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Resilient Pastoralism on the Roof of the World

November 24, 2017
The Tibetan Plateau is renowned for its natural and cultural heritages, with its biodiversity providing many essential ecosystem services and the well-adapted way of life of Tibetan pastoralists lasting across generations. However, many pressures are now impacting the plateau, including critical aspects of globalization and rapidly changing climatic conditions. 
This photo story reflects on the socio-cultural resilience of Tibetan herding communities in the face of such changes – highlighting especially some recent changes in their livelihoods and living situations, as well as their adaptability through fusion of traditions and modernity.
  • At home in the highlands
    Often living at the very edge of the habitable environment, near the upper limit of vegetation, Tibetan pastoralists are dependent on traditional knowledge and skills that have been learned and passed on from generation to generation. However, integration into larger socio-political systems as well as a changing climate both require that new future scenarios be considered.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Moving to summer pastures
    In step with spatial and temporal variations in grassland productivity, pastoralists have traditionally moved seasonally between pastures with their livestock. Yak, sheep and goats have long been the primary animals under their care. Some policies oriented toward a parcelizing of the grasslands and fencing schemes, however, are reducing pastoralists’ mobility and ‘locking down’ the options available to them.
    Maduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Transporting goods to distant markets
    Always opportunistic and innovative, Tibetan herders have long participated in long-distance trade. Non-perishable livestock goods may be transported to markets where agricultural and other supplies may be purchased for the winter months. New road infrastructures now allow for increased access from, and to, even the remotest grassland areas of the Tibetan Plateau.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Nomads without pastures - adapting to life in town
    Sedentarization and urbanization are amongst China’s current priority development policies – assumed to be for the best, yet sometimes with unanticipated outworkings or consequences. For many herders, transition to town life is not straightforward. Not only are local livelihoods at stake, but also people’s core sense of identity. Finding ‘cultural continuity’ will be critical.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Family life in new town settlement
    Many development benefits have been assumed from the building of new towns in the grassland regions of the Tibetan Plateau. Some of these benefits have been achieved. Some have not. Families who recently lived in tents dispersed across the ranges now live in concrete houses, living in very close proximity with new neighbors. Provision of accessible services is variable.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Passing time with old friends
    The older generation remembers past traditions and contemplates the future. A fusion that strategically integrates the past with the best of modern approaches and knowledge clearly will offer the greatest opportunity for the next generation of Tibetans, both rural and urban.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Cultural festival - a time to reconnect
    Community festivals are a time to reconnect, at multiple levels – both amongst friends and across generations, and bringing together long-standing traditions and modern perspectives.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Yak race - fun for all!
    People from all walks of life come together and interact on special festive occasions. Yak races provide the greatest amusement, probably because they are as unpredictable as the weather!
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Hair bows and bullets - riding across the ages
    Change is everywhere. Livelihoods must adapt. Fortunately, people are coming together from across the generations to develop solutions allowing them to respond positively to the natural and anthropogenic changes affecting the Tibetan Plateau. Genuine partnerships are essential.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China
  • Embracing change with innovation
    The most resilient responses to the widespread rapid changes occurring in the Tibetan Plateau region stem from strategic personal and socio-cultural adaptations. The impacts of change can best be mitigated through the development and adoption of new innovative solutions, such as the strategic use of new communications and information technologies.
    Zhiduo County, Qinghai Province China