Two million square kilometres of rangeland sprawl across the Hindu Kush Himalayas, the largest and most diverse mountain setting for rangeland in the world.
The rangelands extend from splendid subtropical savannahs in the Siwalik foothills to abundant alpine meadows in the Himalayan mountains. They stretch north for 1,200 kilometres across the spacious steppes of the Tibetan Plateau to the cold dry desserts of the Karakoram-Pamir landscape. These vast grazing lands provide forage for unique wildlife and millions of livestock, especially for species or breeds that have adapted specifically to the high, dry landscape. They also form a geographical, spiritual and cultural landscape that is home to many distinct cultural groups.
Rough topography, poor drainage, low and erratic precipitation and cold temperatures make it impossible for indigenous communities in the region to survive entirely by agriculture. Pastoralism remains the only livelihood option in much of this territory, contributing close to 100 percent of annual household income. In other areas, people live by agro-pastoralism, with herding contributing 50 to 70 percent of income, while in mixed crop livestock farming systems it contributes 10 to 30 percent. All across the rangelands, the health of the ecosystem is crucial to economic survival.
Although rangelands are the largest ecosystem in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, they are an under-acknowledged resource. Global warming and socio-economic transformation threatens the rangelands and the communities that reside there, breaking down pastoralism and disturbing ecological systems in ways that ultimately upset the highly productive agricultural systems in the distant and populous plains.