Date of Award

Summer 8-23-2019

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Sandra De Urioste-Stone

Second Committee Member

Parinaz Rahimzadeh-Bajgiran

Third Committee Member

Santosh Sherchan

Additional Committee Members

Christine Beitl

Abstract

A case study was conducted in a remote Himalayan village—Yara—in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal. The goal of this study was to understand and assess the livelihood strategies of local people in the village. The study focused on understanding the socio-economic and environmental driving factors of livelihood vulnerability, prevalent livelihood activities, emergent livelihood strategies, and resulting livelihood outcomes in the village. We used multiple data generation methods, which included both qualitative social science and quantitative biophysical components. For the qualitative component, we utilized multiple data generation methods including key informant interviews, semi-structured household interviews, group discussions, and field observations. For the quantitative piece, we employed remote sensing to assess changes in natural resources, including vegetation and snow/ice cover for a 19-year period. We also analyzed climatic parameters to understand the climate pattern in the study area for over 30 years.

Findings from the qualitative research showed the increasing vulnerability of local livelihoods attributed to various factors including changing climate, fragile geology, and degradation of natural resources. Furthermore, other socio-ecological changes have also impacted the livelihoods of locals in the region, including changes in socio-cultural structure and ongoing migration. Livelihoods in the village have largely focused on subsistence-based activities, and do not properly meet current needs in terms of food and other commodities. As such, locals are increasingly attracted to modern livelihood activities in recent years and rely more heavily on different forms of migration to fulfill those changing needs. Beginning in 1992, with the opening of Upper Mustang to the outside world, local livelihoods have been transformed from living in complete isolation to increasing interaction with the outside world, and hence leading to changing needs and expectations. Moreover, infrastructure development has been changing at a rapid pace in the region in the last decade. With improved accessibility and the increasing impact of modernization, local's connection and interaction with the outside world is quickly evolving, and hence, globalization has become a growing threat to local traditional culture in the region. Additionally, natural resources have degraded in the region attributed primarily to acute water scarcity for drinking and irrigation purposes. Further, the rangelands have degraded over time with a decline in both the quality and quantity of grass every year.

With remote sensing analyses, we studied the historical trend of vegetation in rangelands, which showed a significant decreasing pattern over the last 19 years. Current degradation may be caused by a wide range of variables; climate changes and non-climatic conditions such as the growing stress of livestock on rangelands in the region. NDVI trend analysis provided some helpful information indicating the role of anthropogenic factors. In household interviews, the increasing number of livestock (mainly goats and sheep) also indicated the potential for overgrazing in this region. Changing climatic conditions have further exacerbated the rangeland vulnerability. For example, the decrease of snowfall and its timing alterations have led to changes in the availability of grass in pastures as local people stated. Additionally, the Pearson Correlation analysis showed less interrelation of rainfall with the vegetation growth suggesting that snow plays a fundamental role in vegetation growth in the rangelands. Snow/ice-covered mountains, the major contributor of water for locals, are melting while resulting in scarcity of water in the region. Moreover, changes in climate patterns (rainfall, temperature, and wind) were observed, with results providing further evidence of the increasing vulnerability of local livelihoods in the region.

In Yara, local people have developed strategies and relied on traditional knowledge that has enabled them to sustain their livelihoods for generations in one of the most challenging and harsh socio-ecological systems on earth. Among adverse environmental, social, economic and, often political circumstances, these communities have developed strategies to cope, adapt and recover from local and global shocks. However, recent and ongoing rapid global changes have threatened the ability of these communities to respond effectively to risks and ensure sustainable livelihoods. The increasing livelihood vulnerability of these communities has highlighted the urgent need to find sustainable and resilient adaptation strategies to overcome growing changes that threaten traditional livelihoods and the ability of communities to cope with change. Further, different households in the area are experiencing livelihood vulnerability at diverse degrees, with poorer households having limited assets to be able to respond to changes and adopt new livelihood strategies. Hence, the gap between those with resources and those with limited assets continues to increase with recent socio-ecological changes, while putting at greater risk the overall livelihoods sustainability in the region. Institutions and processes could play a key role in helping reduce the gap while recognizing different levels of vulnerability and ability to respond to threats to livelihoods.

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