Improving sustainable grazing management in mountain rangelands of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya: An innovative participatory assessment method in northern Pakistan
By combining research on individual forage plants and plant communities, significant information about the changing condition of rangelands under specific management practices can be produced; this has rarely been done to date. On the one hand, studies on individual plants provide rather mechanistic, isolated insights, making it impossible to identify interactions and the properties of plant communities relevant for adequate vegetation management. On the other hand, plant community analysis alone only reveals shifts in the composition of species and biomass, but does not explain cause-and-effect relationships related to the impact of grazing at species level. The combined and participatory approach suggested in this paper describes how a more tangible, quantifiable relationship can be established between individual plant and community level processes. Such an approach, which involves herders in expert assessment and data collection, enables better monitoring and forecasting of those changes in plant community composition that are relevant for livestock husbandry and sustainable resource use. In this study, the highest dry matter production (DMP) was recorded at altitudes between 1200 m (with 1945 kg/ha) and 1600 m (with 1921 kg/ha). In “freely grazed rangeland”—where access is not limited and no manual improvement measures are taken—the proportion of palatable forage species is much lower than in “fenced rangeland,” where access is limited and the stocking rate reduced to one third. Such integrated assessment of rangeland conditions ultimately provides the baseline for evaluating changes in ecosystems over time; it also provides a sound basis for negotiation among stakeholders with different interests.