Pakistan Institute of Development Economics

Towards Sustainable Range Resource Management In Pakistan Featured Image
PIDE Knowledge Brief No. 113:2024
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Towards Sustainable Range Resource Management In Pakistan

Publication Year : 2024


Rangelands are largest land cover category in Pakistan accounting for around 57% of the total land area. These are a broad category of lands and include different vegetation cover types, such as high elevation pasture lands, forest lands – used as grazing lands, shrublands, brushwood lands, grass lands and river banks as well as stream banks that are used for animal grazing. On a global level, these account for more than 40% of the land area. These lands are characterized by native plant communities. which besides providing forage resources to livestock, also provide a number of other goods and services and are therefore important for a large segment of society in Pakistan.

The growing human population also necessitates the need for more livestock products. Hence, improved and sustainable management of rangelands in the country becomes crucial to sustain the increasing number of livestock. Livestock rearing is also one of the major means of living and livelihoods for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists communities throughout Pakistan; across the mountainous regions in particular.

Why are Rangelands So Significant?

Rangelands are multifunctional areas and produce a number of products and services, due to which they have economic, ecological, social and cultural importance. For instance, forage production is an important function of rangelands. In rural parts of Pakistan, rangelands are the backbone for the livestock industry – providing enormous economic opportunities along the value chain. Therefore, rangelands contribute significantly to the livelihoods of rural communities as well as to the over-all GDP of the country.

In addition to supporting livestock production, rangelands in Pakistan provide a number of other ecosystem goods and services which may include provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services.

Provisioning Services of rangelands include the products obtained from range ecosystems that can be directly harvested, and, in general, have a market value such as, food, fiber, fuel, and freshwater. The main ecosystem goods produced in rangelands are forage to produce meat, milk, wool and leather; different medicinal and aromatic plants; minerals and stones; and freshwater for drinking and irrigation. The relationship between supply and demand for these products varies in different range land types and parts of Pakistan.

Regulating Services of rangelands are the benefits that humans derive from regulating ecosystem processes, such as climate regulation, air quality maintenance, water purification, and erosion control. Rangelands sequester and store large quantities of carbon, principally into the soil, and avoid carbon losses to the atmosphere that would occur if rangelands were to be transformed into croplands or severely degraded. The demand for carbon sequestration in rangelands is higher than the supply because rangelands alone cannot offset actual carbon emissions from human activities. Although, per unit area carbon sequestration in rangelands is comparatively lower compared to other land use categories, carbon sequestration in rangelands is important because of the area that rangelands occupy in Pakistan. Not only do rangelands account for a significant fraction of the global carbon cycle, but they also account for most of the interannual variability in the global carbon sink.

Cultural Services of rangelands are the non-material benefits that humans obtain from range ecosystems and they include knowledge systems and traditional way of living of pastoral communities, cultural diversity, spiritual, and religious values, and recreation. These involve both consumptive and non-consumptive services. Rangelands’ cultural services in context of Pakistan are related to human experiences associated with activities such as traditional lifestyles, tourist ranching experiences and wildlife hunting. It is pertinent to note that the demand for cultural services of rangelands in certain parts of Pakistan is increasing with the passage of time.

Supporting Services are those that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services such as processes that maintain biodiversity to produce goods or cycle nutrients. In rangelands, supporting services are primary production, nutrient cycling, conservation of soils, and biodiversity, which represent a large storehouse of genetic, species, and functional diversity. Rangelands represent the natural ecosystem where annual grasses and legumes are most abundant and from where a large fraction of domesticated species originate. The key to sustaining biodiversity is harmonizing its protection with the delivery of as many other ecosystem services as possible. Land degradation, which in most cases results from overgrazing, weed invasions, energy extraction, and exurban development, directly affects the provision of supporting services. Arguably, rangeland degradation has a larger and more imminent impact than climate change on the ability of these systems to fulfill human needs.

Current Productivity of Rangelands in Pakistan

Forage production from rangelands, like other ecosystem goods and services from rangelands depends on the extent, health, productivity and adoption of proper grazing and management practices. Maintaining the health and productivity of rangelands in Pakistan requires that the physical and biological functioning of the rangeland ecosystems is kept intact; so that the integrity of the soil and the ecological processes of rangeland ecosystems are sustained

Most of the rangelands in Pakistan are not in healthy condition and their ability to produce distinctive kinds and amount of forage/vegetation is compromised on account of over-exploitative grazing practices and lack of resources invested into the protection, rehabilitation and restoration of degraded rangelands. As a result, the current forage and other ecosystem services production of rangelands are below their potential.

The National Rangeland Policy 2010 recognizes this fact and based on the baseline analysis done by the then Ministry of Environment (now the Ministry of Climate Change) for the preparation of the National Policy, states that the current productivity of the majority of rangeland varies from 25-50% of their potential. [Table 01 below gives the existing production potential from different rangeland types in Pakistan]

Moreover, there is an adverse trend in the species’ composition found on these rangelands. Non-palatable weed species which are not consumed by the livestock are now occupying up to 40% of the land area in rangelands. It is estimated that the spread of weeds and toxic plants has increased by 30%. Besides, the foliar cover of the majority of rangelands has decreased and gone down to as low as 27% of the potential. These negative trends contribute to not only the low productivity of rangelands, but also other negative effects on rangelands such as higher rates of soil erosion.

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