Traditional practice and knowledge of indigenous and local communities in Kailash Sacred Landscape, Nepal

Traditional practice and knowledge of indigenous and local communities in Kailash Sacred Landscape, Nepal

The Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL) is a transboundary landscape (area: 31,252 sq.km) around Mount Kailash. KSL is exceptionally rich in cultural and ecological diversity and has its own traditional systems of resource use and management. KSL Nepal comprises approximately 42.5% of the total landscape area, and covers Baitadi, Darchula, Bajhang and Humla districts. This study was conducted in different representative villages of four districts of KSL Nepal with the aim of documenting the traditional practice and knowledge of the indigenous and local communities regarding natural resource use and management.

Resources like agriculture, forest, pastureland and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) have been managed by indigenous and local communities since time immemorial. People have been growing various crops depending on the location, climate and culture. Similarly, they decide the breed and number of livestock to be raised based on their access to pastureland, purpose, religious belief and location. Pasturelands are managed in two ways in KSL Nepal, either as open access or controlled access. Social institutions/communities decide the timing, duration, and area of grazing communally. Management structure of highland pasture is better regulated than that of lowland pasture. Forests in KSL Nepal are managed as government-managed forest, religious forest, community forest and leasehold forest. Local people develop rules and regulations to conserve the forest as a community forest and local authorities decide the time for collecting firewood and punish people involved in violating the rules. In some areas of KSL Nepal, forests are conserved as sacred forest where grazing and collection of timber, fodder, NTFPs, etc. are restricted. NTFPs have become major economic products in the region. The production of NTFPs is gradually decreasing due to unsustainable harvesting practices.

Traditional institutions used to play a decisive role in resource conservation and management in KSL Nepal. Traditional authority systems still have a role in resource governance in Darchula and Humla districts. Property rights over resources are claimed when the economic value of the resources increases; property rights are hence defined accordingly. Traditionally, property rights were defined based on the ecological boundaries of the resources and social relations. Change in the political and administrative set-up led to restricted resources use, but ecological boundaries and social relations continue to take precedence over the political and administrative set-up. Disputes over access to resources sometimes lead to violent clashes, which are resolved by the community or adjudicated by the District Administrative Offices.

Traditional knowledge on the use of plants and animals for diverse purposes is abundant in KSL Nepal. Traditional healers use plants as medicines for different ailments like abdominal disorders, cuts, burns, cough, cold, asthma, etc. Plants are used as wild vegetables, sources of oil, dyes and fibres, and the main source of timber and fodder. Furthermore, people in this region use plants for making agricultural equipment, honey, sour syrup and hay. Locals use wide varieties of plants and plant products in their ritual activities and other cultural practices. Animal resources are less extensively used than plant resources. However, traditional healers, amchis, and traders use animal species to obtain items such as fur, wool, bone marrow, meat, gall bladder, feather, etc.

In some places (Bajhang district), temporal and spatial as well as horizontal and vertical transfer of traditional knowledge is constantly taking place through socio-ecological interaction of people of different age groups and areas. In other places (Darchula district), traditional knowledge about the management of resources has not been transferred smoothly to the next generation and faces the risk of loss. Generally, traditional knowledge is transferred through day-to-day activities inside the community or through specialists in particular forms of knowledge. Specialists’ knowledge is usually transferred to the family members orally and through practice.

It is necessary to address different issues related to traditional knowledge system for the management of biological resources. Institutionalization and documentation, access to resources, effective policy and legislation are needed to enhance the traditional knowledge system. To avoid unnecessary conflict over resources, access to traditionally used grazing areas and standard norms and rights for collecting resources should be well defined. Activities such as poaching and illegal extraction of forest products should also be resolved to conserve the resources. Bioprospecting of medicinal plants is necessary to encourage indigenous and local communities to continue conserving and using medicinal plants effectively and sustainably. Addressing all the issues demands strong local institutions, effective rules and regulations, and a transboundary approach for conserving resources sustainably.

The report was co-funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nepal.

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