Ongoing Research

Provided below are short summaries of the research that has been recently completed or is currently ongoing.
Wildlife monitoring, Charri Dhand Lake Grasslands © RAMBLE

The HERDING project: Heritage, dignity and adaptations in times of rapid change

Sustainable development for pastoralist women in India; Collaboration between the University of Leeds and Centre for Pastoralism

Caroline Dyer is the principal investigator. Co-researchers include Emma Tomlin, Archana Choksi and Sushma Iyengar. Nitya Ghotge is CfP’s facilitator for the project. Other researchers include Krutika Haraniya, Gurpreet Kaur, Kaushalika Dharmadhikari and Varsha Ganguly.

The HERDING project is funded by the British Academy’s Sustainable Development Research Programme. The project focuses on women in mobile pastoralist communities. Rapidly changing patterns of land use alongside pressures to become sedentary are challenging pastoralists’ livelihoods as herders. Many pastoralists are becoming more vulnerable to poverty and changes are affecting the men and women of these communities in different ways. The HERDING project draws on multiple disciplines including gender studies, development studies and the sociological study of religion to gauge the complex transformations of pastoralist women’s lives. It investigates the role that their beliefs and practices play in constructing a sense of shared heritage that links them to the land and their animals and how this heritage is changing. It provides an opportunity for pastoralist women, whose voices are often drowned by the voices of men, to speak about their roles and the importance to them of religion, gender, culture and nature.

The project works with four communities of Hindu and Muslim pastoralists in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. Academics from the University of Leeds and the Centre for Pastoralism are working in partnership with NGOs that have developed a long-standing body of work on pastoralism and on the promotion of women’s wellbeing and empowerment. These organizations are Anthra in Pune, Kachchh Mahila Vikas Sangathan and Setu Abhiyan in Kachchh, and the Himachal Van Adhikar Manch in Kangra.

The HERDING project aims to advance a view of sustainable development that honours pastoralists’ heritage, stalls processes of exclusion and supports plans on India’s sustainable development goals.
A Fakirani Jat woman who is more than 100 years old and her 50 year old granddaughter. The Herding project covered Jannat, the old woman, as part of the oral histories.

Understanding and resolving pastoralist-snow leopard conflicts in the High Himalaya

In Uttarakhand in general and in the Kumaon region in particular, transhumant herders now face restrictions from government and local communities along their traditional routes where long-standing commons arrangements are being undone. This has translated into progressively poor commons governance with a resultant overstocking of alpine meadows, extensive burning of juniper stands (for fuelwood and to eliminate ambush cover), and retaliatory killing of predators such as snow leopards.

The government’s crossbreeding strategies have compounded these problems. Sheep crossbred with exotics such as Merino and Rambouillet have suffered great mortality in the frequent episodes of epidemic disease such as PPR and FMD.

Perhaps most critically, shepherd-snow leopard conflicts have grown progressively worse. Crossbred sheep are easy prey since predator-wariness has been bred out of them and the breed quality of sheep dogs has been diluted. Both factors have led to higher mortality amongst shepherd flocks, leading to increasing incidents of shepherds resorting to poisoning carcasses and thereby to snow leopard deaths.

Over the next five years, we hope to undertake a combination of research and community interventions to reverse some of the trends outlined above. The strategy will involve the following:

  1. Working at building a common understanding (baseline data and analysis) and consensus on emerging problems and a common strategy among shepherds to counter these issues;
  2. Reviving and strengthening traditional commons governance mechanisms in the Gori Basin. The vast majority of these alpine rangelands are Van Panchayat village commons;
  3. Assisting shepherds in breeding back traditional indigenous breeds as well as traditional sheep dogs;
  4. Establishing a Predation Compensation Fund and building other measures to reduce the incidence of predation and to mitigate conflict;
  5. A collectivization of shepherds aimed at ensuring that individual shepherds receive timely and adequate compensation from the government, negotiating collectively on continued access to traditional grazing grounds, and coordinating amongst themselves to prevent and respond to epidemic disease through collective vaccination and insurance.
  • © Emmanuel Theophilus
  • Handing fox lights to shepherds to reduce incidences of predation in Uttrakhand
    © Emmanuel Theophilus
  • Sheep in Kumaon © Emmanuel Theophilus
  • Alpine landscapes, Kumaon © Emmanuel Theophilus

Dung in the Deccan - 
a study of pastoral penning on agricultural lands

There are long-standing traditions in many parts of India of farming communities inviting shepherds to pen their animals on fallow lands. Farmers would often pay for the service and/or provide food. In return, farmer fields would receive high quality manure. In many parts of the country, this practice is changing, particularly in light of the easy availability of subsidized chemical fertilizers. Somewhat surprisingly, farmers in the Deccan plateau continue to invite shepherds to manure their fields.

This study will use a historical perspective to examine how penning practices have changed in the region over time. It will focus on understanding interpersonal relations between farmers and pastoralists, socio-cultural dimensions associated with the practice, indigenous rituals and traditions, economies surrounding livestock penning in the region, how each of these has evolved over time and the triggers responsible for change. WASSAN and CPC will conduct the study in the states of Telangana and Maharashtra respectively with Ashwini Kulkarni of Pragati Abhiyan as the lead coordinator.
Penning in the Deccan, © Nipun Prabhakar

COVID: A test of resilience - 
how have herders in India fared during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A month into the COVID-19 lockdown, a brief survey of pastoral communities underlined the most salient ways in which these communities were being affected by the lockdown. Several researchers within and outside CfP are now using these findings to conduct a national survey across eleven states aimed at fine-tuning our understanding of how pastoralists have fared during the COVID lockdown and in its aftermath. The survey is based on a sampling of approximately 20 households for each pastoralist community in the country. A report on the survey should be available by the end of the year.
Meeting herders during the Covid survey at Virudhunagar and Madurai districts, Tamil Nadu. © Dr. P. Kumar 

Desi Oon - 
an assessment of India’s indigenous wool economy

Based on a generalized sense that herder revenues from sale of wool have been in historical decline, CfP commissioned a national survey on the state of the wool economy, with specific reference to indigenously produced wool. This study has been in two phases.

The first phase of the assessment was carried out in Rajasthan, Gujarat, the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, and Telangana. This study found a broad decline in herder incomes from wool alongside the losses that the herders incur due to the increasing costs of shearing. While the woollen textile industry has grown significantly, the growth has come due to imported wool while the use of indigenous wool has been largely phased out. This is despite the fact that indigenous wool is well suited to the Indian carpet and felting industries, besides having a considerable potential in applications for insulation. Findings from the first phase have been shared with concerned stakeholders and there have been a series of discussions on taking this work forward. The report of the first phase of the study is available here.

The second phase of the assessment was completed in March 2020 and a final assessment report is being worked on. The second phase was carried out in Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, and Karnataka. Preliminary findings of the second phase of the study add strength to the broad findings of the first phase and point towards a wide scale decline of the local wool economy. However, a few rays of hope also emerged through the second phase of this study as we found local wool economies in some pockets still thriving.

CfP will look to identify avenues/ partnerships to build on the strengths of these pockets and develop larger indigenous wool economies.

A wool weaver’s workshop in Barmer, Rajasthan © Dr. Arun Mani Dixit

Partners and types of collaborations

CEPT University

Architecture of pastoralist dwellings

University of Leeds

Understanding pastoralist womens’ lives
united kingdom


Documenting traditional knowledge

Pragati Abhiyan

A study in penning in the Deccan
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