Smallholders, mountain agriculture and land change in Lamjung district, Nepal
Shrestha, Milan K.
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The goal of this dissertation is to investigate mountain smallholders’ land-use strategies and examine how the changes in their land-use strategies are linked to the broader land-cover change patterns. Using a cross-disciplinary, multi-scalar approach that integrates ethnographic and survey data with remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) applications, this study: (1) analyzes the household conditions and the community context of the changes in land-use strategies in Lamjung district, Nepal; and (2) identifies the district-level land-cover change patterns between 1976 and 2003 from multi-temporal satellite images (i.e., Landsat data of 1976, 1984, 1990, 1994, 1999, and 2003). In doing so, the processes of land-use and land-cover change (LUCC) and their social drivers are discussed in relation to the patterns of land-cover change. An in-depth analysis of the land-cover change trajectories illustrates dynamic transitions between forest, agricultural land and shrubland and suggests that there is no linearity in land-cover change as is generally assumed. One significant change, however, is the loss of shrubland coverage to agriculture and forest over the years, decreasing from 37,825 ha (22.33% of the total area) in 1976 to 16,717ha (9.86%) in 2003. Although forest coverage steadily decreased from 75,582ha (44.2%) in 1976 to 64,453ha (38.02%) in 1990, it was no massive deforestation as claimed in the Himalayan Environmental Degradation debate. Forest in fact gained in areas in subsequent observation years to reach 71,582ha (42.22%) in 2003. Agricultural land also expanded from 30,3360ha (18.1%) to 42,048ha (24.8%) between 1976 and 2003. The context of smallholdings also changed in Lamjung during this period. The most notable changes were in the resource allocation rules, local economy, labor management and agricultural system. Combined, these mediated the effects of population pressure and poverty and influenced smallholders’ land-use decisions. Understanding the context of changes in agricultural strategies also explains the dynamic transitions observed between different land-cover categories. The results of this study help establish general relationships underlying the subsistence behaviors of mountain smallholders, their dependence on agricultural and forest resources, and the extent to which their behaviors are influenced by the changing local demography, expanding market economy, shared cultural knowledge and institutions.