ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Transhumant agro pastoralists in Bhutan: Do they have a place in the 21st century? (2010-2014)

Strategic Research Area

Improving Rural Livelihoods and Environments in Developing Countries


AusAid Australian Leadership Award

Investigators/ Researchers

Kuegna Namgay (PhD student). Supervisors: Dr Joanne Millar (principal), Associate Prof Rosemary Black and Dr Tashi Samdup, Director of Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre, Bhutan


This research explores the history and contemporary practice of transhumant agro-pastoralism (TAP) in Bhutan. It is also examining drivers of change and perceptions on the future of TAP including policy implications. The research followed a qualitative interpretive approach, using in-depth interviews and focus groups with TAP households and agency staff. In 2010, 24 herder key informants practicing transhumance and nine government and non-government agency personnel were interviewed. In 2011, six focus groups with herder communities, livestock personnel, and downstream locals residing adjacent to the pastures of migratory herders were held.  

The findings indicate TAP has a very long history in Bhutan forming one of the main vocations of early settlers (some 4000 years ago) as people migrated from Tibet to Bhutan in search of medicinal herbs and discovered lush green pastures. Pastoralists have since then played key roles in sustaining the earlier theocratic system and later monarchic governance, not only contributing hefty taxes but also tending herds belonging to the state and monastic bodies.

TAP has seen a major decline (31%) between 1990 and 2010 due mainly to shortage of farm labour, availability of alternative livelihood choices, changing policies and climate. Nevertheless, the practice still exists and forms the mainstay of many active pastoralists with extensive inter and intra community heterogeneity in resource endowment and personal capability. However, TAP families want their children to decide their future; and do not want to impose TAP upon them.

We conclude TAP households need to be provided with viable livelihood options, continued education and training, and resource rights to allow them make informed choices. We suggest a middle path policy approach that balances the past and future, human needs with nature, social and environmental costs, and GDP with GNH (gross national happiness)– one that is inclusive, participatory and empowering for TAP families.


TAP in Bhutan: An uncertain future. Paper presented at ISSRM, Saba, Malaysia. 2011

Namgay, K.,  Millar, J., Black, R., & Samdup, T. (2013). Transhumant agro-pastoralism in Bhutan: Exploring contemporary practices and socio-cultural traditions. Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 3.


This study will increase understanding by policy makers and development partners, of the role of TAP practices and drivers of change.

Kuegna Namgay
Charles Sturt University – Albury

September 2013