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Rangelands and Pastoral Production on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China

Herders on Tibetan Rangelands

Tibetan nomad woman weaving on a typical backstrap loom, near Mun Tso, west central Tibet. Cheese, made from yak milk, is drying on the striped blanket behind the woman. In the background, nomad tent made from yak hair.

Since the beginning of pastoralism on the Tibetan Plateau, nomadsí existence has depended on spinning and weaving skills. Sheep and yak wool is spun and woven into clothing, blankets, bags, and tents. Yak and goat hair is fashioned into ropes. These techniques and skills, developed millennia ago, are still widely practiced today.

Tibetan nomad women near Qinghai Lake, Qinghai Province. Women play a very important role in nomadic pastoral societies on the Tibetan Plateau. Women make important decisions about the use of rangelands and the management of livestock and are responsible for many of the livestock production activities. Their decisions and actions have effects on rangeland resources and livestock. Pastoral development programmes need to focus more efforts on nomad women.

Tibetan nomad near Damxung, Tibet.

Nomads possess considerable indigenous knowledge about the environment in which they live and upon which their lives depend. The existence today of numerous, prosperous nomadic pastoral groups this day on the Tibetan Plateau, despite living in one of the harshest pastoral areas on earth, bears witness to the extraordinary knowledge and animal husbandry skills of the Tibetan nomads.

Tibetan nomad family in summer pastures near Madoi, Qinghai Province.

The endurance of nomadic pastoralism on the Tibetan Plateau provides examples of nomadic practices that were once common throughout the pastoral world but are now increasingly hard to find. As such, these Tibetan pastoral systems offer an opportunity to learn more about a way of life that is fast vanishing from the earth. The fact that these grazing lands have supported pastoral cultures for thousands of years while sustaining a varied and unique flora and fauna also underlies the existence of remarkably diverse and resilient pastoral ecosystem.

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