Although much research has been conducted on land degradation in mountain environments, and especially in the Himalayas, there is still much confusion and uncertainty regarding the topic. This has led to many broad generalizations and some grossly inaccurate statements. Some of the confusion has arisen as a result of attempts to provide general conclusions from narrowly specific and small-scale research projects, but most of it derives from poor linkages between researchers and practitioners—the people who inhabit and manage the land. The 2 publications under review make a substantial contribution to improving the situation. Both essentially report the work of the People and Resource Dynamics in Mountain Watersheds of the Hindu Kush–Himalayas Project (PARDYP), with contributions from the Hillsides System of the Natural Resources Systems Programme (NRSP), presented at workshops in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2003.
PARDYP, conceptualized in 1996 and arising out of previous, separate regional projects, involves collaborative research in the Himalayas of China, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. It operates in 5 Middle Mountain watersheds: 2 in Nepal (Jhikhu Khola, Yarsha Khola), and 1 each in China (Xizhuang), India (Garur Ganga), and Pakistan (Hilkot-Sharkul). They vary in size from 3456 ha to 11,141 ha, and in maximum elevation from 2200 m to 3075 m. There are also variations in rainfall amounts, land use patterns and population densities; they provide a good coverage of the wide variations of characteristics in the Middle Mountains.
As noted above, the main aim of the research is to examine the processes of natural resource degradation and to use the results of this research to promote the rehabilitation of degraded lands and inform sustainable management. The contributions presented in both publications have these foci. It is not possible to provide an in-depth review of each contribution, thus this review attempts to provide a general synthesis and assessment. While most of the papers represent research in the Himalayas, there are also contributions from the Central Andes, Uganda, and Bolivia.
Renewable Natural Resources Management for Mountain Communities is divided into 3 sections: Part 1, “Managing Renewable Natural Resources in Mountains—Generic Issues and Programme Approaches” (3 chapters); Part 2, “Case Studies of Natural Resources Management” (16 chapters); Part 3, “Analysis and Recommendations” (2 chapters). As the title suggests, the links between all the contributions are community involvement and participatory methods. The 3 chapters in Part 1 set the scene for the proceedings with a review of the work of PARDYP and NRSP to date and an assessment of the theoretical and political frameworks within which the research was conducted. Many of these issues are assessed by means of the concept of capital—natural, human, physical, social, and financial—which can be visualized as the 5 corners of a pentagon. The pentagon becomes distorted when dynamic change in one or more of the assets occurs, providing a striking visualization of likely effects. This also stresses that there are important relationships between the asset categories that need study before interventions are proposed.
Chapters 4–7 examine the role of participatory decision support systems for developing strategies that are relevant to marginal mountain farmers. There is much useful discussion on the scaling-up process, an issue that is taken up later. Thematic topics are addressed in chapters 8–10 and derive principally from PARDYP. These chapters examine issues such as property and water management, as well as land rehabilitation. Water availability has decreased over the last 25 years, and there are serious issues of water quality. Much is known about the physical aspects, but the message from these contributions is that more work is needed on the social and institutional aspects that affect water management.
Chapters 11–15 examine techniques, tools, and intervention methods for combating soil erosion and improving soil fertility, with examples from Nepal, Bolivia, and Uganda. Good communications between local professionals and remote communities appear to be essential to fostering sustainable resource strategies. Issues related to the scaling-up process, noted earlier, are examined in Chapters 16–19. Scaling up is an important issue, but has only become prominent in land management strategies in the last few years. Whilst the theory has been quite well developed, there is little knowledge as to how the process can be incorporated into practical strategies. Some of these problems are addressed, with examples from Nepal, Bolivia, and Uganda. A main conclusion from these case studies is the need for greater community empowerment. With reference to the asset pentagon mentioned earlier, there is a clear need to increase the social capital by developing networks, acquiring membership of formal groups, and establishing trust. Social capital may be the key transforming capital for poor mountain societies. The last 2 chapters, in Part 3, are an overview of the case study findings and a very useful summary of the scaling-up process and how to increase relevant information and knowledge flow.
Resource Constraints and Management Options in Mountain Watersheds of the Himalayas examines many of the issues raised in the first publication, but focuses on Phase 2 of the PARDYP project (1999–2002); Phase 3 of the project commenced in 2003. Following a general overview of PARDYP research, the chapters are divided into 3 sections: “On-Farm Activities” (5 chapters); “Water and Erosion” (6 chapters); and “Common Property Resources” (9 chapters). Although the research has demonstrated many similarities across the 5 PARDYP watersheds, it is not surprising to find that local and regional variations often condition management strategies. As an example, the bulk of the agricultural land in the Pakistan watershed is owned by the Swati ethnic group but is farmed by the Gujars, who keep livestock. A sharecropping system is operated with the landlords. Crop residues are important to the Swati group for their livestock. Attempts to introduce short-straw, high-yielding grains, although attractive to the landlords, failed because of the poor fodder straw. This relates back to community empowerment and social capital, as emphasized in the conclusions to the first publication. This conflict between general issues and their local manifestation is the major link between all of the contributions, whether relating to water management, soil erosion, and land rehabilitation, or sustainable management. This conflict is seen at its most complex in the question of common property resources. The chapters in Part 3 of this volume provide an excellent insight into these issues.
Taken together, these 2 publications offer a remarkable documentation of the problems facing marginal hillside farming systems in the Himalayas. They combine much relevant, up-to-date information regarding the operation of natural processes and their significance to the sustainable operation of mountain farming systems. The results demonstrate that the widely perceived high levels of soil erosion and land degradation are not as widespread and significant as previously thought. Forest cover in all 5 watersheds of the PARDYP program has been maintained or has increased. However, the research presented here makes it clear that it is often difficult to convince local professionals and community leaders that this is so. Ingrained prejudices are difficult to eradicate. Much of the problem stems from the inability of some researchers to express their findings in a form suitable for incorporation into local strategies. This remains a major challenge, in which vertical and horizontal scaling might have a role to play.
Vertical scaling involves dissemination of understanding to other sectors and stakeholder groups and from grassroots organizations to policy-makers. Horizontal scaling aims to extend the geographical spread to more people and organizations in the same stakeholder group. However, the language involved in these processes needs to be accessible to mountain communities. The PARDYP and NRSP programs, represented in these publications, are making a major contribution to improving these conflicts and are highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the sustainability of mountain environments. Although the results relate mostly to the Himalayas, these results and discussions are relevant to many other high-mountain environments.
The publications have been well produced and edited, with numerous tables, maps, illustrations and photographs. The references listed at the end of each contribution will lead the interested reader to a wealth of recent research. Hopefully these publications will get the wide dissemination they deserve and help to dispel some of the current Himalayan misconceptions.