This study examines the impact of a ban on grazing on vegetation and soil of the region and on livelihood aspects of the local stakeholders in Sikkim.
The Sikkim government had implemented a ban on open grazing in reserved forest areas, plantations and near water sources in 1998. The ban was implemented phase-wise and now covers all the protected forest areas in the state. This study examines the effects of the grazing exclusion on the health of forest ecosystems as well as the impact on socio-economic aspects of forest dependent local communities inhabiting the fringe villages of the study area. It also envisaged using its learning outcomes as a foundation to develop a holistic framework for further assessment of grazing exclusion policy at State-wide level. The study was carried out in the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary (BRS) and the neighbouring areas of Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve (KBR) in West district, Sikkim.
This study was conducted in the state of Sikkim, in collaboration with the state’s Department of Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management. The study adopted a comprehensive evaluation framework consisting of two components: ecology and socio-economic. The key aspects studied under ecology included vegetation parameters, soil parameters, hydrology and wildlife. The socio-economic component covered livelihood strategies, resource use, asset ownership and perception of local communities towards the grazing ban. Data on vegetation and soil parameters were gathered through field surveys. Qualitative data was collected on hydrology and wildlife aspects. The area assessed varied between 2000m – 4000m in altitude and covered four broad types of forests – wet temperate forest, moist temperate forest, sub-alpine forest and sub-alpine scrub. Cow shed spots were identified in all the four types, with vegetation change detection being done through Multispectral IRS ILL images with 23.5m spatial resolution. Details on socio-economic aspects were collected through a mixture of household surveys, focus group discussions, key informant interviews, resource mapping exercises etc.
The project is an independent study that has been initiated at the behest of Sikkim Forest Department. The findings from the study serve as a baseline for forthcoming studies related to ban on grazing in the state. A successful implementation of ban on grazing is supposed to improve the condition of the degraded forest landscape, but it is important to fully understand what aspects of the forest it helps more than others as well as where its impact could be strengthened. The present evaluation helps in understanding this and other potentially confounding influences on forest health.
The study found that the grazing ban affected herders as well as non-herders, though the latter were affected to a lesser extent. Amongst the herder group, caretakers and those without land ownership were most impacted. Their livelihood model also changed from agro-pastoral form with livestock being the mainstay to predominantly agricultural.