Yak is the main source of livelihood for transhumant pastoralists residing 2500 m above sea level in 10 northern districts of Bhutan. In transhumance systems, herders migrate with their yak herds between summer and winter rangelands to maximize forage availability, while their families remain in permanent villages [1
]. Yaks are kept mainly for milk and meat purposes, and in some areas yak bulls are used as a draft animal to plough agricultural fields. Besides, the transhumance pastoralism system maintains socio-cultural landscapes, which often have spiritual importance to the wellbeing of the community and is assumed to preserve biodiversity in the mountains [2
]. Furthermore, the unique cultural identity of yak-based communities supports tourism, which generates high revenues to Bhutan [3
]. However, there are numerous challenges that yak herders face, such as declining labour availability, low forage availability in the rangeland, yak mortality, and limited access to the market to sell yak products [4
]. The numerous challenges to yak farming have continued to increase over the years due to socio-economic developments, changing policies [4
] and climate change [8
Socio-economic developments have impacted yak-based transhumant pastoralists at family level. While acknowledging that modern education for younger pastoralists is important to develop skills and knowledge to improve living standards, a lack of awareness and incentives for them to stay in their village to take over yak farming means they will migrate from villages to urban areas where they can find better services and facilities [5
]. In addition, both young and adult family members prefer to be engaged in other activities than yak farming, such as collecting the mushroom cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis
) and medicinal plants, which gives them a relatively high economic return [5
]. In addition, the policy to increase food safety in Bhutan has led to the import of cheap dairy products and to non-yak dairy development. Both are mentioned as threats to the sale of yak products [10
Policy developments and climate change affect forage availability. For example, regulations that prohibit herders from burning and removing shrubs on rangelands (Forest and Nature Conservation Act of 1995), a method that was effective to control shrubs and maintain forage production on the rangelands in the past [10
], were instated. This has become more urgent due to climate change which causes shrub proliferation due to warming and lengthening of the growing season [8
]. Other regulations related to nature conservation affect yak farming by an increase of human-wildlife conflicts [7
Hence there are many reasons to expect yak farming to decline in the near future. Policy makers perceive the decline in yak farming as a socio-political and economic concern to Bhutan. In order to find a solution within the context of these socio-economic developments and regulations to maintain yak farming in Bhutan, interventions to support these communities may be needed. In order to understand where to target the new policies, the perceived level of concern regarding these factors affecting the yak farming practices from yak herders’ and livestock professionals’ perspective need to be known. Since there are regional differences in yak farming, constraints and level of concern on factors might be different. Moreover, demographic factors including age, gender, education, herd size, source of income are used to assess management practices of farmers and decisions in farming [11
]. We hypothesized that the perceived level of concerns of factors that affect yak farming practices is likely to be associated with herders’ demographics and regional differences. We also hypothesized that herders who are more concerned about factors that affect yak farming are more likely to quit yak farming in the future. Therefore, this study builds on the previous efforts of Dorji et al. [7
], and assesses the factors that determine the future of yak farming from the perspective of yak herders and livestock professionals.
This study aimed to deepen our understanding of the relationship between (perceived) level of concern, future plans and herders’ characteristics for yak farming in Bhutan.
Herders’ characteristics, the region, and the herders’ aggregated score had no relation with herders’ opinion on the number of yak farming families in the next 10 years, which contradicts with our expectation. Our hypothesis on the decreasing number of yak farming families comes from Wangchuk and Wangdi [5
]. Wangdi [9
] further reports that the age of herders affects the opinion on future of yak farming. The fact that no relation between the age of herders and their opinions was found in this study may be explained partly by the differences in analysis approach. The age of the herders was treated as a continuous variable in the logistic regression, while Wangdi [9
] probably used age as categorial variable (young and elderly) to investigate whether age and their opinion on future of yak farming was related. In addition, we took into account more than one factor that may be associated with the opinion of the herders on the number of yak farming families in the future, so logistic regression is an appropriate approach [24
]. If the aggregated score of concerns and characteristics of the herders do not appear to affect the opinion on the number of yak farming families in the future, then possibly the motivation of a person [26
], risks perceived by a person [16
], and/or current situation and constraints [29
] do. Therefore, further analysis is required to examine relationships between aforementioned variables to deepen our understanding on future trends of yak farming. Furthermore, the R2
and pseudo R2
of the models are low but significant (Table 3
and Table 5
). They indicate that even if the dependent variable was associated with the predictor when other predictors in the model are held constant [31
], there are other potential important factors affecting the herders’ plan and decision on yak farming that were excluded in the model such as personality traits. The pseudo R2
of 0.22 (in Table 7
) indicates a good model fit [32
A substantial number of yak herders (east, 48%; central, 70%; west, 55%) said that the number of yak farming families will decrease in the next 10 years. Except for one, livestock professionals agreed that outmigration of the villages to towns and cities is the main reason. We single out the youth outmigration from the villages as the main potential threat to yak farming in the future due to access to education for children of yak-based communities and economic opportunities. In other studies by Dorji et al. [7
] and Phuntsho and Dorji [10
], it was shown that the younger generation of the yak-based families indeed had less interest to take up yak farming and prefer to migrate to towns and cities, which offer better amenities. Another study reported that the number of yak farming families has declined by approximately 31% from 1400 in 1996 to 968 in 2013 in Bhutan [9
]. They indicate that this is probably due to outmigration leading to no successor and labour shortage. A similar decline in the number of the transhumance families by 35 to 50% was reported in Nepal [33
]. The increasing youth outmigration from the villages was also reported in other parts of Bhutan [34
] and other transhumant communities in other countries [4
], affecting rural development and also leading to the loss of unique cultural traditions of the yak-based communities. Thus, a decreasing number of successors to take over yak farming is a policy issue, which requires governmental interventions when one wants to stop this process. One strategy is to provide good facilities (e.g., communication services, health services, upgrade schools) that should encourage younger literate pastoralists to stay in the yak farming business. However, some interventions by the government would also have to identify priorities of different stakeholders in addition to yak herders. For instance, yak farming communities request to revise the Forest Act by allowing them to conduct prescribed burning of rangelands to control shrub proliferation [9
], while the Department of Forest and Park Services aims to strengthen conservation of biodiversity in protected areas and does not want to allow burning of rangelands.
Although more than half of the herders think yak farming will decline, most herders wish their children to continue yak farming in the future. The reason given by herders was that they view yak farming more like a traditional way of life than a profession, which was also the feeling expressed by transhumant herders in other countries [39
]. Herders said that yak farming is their culture and tradition and so it is their and their children’s responsibility to keep yak farming alive. Younger generations, however, were not interviewed to ascertain that they are not interested in yak farming. Bernués et al. [41
] indicated that having children in the farming family and successors willing to take over farming should be the core focus when assuring the sustainability of transhumant pastoralism systems. Moreover, the positive association between herders’ aggregated score of concern and their wish for children to continue yak farming in the future perhaps explains the confidence herders have in yak farming as a reliable source of income and the perceived responsibilities to maintain their unique culture and tradition.
We also found that herders of the western region had a stronger wish for their children to continue yak farming and planned changes in herd size in the next 10 years than in the other two regions. This observation is interesting because cordyceps collection (western and central region) and horses used in tourism and transportation (western region) are a very lucrative occupation compared to yak farming [9
], which has less economic return and is a challenging occupation. Two reasons probably explain why most herders in the western region wish their children to continue yak farming. First, the Bhutanese government has legalised cordyceps collection in 2004 to encourage yak-based communities to stay active in the mountains and maintain keeping yaks, which might be a successful strategy in this region. Second, herders of the central and western region expressed that cordyceps yield and quality has declined compared to the past and they view yak farming as a reliable source of income, which was consistent with previous studies in Bhutan [5
]. The decreased cordyceps quality and quantity was also reported in other Himalayan countries because of over exploitation of the resources [42
], so the perception of the herders could be accurate. This implies that the government should explore novel alternative livelihoods for yak-based communities and assure better prices for their yak products to encourage pastoralists to stay in yak farming business, but it does not necessarily guarantee sustainable yak farming. For future research, we suggest studying the willingness of the younger generation of yak-based communities to take up yak farming in the future, and the related requirements.
The present study observed a very weak association between the herders’ wish for their children to continue yak farming in the future and their plan on the development of herd size in the next 10 years. This could be because the herders’ plans on the development of herd size greatly depend on other important factors, such as forage availability [44
] (p. 191), the social purpose of keeping yaks (e.g., social symbol of the family), or for the future generation [45
] than the herder’s characteristics in our study. From our survey, some herders mentioned that they would expand their yak herd size to cope with losses due to predation which they mentioned has increased over the years. A similar increase of wild predation on yaks was reported in the Ghunsa valley in Nepal [46
]. A few herders (n = 3) also stated that whether they keep a small or large herd size, they should look after them anyway, so they plan to expand their herd size in the next 10 years. Elsewhere, the expansion of herd size is a strategy to reduce risk under the challenging living environment and climate change, such as in the Saami reindeer herders in Norway [47
] and pastoral herders in northern Kenya [48
]. Nevertheless, probabilities of yak herders to remain with yak farming are higher when they plan to expand their herd size, based on the assumption that they do not experience resource and management constraints, such as labour and forage shortage. Ondersteijn et al. [49
] reported that the age is negatively related to growth of dairy herd size. The young farmers who have just taken over the farms are in effort to meet their financial needs, while the experienced farmers have a stable herd size that maintains a stable income.
Our cross-sectional analysis indicated that the herders’ aggregated score of concern was positively associated to the size of herd owned. A possible explanation is that herders become more concerned to meet forage and labour requirements and other management with increasing herd size [50
]. In this context, it is important to get insight into which factors require immediate attention or even an intervention. For example, our survey results showed that the forage availability in rangelands (east, 86%; central, 87%; west, 91%), predation on yaks (east, 84%; central, 85%; west, 95%), and presence of a successor (east, 72%; central, 80%; west, 68%) were a concern in all visited regions.
Although herders’ aggregated score of concern did not differ from livestock professionals’, their opinions on the number of yak farming families in the next 10 years differed. It could be that many herders will continue yak farming for another 10 years as their average age was 41 years. Whereas livestock professionals might have learnt and/or heard during meetings that the younger pastoralists have no interest in yak farming and they think that number of yak farming families will decline in the future because of no successors. Nonetheless, more than half of the respondents (herders and livestock professionals) view that the number of yak farming families will decline in the future.