Linking Conservation with Sustainable Mountain Livelihoods: A Case Study of Northern Pakistan

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This study investigated the livelihood strategies of mountain communities and their relationships with natural resources in northern Pakistan. Interventions by the State to conserve biodiversity have led to the “decommonisation” of the commons and with strict sanctions on the local communities restricting their access to the resources. This has resulted in severe conflicts between the State and the local communities. In light of the adverse effects of “decommonisation,” prevailing institutions, international conservation organizations, have initiated the “re-coupling” of the local communities with resource management. However, this process of “new-commonisation” appears to be failing because it has not provided “a sense of ownership” among the local communities. To investigate the pertinent issues, this research encompassed five areas for analysis: 1) the dynamics of mountain livelihoods; 2) the vulnerability and coping strategies of mountain communities; 3) the “decommonisation” of mountain commons; 4) international NGO-led “new commonisation” of natural resource endowments, with efforts to involve local communities; and 5) the formulation of a framework towards sustainable mountain livelihoods. The study collected evidence from two communities in northern Pakistan, namely, Shimshal and Naltar Valley, during July 2006-September 2008. A four-tier field method was used that included introductory workshops, household surveys, focus group discussions, and data validation. This investigation identified the following findings: 1) there has been a significant reduction in the livelihood options of local communities due to State-induced “Protected Areas,” 2) traditional pasture management systems have been facing serious threats from State institutional measures; 3) some communities have proactively attempted to diversify their economy by expanding household portfolios into non-agricultural sectors; 4) external drivers of local socio-economic conditions have augmented local vulnerability; 5) in the face of external threats, some traditional institutions have transformed themselves into formalized institutions with the capability to establish cross-scale linkages. There is a potential to manage the commons through revitalized local institutions that would promote “self-governance” in managing the commons. It stresses the need to understand the local livelihoods from the perspective of the local people, so as to advance effectively the conservation of natural resources in the context of mountain areas.
Conservation, Mountain Livelihoods, Commons