C. Jest1 and J. Bonnemaire2
1. Directeur de Recherche (Emeritus), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France
2. Etablissement National d'Enseignement Supérieur Agronomique de Dijon (ENESAD), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA-SAD), Paris, France
The purpose of this yak conference is to explore multidisciplinary aspects and approaches to sustainable yak production on the high altitude rangelands of Central Asia. It is a unique opportunity to recapitulate past efforts concerning yak research and development (R&D), to summarise the accomplishments achieved in the different aspects of research, and to envisage future perspectives. Research and experiments related to yak rearing and pastoralism have only been undertaken recently. In the beginning, these studies were initiated in a few centres, mainly far from the 'field' and often ignoring local practices. We feel it is important to develop a 'global approach' to this research (from a methodological point of view) and to defend the need for more global-oriented research.
There are a number of variables, which relate to the climatic adaptation of yak to their environment. These include: 1) environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, air circulation, heat, radiation and precipitation; 2) individual characteristics such as species, breed and type; and 3) physical criteria such as productivity, growth, reproduction, physical responses and pathological patterns.
The present approach to yak rearing is, in most of the cases, a 'linear analytical' approach, where each research topic is studied separately. Though each individual topic does require further research, it can also benefit from other lines of enquiry. We would like to present briefly the systemic approach that specialists in cattle rearing have developed in France, which we feel offers useful directions for present and future research related to yak rearing (Landais 1993; Landais and Bonnemaire 1996).
Animal production systems (or livestock herding systems in extensive yak breeding areas) are generally studied in terms of the complex interaction between three components (animals, humans and resources), which are linked by a set of interdependent and interrelated outputs (e.g. animal products, increase of herd, wealth, social position, sustainable land resource management etc.). This systemic approach to herding activities mainly focuses on the relations between the components of the system. This model of the animal production system (Figure 1) can be applied at different organisational levels (e.g. herd, family settlement, social group, ecological or regional area etc.).
Figure 1. Animal production system.
Because livestock herding is fundamentally a human activity which takes place in a specific territory, four complementary approaches need to be taken into consideration when analysing animal production systems: The economic and technological approach, which considers both the subsistence and market economy; the biotechnological approach, which looks at the performances of both individual animals and that of the herd; the ecological and geographical approach, which takes into account the potential of fodder resources, sustainable land use and range management; and the historical and sociological approach, which considers social processes and social organisation. Each of the four complementary approaches mobilises specific disciplinary knowledge and methods, and focuses on some of the multiple relations that link the three components of the system. In other words, each point of view identifies research subjects that, taken together, help us advance our knowledge and understanding of problems related to livestock herding.
We present a graphic representation of an inter- and multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of livestock herding systems (Figure 2). The figure presents the four major disciplinary approaches as spotlights whose beams converge on the central problem being studied, in this case the animal production system. Just as a camera is focused on an object to obtain a sharp image, the most effective interaction occurs where the four approaches focus their efforts on a specific problem of common concern. Applied to yak rearing, the process involves a number of main issues: e.g. the social organisation of the pastoral community, the indigenous skills and know-how of the people involved, and the technical knowledge needed to upgrade and transmit knowledge.
Adapted from Landais and Bonnemaire (1996).
Figure 2. Four complementary approaches for analysing the animal production systems.
Before ending, we would like to emphasise the importance of studying yak rearing in marginal zones (by 'marginal zones' we mean the areas on the fringe of the main yak breeding areas, i.e. parts of Mongolia, the ex-Soviet Union states in Central Asia and the Himalayan belt). These zones are of special interest for several reasons. In these 'marginal' areas, diverse categories of animals are bred, such as bovines (Bos taurus, B. indicus and B. grunniens) sheep, goats and horses, as part of a complimentary system of economic production. It also happens that many of these areas have, in recent years, created protected areas such as parks (regional or national parks) and nature reserves. The decision makers in charge of protecting the environment (a concept which was relatively unknown a few years ago by local inhabitants) have taken measures, which, in many cases, have perturbed the life of farmers and pastoralists living in these areas. In addition, in many of these areas, the communities are more and more being exposed to market forces, management systems and outside interventions, which positively or negatively alter the life of the farmers/pastoralists living there. Tourism, often only recently introduced, can also change the ways of life of these communities.
If we may, we would like to emphasise the importance of conducting fundamental research in these areas closely related to a sound sustainable development process. The link between pastoralists, specialists-technicians or scientists in livestock management and animal husbandry, decision makers and actors in the economic and administrative sectors, and the media, should be further encouraged.
As a final remark to this short overview, we would like to re-emphasise the absolute necessity of the circulation of relevant and up-to-date information. If the internet is of help, the more the better, but it is also important to disseminate knowledge through more conventional channels, such as the regular publication of the International Yak Newsletter and the publication of results of experiments both in laboratories and in the field. In this regard, the efforts undertaken by the International Yak Information Centre (IYIC) team are fully acknowledged and further encouraged.
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(We mention here references concerning the Camelidae, as their rearing is in many ways similar to the one of the yak and could lead to useful comparisons. List prepared by M. Tichit INRA-SAD)
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