Acknowledgements 5 Glossary 6 List of Tables 8 List of Figures 9 List of Boxes 10 Pakistan Fact Sheet 11 Executive Summary 12

Equitable Benefit Sharing among Traditional Grazers of the Cholistan Desert

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12.6 Equitable Benefit Sharing among Traditional Grazers of the Cholistan Desert

Cholistan is a vast tract of hot desert land locally known as Rohi. It extends over an area of 6,600,000 acres which was transferred to the Forest Department and was declared a protected forest under the Forest Act of 1927. The general land marks like tobas (earthen, makeshift ponds) and old routes demarcate one block from another.

The traditional local grazers called rohillas lead a life that revolves around the rearing of cattle. They spend time in the desert when there are rains. Rainwater is collected in the tobas. A few underground tanks have been constructed to store water. The locals acquired the art of building ponds and tanks elders' centuries ago. This art is now dying since the government and other agencies have taken over this role.

The rangelands of Cholistan are depleted due to the injudicious use of the areas, coupled with frequent droughts. The average forage production of the area is 150 lbs. per acre. The total carrying capacity of the area under grazing at present is 687,400 Animal Unit Months (AUM) with a grazing capacity of 8 acres per AUM. The area can provide feed for 140,000 AUM (which is the present number of livestock grazing in Cholistan) for a period of 5 months.

Cholistanis have customary rights to graze any number of livestock owned by them by paying an annual grazing fee. This is normally a nominal fee called tirni collected by the Forest Department. The average annual revenue collected by the government amounts to Rs. 600,000 (Table 12.1). Cholistanis earn their income from the sale of cattle, and animal bye-products such as milk, butter, oil, wool, camel hair, and the animal hides of sheep, and goatskins. The Forest Department auctions bones of dead animals annually.

Table 12.1: Rates of Grazing Fee in Cholistan

Animal Type

Tirni (Rs./animal/annum)











12.5.1 Differences between the Traditional People and the Forest Department

Cholistan has a population of more than 50,000 people. The majority of this population consists of Muslims called Rohilas and the minority of Hindus called Marwaris. They live in small hamlets and their main profession is the grazing of livestock. Traditionally each tribe and clan has control over their tobas and other watering points. Arranged marriages within and between the clans largely depend on the ownership of tobas and grazing lands, but with the advent of the government agencies, this custom is dwindling. Animals of one particular area or village may move to another area and vice versa by mutual arrangements for grazing. Local communities still accept ownership of the land according to their traditional system, and each tribe respects the grazing rights of their neighbours. However, the Forest Department, deals with the entire tract as a protected forest and there have been instances of the department triggering disputes between the clans by giving temporary ownership of tobas to outsiders. The pattern of grazing is nomadic. Animals and the grazers keep on moving from one place to another in search of water. Grazers and their livestock enter Cholistan with the first rain shower, usually in the middle of July. Grasses spring to life during these showers and the tobas fill. In a good rain year, Cholistan bustles with activity until the rainwater dries up by January/February. By January, Cholistanis move to their villages, where each family digs up unlined, temporary wells to use the rainwater soaked in the upper layers of the soil.

There are no recorded rights of grazing in the government records over the area of Cholistan except for the kharoolas. The case of harvesting of Khar (see Box 16) highlights the need to educate the traditional people and the government regarding natural resource usage. This is necessary in order to bring these perceptions in accordance with the requirements of the CBD. The Cholistanis have divided the areas between the tribes for organised grazing. While arranging marriages between the tribes, the traditional rights of grazing and access to water ponds are taken into consideration. The Forest Department had been issuing superdnamas, which locally means temporary custody for the ponds constructed by the Forest Department. The superdnama issued by the Forest Department come into force whenever new agricultural lands are available for allotment by the extension of the canal irrigation system.

Box 16: Harvesting of Naturally Growing Khar30

Khar (Haloxylon recurvum) is a perennial plant that can be observed all over Cholistan. It breeds through seeds and coppice. Seedlings sprout in the late monsoon season and reach a height of 2-3 feet by the winter. Khar was traditionally auctioned by the Nawabs of the former state of Bahawalpur. This is done by the Forest Department upon the accession of the state to Pakistan in 1952. Rights were granted to the local people for the collection of Khar. These rights state that no outsider shall be employed for its harvest and that the purchaser shall pay half the harvest to the locals as a collection fee. Khar is cut and burned in pits and the solid product called Chowa is used as a raw material in the caustic soda soap industry. The ecological impact of this harvest on the desert ecosystem has not been fully studied. Due to the overexploitation of this vital biological resource of the Cholistan desert, the soil is exposed to erosion and the habitat of wild animals, e.g. foxes and hares, is disturbed. The natural process of plant succession is also brought to a halt. The regeneration of fodder plants like Jand and Ber is also on the decline in areas where Khar has been exploited.

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