intervention has had little impact on balancing supplies with demands on mountain resources. In fact, increasing development efforts and declining trends in performance (when seen in terms of the total impact on the economy and environment) have operated simultaneously (ICIMOD 1990).

The principal reason for the prevailing situation, which is applicable to the Himalayas as a whole, is the lack of a mountain perspective while designing and implementing welfare and development interventions in mountain areas. Most of the development interventions (technological or institutional) entail a transfer from outside without a full understanding of the objective circumstances of mountains (Banskota and Jodha 1992a; Jodha 1992). We can briefly illustrate this with a focus on issues bearing on environmental changes.

Policies affecting resource and resource-user relations

A major policy intervention in the mountain areas of Nepal addresses people's access to natural resources. Such access could be examined at two levels: community access to common resources and private land and users' relation to them.

Regarding the former, the usurpation of people's traditional rights to natural resources has been a part of state policies in the Himalayas for a very long time (Guha 1989). Historically, in the Nepal Himalayas it happened gradually as the society moved from nomadism to sedentary living and the feudal system of rule took hold. In recent decades, however, interventions such as the nationalization of forests, the establishment of conservation areas or national parks, the transfer of land to public institutions, the acquisition of land for industries and public utilities, and the privatization of community pasture and forest land have reduced people's access to natural resources. Other interventions include marketing and price regulations on natural-resource products collected by the people. The introduction of state monopoly or specific trading arrangements on medicinal plants and herbs is one example. Another way of affecting people's relation to resources is through the introduction of new species, which do not fit into people's diversified production and usage systems, to upgrade these resources. The Nepal Miscellaneous Series, periodically published by the Regmi Research Institute, has documented most of these interventions, the effective implementation and impacts of which are not uniform over the middle mountains or total mountain areas of Nepal. Yet in a number of areas negative side-effects have occurred. Besides alienating people from resources, some policies have encouraged indifference and a tendency to overexploit resources, thereby accentuating pressure on the resources that are still easily accessible to the people. The traditional linkages between production and resource-use systems based on common property resources and private property resources have broken down. This collapse has several environmental implications.

Table 4.9 Public intervention and environmental changes in middle mountain areas of Nepala

Public intervention: phases and features Pressure (demand/supply) management strategies Environmental implications
State acquisition of community resources    
a. Mid-18th century Money value on land, private tenure replacing community ownership a. Land alienation/ insecurity; money (not land characteristics) dominated management and use a. Inducement to neglect or overexploit resource
b. Latter half of 20th century b. Same as the above; reduced access to land, forest, water; promotion of pressure on remaining accessible b. High resource-use intensity; people's indifference to and neglect of resources
Nationalization for conservation/development and revenue resources    
Welfare programmes    
Latter half of 20th century Promotion of pressure on resources without resource development Higher use intensity, depletion of land, vegetation, water resources; protection in selected pockets
Health facility, relief, subsidies, etc.    
Development interventions    
Latter half of 20th century Focus on supply, upgrading resources and their productivity; focus on short-term goals; imposition of options evolved elsewhere; effort-performance gaps; demand-supply gap widened; demand side not managed, greater focus on promotion of supplies Negative side-effects of development interventions, because they lack mountain perspective; infrastructure ignores fragility, technology ignores need for diversity; niches harnessed in "extractive" mode, high environmental cost of development projects
Infrastructure, technology, institutional measures, management- economic policies focused on increased resource extraction, short-term gains    

a. For details on issues covered by the table, see Banskota and Jodha (1992b), Blaikie et al. (1979), DFAMS (1986), Poffenberger (1980), Rana et al. (1973), and Zaman (1973).

Regarding access to private land resources, Nepal has slowly tried to create an equitable system of land ownership. Here again, however, owing to the long time-lag between the declaration of state intentions and legislation or between legislation and implementation, the impact of the change is preempted by vested interests (Regmi 1971; Zaman 1973). Consequently, land inequity, landlessness, and land hunger continue to feature in mountain areas in Nepal. The security of formal or informal tenancy (which is quite widespread) is also affected by the inequity of power associated with land inequity. One of the major implications of this inequity is a higher use intensity of small landholdings and a tendency to grab and convert submarginal common lands into private lands for cropping (tables 4.2 and 4.3).

Production programmes

The focus of production programmes in mountain areas is primarily on resource-use intensification and extraction. These considerations guide other aspects of public interventions - be they infrastructural, development, or investment strategies (Banskota and Jodha 1992a). Consequently, the focus of production programmes is on mountain niches such as irrigation and hydropower potential, mining, tourism, or horticultural production. These are largely guided by external demand and the revenue needs of the state. The environmentally relevant implications of these initiatives include a high rate of resource extraction, reduced diversification of resource-centred activities, and negative side-effects on fragile mountain resources (Jodha 1995).

Even in the case of agriculture, the dominant sector of the mountain economy, the key focus of these programmes on raising the productivity of crops and livestock. Learning from the past history of agricultural transformation elsewhere, the emphasis has been on selected crops and their seed, fertilizer, and irrigation-based technologies. The whole approach, based as it is on the experiences of the plains, frequently disregards the need for diversity and interlinkages, constraints on resource-use intensity, and the problems attendant on inaccessibility. This applies to both annual and perennial plant-based activities. Environmentally, a more alarming side-effect of this approach is reduced diversity and a consequent increase in the risk and unsustainability of the system (Jodha 1991).

Resource-centred programmes in agricultural sectors related to watershed development, afforestation, and pasture development bear a more direct relationship to environmental health and stability. A fairly large number of programmes of this type are scattered all over the middle mountains of Nepal (ERL 1988). Most programmes take a sectoral approach and do not fully consider interlinkages between mountain specificities. Moreover, given a strong focus on "techniques" rather than a user perspective, they are largely sustained by government subsidy or donor support. Some initiatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), however, are exceptions.

Investment and subsidy

An outstanding feature of most of the production- or resource-related interventions is their heavy dependence on public investment and subsidy. Given the low level of development and widespread poverty, this seems unavoidable. At the same time, however, mountain areas in Nepal (and elsewhere) are faced with underinvestment. This becomes clear in comparing the magnitude of investment with overall needs of diversified activities and the high fixed and operational costs of activities in the inaccessible, fragile mountain areas (Banskota and Jodha 1992a). Underinvestment leads to underdevelopment, which, in turn, initiates overexploitation of resources and environmental degradation. More important, the investment priorities (focused on extraction of mountain potential and building of infrastructure, such as roads and bridges) generally ignore the diversified, ancillary activities (Banskota and Jodha 1992a). Thus the investment strategies for mountains bypass diversification, the regeneration of local resources, and other activities so conducive to environmental stability.

"Subsidy" is another important feature of public sector investment in mountain areas. Instead of subsidies being used as inducements for diversified and sustainable resource use, they often promote more extractive use of resources and narrow specializations. Thus, in most cases, so-called "perverse incentives" cause environmental degradation.

Infrastructural development

Constructing irrigation and communication systems is an important step in the development of resources and the integration of mountain economies with the rest of the world. However, this step has two important side-effects relating to environmental questions. First, the norms and yardsticks for designing such systems and calculating their worth, borrowed as they are from non-mountain situations, prove very short-sighted and narrow in the mountain context (Jodha 1992). The negative externalities, in terms of environmental degradation or reduced resilience of production systems in mountains, seldom receive due consideration. Moreover, most infrastructural works have a sectoral focus, and their positive or negative impacts on related activities or resources do not get sufficient consideration. In short, overextraction of resources is quite widespread in mountain areas.

Welfare schemes

Mountain areas also enjoy their share of state patronage reflected in various welfare and relief schemes. Without denying their utility, it may be stated that they play an important role in sustaining high pressure on mountain resources without building the carrying capacity of resources.

Finally, most of the public interventions in mountain areas are directed to dealing with the supply aspects of the situation (e.g. raising productivity, upgrading the resource base, providing welfare support). Their negative impacts (through intensification and overextraction of a resource use) are accentuated by the absence of any measures to control or regulate the demand on mountain resources (Sharma and Banskota 1992).


The preceding pages have presented a broad account of the factors and processes associated with environmental changes in the mountain areas of Nepal. Precise separation of the roles and relative importance of different human driving forces is quite difficult. In the last four to five decades most of the forces of change - namely population growth, market integration, and technological and institutional interventions - not only have operated simultaneously, but some have reinforced the impacts of others. For instance, new technologies enhanced resource extraction capacities and accelerated the population pressure, leading to overexploitation of mountain resources. Population-induced poverty prompted increased state intervention through welfare and development activities; these in turn focused on infrastructure and the market integration of mountains with other regions. As a next step, state policies and market forces helped each other to produce higher resource extraction, with its adverse environmental consequences.

In most cases, environmental change has occurred as a result of the disregard of specific mountain conditions such as fragility, diversity, and inaccessibility. These mountain characteristics are interrelated in terms of common biophysical causes or shared consequences, which obstruct a clear separation of the relative roles of forces leading to environmental degradation.

The final problem stems from the scale of operation or consequence of forces behind the change. Owing partly to the interrelationships of mountain specificities and partly to temporal and spatial lags between causes and effects, the events of "cause and effect" in macro or micro contexts are not scattered in any systematic way. Consequently, a precise one-to-one association between the driving force of change and its impacts is difficult to capture. Yet some idea of the relative role of different driving forces emerges from the distribution of proximate causes of environmental changes. This can be attempted in the macro context more easily than in the micro (village) level context (table 4.10), because the operation of various proximate causes and basic driving forces is more visible at the macro level.

Table 4.10 Changes indicating transformation of study villages over time

  Range of situation during:
Feature 1950-52 1988-90
Households 36-44 41-52
Adults with education up to 7th class 3-7 12-25
Households with one or more member working outside in town 4-7 15-18
Shops in village/neighbouring villages 0-2 8-12
Radios in villages 0-0 4-7
Government programme/facilities in village/ neighbouring villagea 0-2 5-11
Households using external inputs (fertilizer, diesel, seed, etc.) 0-0 8-15
Households with some area under multiple cropping 0-0 11-15

Source: Based on enquiries in six villages in the Bagmati zone, middle mountains of Nepal, using the Rapid Rural Appraisal method.
a. Includes credit facility, extension agency, health facility, employment and development programme, communication point, etc.

Table 4.11 summarizes different proximate factors and the driving forces. The proximate causes listed disregard, in one way or the other, the imperatives of mountain specificities. Some primarily cause disruption of the resource-use system that is conducive to environmental stability; others largely contribute to resource-use intensification or extraction of resources and disregard the side-effects. As the table shows, most proximate causes are linked to more than one driving force. Looking at the fairly even distribution of proximate causes vis--vis driving forces, it is not easy to identify the relative role of different driving forces. In a rather broad sense, however, one can single out market forces as key factors underlying most of the proximate causes of environmental changes. This is quite understandable in so far as inducements for resource extraction, as facilitated by infrastructure, technology, and state facilities, operate through market mechanisms. Yet, population pressure and public intervention reinforce the role of the market. The distribution of proximate causes, under different driving forces, broadly illustrates these possibilities.

An important limitation of the formulation indicated by table 4.11 relates to the uncertainty about the magnitude of impact of different causative factors. For instance, it is difficult to judge whether reduced diversity of land-based activities affects mountain environments more than the overextraction of mountain niches, or vice versa.

Table 4.11 Proximate causes and human driving forces behind environmental changea in the middle mountain areas of Nepal

  Population Market forces State intervention
Proximate cause Health care, accessibility- induced population growth Market, linkage, cash nexus Profit motive attitude change Legal, administrative, institutional changes Development, welfare activities Technology, infrastructure etc.,
Overcropping, overgrazing x          
Deforestation, narrow specialization, external input intensive agriculture   x x     x
Reduced diversity, interlink ages in agriculture x x x   x  
Disruption of traditional re source management, collective regulations; local control, access, etc. x x x x x  
Overextraction of mountain niches, other resources   x   x   x
Side-effects of massive infra structure, scale, technology of operation       x x x
Distant demand-induced resource extraction     x     x
Focus on short-term gains, application of external experiences, disregard of mountain specificities x x x   x x

a. For details see tables 4.7, 4.8, and 4.9.

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