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Yak hybridisation in the central upper slope region of Nepal: A community resource management strategy

S.L. Pradhan, D.K. Hitchcock and D. Miller

Nepal–Australia Community Resource Management Project, Sanepa, Lalitpur, GPO Box 208, Kathmandu, Nepal


Sustainable socio-economic development of the upper slope regions of Nepal is reliant on the efficient management of community or common property resources (e.g. forest and non-timber forest products (NTFP), pasture, animals and human capital). The yak hybridisation production system is an integral component of the ecosystem in the upper slope areas of Nepal and a major economic activity, heavily reliant on pastureland and oak forest (Quercus semicarpifolia) resources. However, over the past 2 decades, these resources have been increasingly exploited and the available natural resources are now estimated to be beyond the limit of regeneration. As a result, the oak forests are showing signs of deterioration with poor regeneration, the alpine pastures are heavily infested with undesirable and unpalatable weeds and quality and quantity of feed production are deteriorating rapidly. Available medicinal and aromatic plants and other forest products have also seen a dramatic decline in many areas. Over the last 2 years, the Nepal–Australia Community Resource Management Project (NACRMP) has been working towards a management strategy for the upper slope resources of the Central Region of Nepal. NACRMP's approach involves the use of Participatory Action Research methodologies as a framework to empower communities and encourage collaborative decision-making. The major principles of the NACRMP strategy include: The use of indigenous knowledge and local organisations; a participatory approach involving all stakeholders; a system approach that considers environmental, socio-economic, and production demands; identification of appropriate interventions directed towards resolving livestock grazing related issues and an evolutionary approach to the management and protection of upper slope through existing forest policy and legislation. The major efforts of NACRMP are focused on: improved oak forest and pastureland management practices; formation of Forest User Groups (FUG) responsible for the management of the community forests (primarily oak forest) near their villages and development of grazing and NTFP user right systems for those communities forests.

Keywords: Common property resources, Nepal, oak forests, participatory action approach, pasture development, upper slopes


During the last 30 years, the series of Nepal-Australia forestry projects have successfully implemented a sustainable community forestry system in the middle hills of the Central Region of Nepal. As a result, community forestry has been recognised as the major natural resource management strategy for the development of the forests in the middle hill regions of Nepal by His Majesty's Government (HMG/Nepal) through the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation.

Through extensive studies conducted by the Nepal-Australia forestry projects, it became evident that the upper slope forests are an important natural resource base that has been neglected by the government and aid agencies probably due to relative inaccessibility (in terms of terrain, distances from roads and villages, and climate). The natural resources have been over-exploited and often mismanaged leading to overall deterioration of the available resources, particularly oak forest (Quercus semicarpifolia) areas and pasturelands (Jackson et al. 1993; Messerschmidt and Rayamajhi 1996; Jackson et al. 1998; Miller 1999).

NACRMP was designed to focus on community resources beyond just forests. The current project has recognised that the socio-economic development of the upper slope regions of Nepal is reliant on the management of community or common property resources e.g. forest, NTFPs, pasture, animals and people. Consequently, the project will attempt to develop and institutionalise a community resource management system for the management of resources in the upper slope areas of Sindhupalchowk District of Nepal.

NACRMP has adopted a participatory action research approach on the management of community resources through the involvement of stakeholders, especially the local women. The project selected the Tashitang-Bagam-Chhagam upper slope area of the Sindhupalchowk District to develop a community resource management demonstration model for the oak forest areas and pasture lands.

The upper slopes—A general description


The upper slope areas within the NACRMP are defined as areas between 2000 and 4000 metres above sea level (masl) in the mountain zone of the Maharabhat Lekh in Kabhre Palanchok District (Messerschmidt and Rayamajhi 1996). Temperate broadleaf tree species (e.g. rhododendron, oak, and birch), conifers (hemlock, fir), mixed forest, shrub lands and forest meadows dominate the forests in these areas. Above the timberline (about 4000 masl), the rangelands extend up to 5000 masl.

Much of the project's upper slope areas are above 2000 masl in elevation. They are relatively inaccessible and much of the terrain is steep in nature. The forest areas are large and have good forest cover in those areas that are inaccessible. The climate is often extreme with long winters and heavy snow cover. The biodiversity is high and has remained unchanged in many remote areas. Human population is decreasing in most of the areas due to out-migration. Because of the physical and climatic limitations, the upper slopes are only suitable for livestock grazing and marginal crop production.

Farming system

The farming system for the project site at Tatopani and Listikot village development committee (VDC) of Sindhu Palchok District is typical of many of the high elevation areas of Nepal. Forests and grazing lands in the upper slopes are generally found in elevations above the upper limit of cultivated agriculture, but their uses by local inhabitants are prevalent.

The agriculture production system is restricted to the high altitude valleys, which have good soil fertility and water availability. It has a low input base with heavy reliance on organic manure. The animals are mostly raised under a transhumance system. Livestock population in these areas is decreasing due to the deteriorating condition of the grazing lands and also due to lifestyle changes caused by mountain tourism. The development of these areas has received little attention. No formal implementation of the community forestry/FUG approach has yet been tested. Women play a key role in the management of the upper slopes, yet they have received little attention.

Yak and yak hybridisation production

The yak (Bos grunniens) and yak hybrid (Bos grunniens × Bos indicus) production system is an integral component of the ecosystem of the mountain and upper slope areas and is a major economic activity of those communities. Yak live in mountain areas (above 3000 masl), while yak hybrids are predominantly raised in the upper slope regions (above 2000 masl). The yak and yak hybrids are managed by a traditional transhumance management system i.e. the herders move with their herds as they graze.

These animals have multi-purposes and are consequently priced higher compared to B. taurus and B. indicus breeds. They provide protein to the mountain communities in terms of milk, milk products and meat. The animals are well adapted to cold climates and are used for draft as well as transportation. Their tail switches are of great religious significance not only for Buddhists, but also for Hindus. Their body hair and hide is widely used for many household goods.

In the mountain areas of the Central Region of Nepal that cater to tourists, the male hybrid (jhopa) is increasingly used for transporting, trekking equipment and commercial products. These animals carry up to 60 kg loads and cover a distance of 20 km a day (Shrestha 1990). Jhopas are more versatile than yak as they can survive comfortably below 2000 masl. The female hybrid (chauri) is raised to produce milk and milk products such as butter and cheese (ghee and chhurpi) for home consumption and increasingly for the domestic and international markets. Chauris can produce 300–540 litres of milk in 120–180 days or 2.5–3.0 litres of milk per day. Chauri milk is approximately 6.5% fat and 10.9% non-fat solid (Joshi 1982; Shrestha 1990).

The purebred female yak (locally called nak) are not good milk producers, but they are hardy animals able to withstand extreme cold and snow blizzards. The naks normally produce approximately 220 litres of milk during an average lactation of 167 days or 1.3 litres of milk per day (Shrestha 1990). The milk is high in fat (above 6.6%) and non-fat solids are approximately 11%. These animals are also good source of organic manure for cropping and as fuel.

The yak and the chauri crossbred are anoestrus and the mating season occurs during July to October, when they are still in the alpine pasture areas. Parturition occurs during April to July in the lower elevations, closer to the home villages. First mating occurs at about 3 years of age and first calving at about four years of age. The calving percentage is about 55% (Shrestha 1990) and calf mortality is quite high (22%). Only chauris and first cross jhopa are kept and progeny of chauris are culled, as they are uneconomic to maintain.

Livestock grazing is widespread in the forests, mainly by yak hybrids and to a lesser degree cattle, sheep, and bhaisi (water buffalo). During the monsoon season (June–August/ September) the yak hybrids graze the alpine pasture areas (2000–5000 masl) and gradually move down to the lower altitudes as the temperature decline. As the hybrid herds move up to the alpine pasture areas, other ruminants e.g. sheep, goats, buffaloes and cattle move up from the middle hills and are allowed to graze the pasture areas left behind by the chauri.

In the upper slope areas, where domestic and international markets are now accessible, the chauri population is increasing due to increasing demands for ghee from Lhasa and for chhurpi from Kathmandu. These animals rely on the available feed resources from pasture areas (kharkas) and oak forest areas. As a result, there is an increasing pressure on the kharkas in both the alpine as well as the upper slope forest areas. This increasing grazing pressure has forced livestock owners to use oak leaf fodder, especially during the winter months when there is feed shortage in grazing areas around the villages. Consequently, these natural forest resources are showing severe signs of over-lopping.

The kharkas are also heavily infested with undesirable and unpalatable weeds due to overgrazing. The palatable species are selectively grazed and have the least chance of recovery or regeneration leading to gradual reduction in the feed supply and quality and ultimately reducing the carrying capacity of the majority of the kharkas in the area. Certain forest types, such as oak forests, are widely used to supply tree fodder to livestock in the winter and spring. Women play a key role in managing these upper slope forests, as they are the principle harvesters of the products.

Tenure and land use

Users from nearby villages through customary law traditionally manage many of the kharkas. The users are not charged for grazing or tree fodder collection. However, 'outside' herders, visiting or passing through the areas, are allowed to graze and are charged according to herd size. Chauri raising appears to be the major livelihood for the Tashitang, Bagam and Chhagam villages and there is little cultivation of crops. In fact, many bari lands around these villages have been abandoned and have reverted to native vegetation, mainly grasses and other plants of forage value to livestock. These abandoned terraces provide opportunities for development of improved pasture.

White clover (Trifolium repens) is already well established in many of the forest meadows from pasture development efforts initiated about a decade ago. However, in terms of livestock and forage production the system appears to be maximised. Consequently, it has been difficult to introduce rotational harvesting of fodder from oak trees without first providing additional forage supplies possibly from pasture establishment in abandoned fields around the villages.

Market influences

Market demand is having a marked effect on the lives of the people in the upper slopes in the NACRMP areas, despite its inaccessibility. The butter and traditional yak cheese (chhurpi) market in neighbouring Tibet and in Kathmandu appears to drive the economy in the area. Farmers have gradually moved from being subsistence farmers to more specialised livestock producers and they have readily adopted dairy product processing technology (cream separators and cheese presses).

The availability of cash income has enabled many households to renovate existing or construct new houses, in spite of the fact that much of the time for many family members is spent with the herds in temporary shelters or goths. Most houses now have tin sheets for roofing, which reduces the need for wood shingles. On the other hand, markets for some products, such as Taxus baccata, a valuable NTFP, have led to its almost complete extirpation from the area. Tourism is increasing and could be of considerable potential in the future.

Role of women

Women play an integral role in the agropastoral system of the upper slopes. They make important decisions concerning the management and use of the natural resources and are responsible for many livestock production activities. Improving the management of the natural resource of the upper slopes, raising livestock productivity and improving living standards will therefore have to focus on women. These efforts will need to reduce women's time constraints, remove barriers to women's access to credit and improve women's educational levels so that they can more effectively participate in decision making and marketing.

Major issues

Researchers and community members of Bagam, Chaggam and Tashitan, through a number of participatory/rapid appraisal surveys and situational analyses, identified the following major issues associated with the upper slope forests areas and grazing lands:

The traditional access to replacement animals in Tibet has been increasingly difficult leading to genetic erosion, although the general trade has picked up lately.


Despite the issues outlined above, there are also a number of unique opportunities that can be capitalised on to promote improved management of the natural resources in the upper slopes. These include:

Management strategy

The strategy developed for the sustainable management of the upper slopes focuses on livestock and the provision of forage and tree fodder for livestock. The production of firewood, timber, and NTFP are important, but it is the use of the upper slopes for livestock production that demands urgent attention if the management of these areas is to be improved.

The strategy also attempts to improve agricultural cropping practices in the upper slopes, as crop production is an integral component of the farming system. The strategy also encompasses the social realm, so that the local population's livelihoods are improved and they are empowered to better manage the process of development.

Addressing livestock related issues, unfortunately, will not be an easy task because, at least in the short-term, the livelihoods of the people residing in the upper slopes are dependent on livestock. There are few other options available to these communities at this time. In addition, efforts to improve forage production and animal husbandry practices are interventions that require long-term time frames and for the upper slopes this is compounded because we have so few technical packages that can be readily applied.

In the upper slopes, where there has been only limited experience with community forestry, fresh perspectives and innovative approaches are required when developing a strategy for improving the management of these natural resources. Standard approaches to research and development need to be adjusted to the unique conditions of the upper slopes and all of the stakeholders need to be involved in the research process and in the planning and implementation of interventions.

Based on the issues and opportunities identified above by the communities of Bagam, Chhagam, Tashitang and Duguna, a strategy for the management of the upper slope resources was developed by the project to include the following principles:

Priority interventions

After intensive consultation with community members and staff from the Department of Forest (DoF), the following prioritised interventions were identified.

Formation of FUG and forest handover

Forest User Groups (FUG) have been established at Tashitang-Duguna villages of Tatopani VDC for the Pomthali forest and another FUG at Bagam and Chhagam of Listikot VDC for the forest above these villages. The size of forest to be handed over has presented special problems generally not found in the community forest process in the lower elevations. The potential community forests are not small, discrete forest areas, but rather, stretch from just above the village up to the timberline and encompass thousands of hectares. Grazing also takes place in kharkas within the forest and herders construct temporary shelters (goths), to live in while taking care of their livestock (namely the yak-cattle hybrids). Such conditions are not found in lower elevations, where the bulk of community forestry activities have been implemented.

The oak forests of the upper slope are types demanding the most immediate management, but the villagers view the entire forest area as their forest. It is therefore essential that the management responsibility for the entire upper slope forests and grazing lands be devolved to the communities so that they can begin protecting, managing, and better utilising the resources.

DoF staffs have been extremely reluctant to handover the entire forest to the community since a standard operational plan for a community forest requires detailed data on the forest stand and boundaries must be clearly marked. The project is currently in the process of trying to convince DoF staff to handover the entire forest to community management with a detailed operational plan prepared for the oak forest type and a more simplified plan for the remaining forest area.

What is essential in this process is that the handover process is initiated and that a plan be prepared to begin improved management. The upper slope ecosystem requires flexibility and innovation in the community forestry process. Even if the forest is not officially `handed over' to the community, the community should be empowered to start protecting the forest and to improve the management of the resources found there.

A monastery and nunnery at Chhagam also provides an excellent opportunity to establish a fuel wood plantation using fast growing species such as Nepalese alder (Alnus nepalensis, or Utis in Nepali) and willow (Salix spp.). If the monastery/nunnery could obtain a larger portion of their firewood requirements from a fuel wood plantation this would help to reduce pressure on the forests at least in that immediate area.

Formation of grazing user groups (GUG)

To better manage livestock grazing in the upper slopes, GUG are being formed and a system of grazing permits established. The objective of forming GUG is to minimise the impact of livestock grazing on the natural resources and to initiate improved management of the grazing lands. Grazing area user rights are being respected and existing traditional systems are built upon as much as possible. Grazing Area Operational Plans (GAOP) will be prepared, which will include grazing permits valid for a period of 5 or 10 years, which will indicate the number of livestock allowed, the kharkas to be used, and the periods in which to use the different kharkas. Such permits will enable the GUG Committee to plan, monitor and evaluate the use of the grazing lands. The GUG will also be encouraged to initiate pasture development interventions to improve forage production in the kharkas in the forest and in the bari lands around and below the villages.

Mobilisation of women groups

Participants of the project's women's literacy classes are organised into small women groups within the framework of the community forest user group. It is hoped that this strategy will improve their resource management and resource generation skills and allow access to a range of services and opportunities provided by the different line agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGO).

Assessment of grazing lands

A rangeland assessment programme has been initiated to determine if the long-term productivity and biodiversity of the rangelands is being maintained under the present grazing systems. All stakeholders will need to have a clear idea of what they want to be managing the rangelands for. Simply stated, management goals for the upper slope rangelands may be to ensure that nutrient budgets, vegetation productivity, and overall ecosystem health are at least maintained and, ideally, improved. The chauri herders in the upper slopes of Sindhu Palchok will probably be the ones who can identify true indicators of vegetation change. Realistic rangeland monitoring programmes will therefore need to incorporate this indigenous knowledge.

Grazing land assessments in the Bhairav Kund Lekh area will try to at least provide:

Pasture development

Pasture development will be a key intervention in the upper slopes. In the past, pasture development using white clover and other temperate grasses (e.g. cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata and Italian ryegrass Lolium perenne) was carried out in the kharkas in the forest and today one sees the benefits of these successful efforts with clover widespread in the forest meadows. It is now recommended that efforts in pasture development be targeted towards areas in proximity to the villages and on abandoned bari lands around and below the villages.

These areas provide a fertile ground for establishing improved forages that could be used on a cut-and-carry basis that could be grazed by livestock, or as lands for making hay to provide supplemental feed during the winter (thereby reducing pressure on the oak forests to supply tree fodder). A combination of grazing and cut-and-carry or haymaking could also be practised (i.e. grazing early during the rainy season and then cutting for hay in mid-October). It is therefore recommended that initial efforts be directed towards developing improved pastures for haymaking. Emphasis will be given to introduce a mix of taller growing, leafy, hay type varieties of improved temperate forages such as cocksfoot, tall fescue (Festuca pratense), and Italian ryegrass in association with clovers or other legumes such as Maku lotus.

Policy implications

An appropriate policy framework is also essential to ensure that a participatory resource management strategy can be actively pursued in the upper slope forests and grazing lands in Nepal. There are a number of special policy-level concerns that require attention.


The ecology of the upper slope forests and grazing lands are still poorly understood, which hampers more effective management. Information on socio-economic aspects of communities in the upper slopes is also lacking, which constrains work to assist communities to organise forest and grazing user groups. Concerted effort will be made to address these knowledge gaps through both applied and adaptive research.


Monitoring of the condition of upper slope forests and grazing is critical to understanding how management practices are affecting the quality of the natural resources. A combination of aerial photographs, baseline assessments, and practical ground-trusting methods will complement more qualitative measurements. Establishment of photo points for repeat photography over time will provide an easy starting point and enable local people, who are using the resources, to better understand the changes taking place in the upper slopes.

Re-orientation and training of DoF staff

To work effectively in the upper slope forests and grazing lands, DoF staff will require re-orientation and training to the special concerns that these resources present. Developing specific lectures/courses on upper slope forests and grazing lands into the ISc and BSc Forestry syllabi at the Institute of Forestry will assist in making the new generation of foresters more knowledgeable about these resources.

Indigenous knowledge and traditional management systems

Making better use of the vast indigenous knowledge local people possess of the upper slope forests and grazing lands is necessary when making improved management plans for these resources. As it becomes more available, scientific information will build upon and complement the indigenous knowledge systems, not replace it. Similarly, certain aspects of traditional management systems may offer considerable scope for improved management of the natural resources as responsibility for management of forests devolves to the communities. Central policy-level directives will be encouraged to give credence to indigenous knowledge and traditional management systems and ensure that they are given greater appreciation and consideration by DoF staff in the field.

Clarifying and disseminating the best options

Clarifying the best management options for the upper slope forests and grazing lands and disseminating this information to a wider audience in Nepal is important, since so little work has so far been done in these high elevation environments.

Income generation and access to capital for local people

To ensure sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty for people living in the upper slopes, it will be necessary to move away from the widespread belief that community forests should only be used to provide for subsistence needs. Rather, the upper slope forests and grazing lands should be viewed as natural resources that, when managed sustainably, can generate income and provide options to secure greater access to capital. In the case of the upper slopes in the NACRMP, considerable additional income could come from NTFP.

Non-timber forest products (NTFP)

Existing government policies and legislation prohibit the collection and sale in unprocessed form of a number of high-value NTFP that are found in the upper slopes. This includes species such as Panchaule (Dactylorhiza hatagirea) and Yarcha gumbo (Cordyceps sinensis), which cannot even be collected and a number of others such as Jatamansi (Nardostachys grandiflora), Talispatra (Taxus baccata wallichiana), and Sugandhawal (Valeriana jatamansi) which cannot be sold in an unprocessed form (Amatya et al. 1995).

Many of these plants occur in the project areas. There is a growing perception that some of the NTFP banned from collection (e.g. Panchule and Yarcha gumbo) are not under any threat while plants which are allowed to be collected and sold in unprocessed form are being greatly exploited (e.g. Chiraito or Swertia chirayita, and Bhyakur or Dioscorea deltoidea). Current policies and legislation regarding NTFP will be reviewed and, if necessary, revised to more accurately reflect the opportunities for expanding collection of certain species and perhaps placing more control on the unsustainable exploitation of others.


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