Mithi, Conversion of rangelands into farmlands in different parts of Tharparkar district has created shortage of locally available fodder for the livestock, a predominant source of livelihood for millions of people.
Livestock farmers say that increased crop cultivation activity and unchecked tree in rangelands, locally known as Gauchers) in different parts of the district have seriously threatened rangelands, particularly in Chachro, Mithi, Diplo and Nagarparkar towns.
They also pointed out that that crop cultivation on lands, which constituted rangelands, has created not only shortage of the fodder but also shades the rangelands provided to their livestock. As a result, livestock population in the semi-arid district that was increasing has suddenly started decreasing because the conversion of rangelands into farmlands.
“This is clear violation of rights of the livestock farmers,” Khan Mohammad Kumbhar, resident of Moharyo village in Mithi town, exploded.
“Few years back, the fodder was available to our livestock in rangelands near our village. But, now our grazing animals have to walk miles in search of the fodder because the areas rich in fodder have been converted into farming lands,” he explained.
Besides, presence of invasive plants, no or extremely less rotational grazing, overgrazing, absence of rangeland management plan, no protection of the rangelands by communities, prolonged droughts, soil and wind erosions have also seriously affected the rangelands in the Tharparkar district, Rangeland Health Assessment (RHA) concludes.
The three-month RHA was conducted in 2010 by the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) in collaboration with UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The survey was conducted in Nagarparkar and Pithapur of the Tharparkar district.
SCOPE’s coordinator in Mithi, Bharumal Amrani, said that protecting the rangelands in the desert district is sole responsibility of the forest department. But, the department appears to have failed to play its role on this count.
“Sufficient funds are allocated for the district forest department to develop the rangelands, forestlands and their protection. But, given the poor condition of the rangelands one finds spending of such funds questionable,” he pointed out.
Protection of the rangeland and checking their uncalled for conversion into farmlands must be ensured by the forest officials, he argued.
He laments that it is upsetting that instead of becoming protectors of the natural resources in the district, the forest officials are often found conniving with the exploitaters and get involved in loot and plunder of the fast depleting resources.
Officials in the forest department say that their plans and efforts for dealing with issues like increasing conversion of rangelands into farmlands or for other commercial purposes are marred by the political interference into the department’s work.
“Whenever we go ahead with any plan, either we are forced to drift away by the influentials or politicians from implementation of the plan or department’s funds for such plans are blocked,” said a senior forest official in the district Tharparkar forest department,” he said requesting anonymity.
The department had already brought the issue in the notice of high departmental officials, but such notices hardly drew their attention, he added.
Head of SCOPE, Tanveer Arif, said that launching awareness-raising and advocacy programmes by the government at the community levels have become inevitable and they should be initiated forthwith.
“Grazing on government owned rangelands, not under any management scheme, by grant of range licences to whole community be formalised, formation of livestock association under the umbrella of existing relevant land management and reform laws be ensured,” he suggested.
Tanveer Arif also recommends that livestock rearing communities be motivated to form community-based management systems and they should also be persuaded to reduce stock levels significantly during drought periods to match the rangeland’s lowered carrying capacity, particularly by expanding the proposed fringe feedlots scheme in the private sector.