LAUNCH OF Wasted Lives: China’s campaign to end Tibetan nomadic
PRO-PASTORALIST REPORT ON TIBETAN NOMADS UNDER CHINA’S POLICY OF CLOSING PASTURELANDS UPRIVER FROM INDIA
New voices out of Tibet and China, converging on a new understanding of why nomadic pastoralism is what suits the Tibetan Plateau best, feature in a new report, launched globally on 30 May 2015 in Delhi.
Stories about Tibet usually feature predictable language. Seldom are Tibetan voices heard. This report is fresh, and full of new ideas, new facts, new voices and an original synthesis of a wide range of sources. Far from being only a story of loss, Chinese and Tibetan scientists now agree on a new paradigm, restoring pastoral mobility as the key to success, conservation and productivity across a vast rangeland in the sky, the Tibetan Plateau.
In this report, Tibetan nomadic pastoralists speak up, about China’s policy of removing them to concrete block settlements on urban fringes, where thousands of years of accumulated knowledge of rangeland and livestock breeding becomes useless, redundant and wasted.
The pastoralists of the Tibetan Plateau, though we so seldom hear their voices, have much to say in defence of their skills, lands and livelihoods, having learned to make habitable a huge plateau now being depopulated.
This copublication, by Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Development (TCHRD), and the League for Pastoral Peoples (LPP) is a call for China to reconsider the current policy of “close pasture to grow more grass” (tuimu huancao in Chinese)which is removing productive pastoralists from the production landscapes of Tibet.
The Tibetan Plateau, 79% the size of the whole of India, is the source of the great rivers of Asia. Those rivers flow from their glacial sources across the pastures and alpine meadows, their purity and environmental services sustained by millions of pastoralists. Now the pastoralists are blamed for degradation which is actually due to mistaken policies of constricting herds and herders to small plots, that are compulsorily fenced, and policies of encouraging mobile pastoralists to settle permanently. Tibet is now losing its food security, and its pastoralists are now welfare dependants leading meaningless lives, with no entry into modern income sources.
This report presents detailed evidence that China fails to understand its grasslands, and has made successive policy mistakes over decades, culminating in the current crisis.
Neighbouring countries, including India, are at risk. Where there are no longer local populations to defend their land, miners move in, legal and illegal, to strip Tibet of its many minerals, usually unaccountably and with no concern for environmental impacts. When mineral wastes get into the rivers, they flow towards India and Bangladesh down the Brahmaputra and its many Tibetan tributaries. These rivers naturally carry a tolerable baseload of metals, any increase is dangerous.
Tibet and India are not only immediate neighbours; both are milk cultures, civilisations based on a shared intimacy and respect for the cow (in Tibetan dri, the female yak) and dairy civilisations share a respect for nature not always found elsewhere.
This is a pro-pastoralist book. India is used to debating whether public policy succeeds in being pro-farmer. Beyond the farmland is the dryland, upland pastoral land, which is surprisingly productive, and sustainable, in the right, skilled hands. The pastoralists of the Tibetan Plateau, and India, have bred animals specifically suited to local conditions, creating a bank of genetic resources, local specialty products and a global trade in luxury fine wools. Yet China persists in treating its pastoralists as ignorant, backward and primitive, to be blamed for rangeland degradation that originates in top-down policies created in distant cities. China needs policies that are pro-pastoralist, instead of blaming the victims of policies that have driven herders into poverty and now widespread exclusion and displacement from their ancestral lands and livelihoods.
This report was compiled by Gabriel Lafitte, who drew together all available information, and testimony of Tibetan pastoralists, in a thoroughly referenced, comprehensive account of how this tragedy originated, and what alternatives are available. Gabriel Lafitte is editor of a blog on the nomads of Tibet, www.rukor.org and author of Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource nationalism on the Roof of the World (Zed Books, 2013).
Keynote speaker at the launch is Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, of the League for Pastoral Peoples, who is deeply familiar with the pastoralists of India and elsewhere, and their indigenous knowledge as keepers of genetic diversity the world may well need in a time of accelerating climate change.
This report was commissioned by the only human rights monitoring agency set up and run by Tibetans, and TCHRD Director Tsering Tsomo will be available to media at the launch. www.tchrd.org