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Nomads of the Tibetan Plateau Rangelands

By Daniel J. Miller


Nomadic pastoralism has been described as one of the great advances in the evolution of human civilisation. It is an adaptation by man to grassland areas of the world where extensive livestock production is more supportive of human culture than is cultivated agriculture. When people specialise in animal husbandry that requires periodic movement of their livestock they are known as nomadic pastoralists, or more commonly, just nomads. The photographs on these pages provide protraits of Tibetan nomads in order to better acquaint the reader (or browser) with these remarkable nomads who still thrive in one of the worlds’ harshest pastoral areas.

Tibetan nomads, who have been herding livestock on the Tibetan Plateau for millennia, have acquired considerable knowledge about the rangelands and the animals they herd. Unfortunately, nomads' vast indigenous ecological knowledge and animal husbandry skills are often not well recognised or appreciated by scientists and development planners working in Tibetan pastoral areas. As a result, nomads have often been left out of the development process, with neither their knowledge nor their needs and desires considered by many government and development agencies in introducing more ‘modern’ and ‘scientific’ methods of livestock production. The indigenous knowledge and skills that nomads already possess must be incorporated and built upon when designing new pastoral interventions if sustainable development is to be achieved on the Tibetan Plateau.

Pastoral development programmes must involve the nomads themselves in the design and implementation of activities. Nomads’ needs and desires must be listened to and the vast body of indigenous knowledge nomads possess about rangeland resources has to be put to use when designing new pastoral development projects. Understanding the aims, purposes, and goals of the nomads is one of the keys to sustainable pastoral development on the Tibetan Plateau. Nomads must be active participants in all aspects of the development process and they need to be empowered to make decisions and to manage their own development.

Nomad woman and child, near Maiwa, Sichuan Province.

Nomad, near Xiahe, Gansu Province.

Nomad with old rifle and tent, near Rongma, Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Horsewomen and yak herders, near Zamtang, Sichuan Province.

Nomad woman and child in tent, Phala, Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Nomad women dressed up for photos, Phala, Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Nomad children dancing, near Xiahe, Gansu Province.

Nomad women, near Madoi, Qinghai Province.

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