Moving back to greener pastures: why we need to protect high-altitude pasturelands

The Daring Cities webinar on Healthy High Altitude Pasturelands for Sustainable Development in Downstream Cities focused on the importance of high altitude pasturelands. Watch here.

The high altitude pastureland and forest ecosystems provide a wide array of ecosystem services (provisional, regulating, cultural, supporting). These ecosystem services are critical for sustainable urban development in cities downstream.  At the same time, they face multiple threats due to climate change and anthropogenic disturbances.

Several experts from international organisations and institutions in India and Nepal highlighted the multi-faceted significance of these pasturelands and the measures needed to protect them in the session.

Setting the context, Mr Emani Kumar, Deputy Secretary General, ICLEI and Executive Director, ICLEI South Asia emphasised that downstream cities rely very heavily on the ecosystem services provided by high altitude pasturelands and forest ecosystems. Ecologically restoring these pasturelands will enhance sustainable development in downstream cities.

Dr Ruchi Pant, Head- Natural Resource Management and Biodiversity, UNDP India, Delhi, India highlighted the ecological significance of high altitude pastureland and forest ecosystems. She mentioned about the work being carried out by UNDP India on the high altitude pasturelands and forest ecosystems through the SECURE Himalaya project. She explained about the One Health Concept that is being implemented in the project. Mr. Siddharth Nair, Project Associate, UNDP elaborated on the risks of transfer of zoonotic diseases arising from intense interactions between livestock and ungulates in high-altitude pasturelands, and the interdisciplinary method being followed towards disease control, through the implementation of the One Health Concept.

Dr. K M Jayahari, Country Coordinator, FOLU Coalition, highlighted the provisioning services provided by high altitude ecosystems to downstream cities. He spoke of the ‘mutton connect’, how pasturelands maintain a regular meat supply to cities, keeping prices affordable while having a smaller carbon footprint as compared to the intensive method of meat production.

Dr. Gautam Talukdar, Head, Department of Protected Area Network, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun discussed about the significance of wildlife conservation in high altitude ecosystems to enhance ecosystem services in downstream cities. Dr. Talukdar pointed out that wildlife provides services such as carbon sequestration, seed dispersal, control of invasive species, and flood regulation, among others. He spoke of the need for rewilding and that “we should not tamper with the ecosystem without understanding its impact and functions.”

Dr. Ritesh Kumar, Director, Wetlands International, South Asia showcased the water connection between high altitude pasturelands and cities downstream various factors were the reasons behind extreme events such as the destructive floods in Kedarnath in Uttarakhand and Kerala in the past few years. He recommended restoration and sustainable management of wetlands as ‘natural infrastructure’, and creating linkages between urban and spatial planning as integrated river basin management.

Mr. Nand Kishor Agrawal, Programme Coordinator of the Resilient Mountain Solutions Initiative of ICIMOD, Nepal, described the health benefits to cities downstream from high altitude pasturelands and forests provided by a wide variety of medicinal plants in the highlands. He recommended green entrepreneurship in promoting these products and also benefit-sharing mechanisms that would help the local people.

Dr. Monalisa Sen, Programme Coordinator (Biodiversity), ICLEI South Asia, focused on the fragility of these pasturelands’ ecosystems in Himachal Pradesh and the local communities, migratory pastoralists, and downstream cities who depend on them while giving an overview of the work being carried out in by the organisation in Himachal Pradesh under the SECURE Himalaya project. She said these areas played a significant role in sustainable urban development and recommended that the management of such resources should be cross-jurisdictional, with cities also playing a responsible role.

The session was very well attended and helped to highlight the role of critical ecosystem services from high altitude rural areas for sustainable urban development. A cross-jurisdictional approach (across the rural-urban governance structures) is needed to restore degraded pasturelands and maintain the flow of ecosystem services.