Rangelands of Balochistan
Balochistan is a vast arid and semiarid region of Pakistan between latitudes 25°N and 32°N. It is situated in the southwest of Pakistan and covers an area of 347,190 square kilometres (134,050 sq mi). It is the largest province of the country in terms of the land area consisting of 44% of the total area yet least populated.
About 80% of the area can be classified as inter-mountainous. The remaining 20% consists of flood plains and coastal plains. The important mountain ranges are Sulaiman, Toba-Kakar, Central Brahui, Kirthar, Chagai, Raskoh and central Makran and Markan coast. The unfavourable topographic, edaphic and climatic conditions in Balochistan have restricted the area of cultivation, leaving most for rough grazing. About 93% of the area of Balochistan is classified as rangelands. (FAO, 1983)
The climate of the upper highlands is characterized by very cold winters and hot summers. In the lower highlands, winters vary from extremely cold in northern districts Ziarat, Quetta, Kalat, Muslim Baagh and Khanozai to milder conditions closer to the Makran coast. Winters are mild on the plains, with the temperature never falling below freezing point. Summers are hot and dry, especially in the arid zones of Chagai and Kharan districts.
The plains are also very hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 50 °C (122 °F). The record highest temperature, 53 °C (127 °F), was recorded in Sibi on 26 May 2010, exceeding the previous record, 52 °C (126 °F). Other hot areas include Turbat and Dalbandin. The desert climate is characterised by hot and very arid conditions. Occasionally, strong windstorms make these areas very inhospitable.
Rangelands of Balochistan
In Balochistan, the mixed grass-shrub steppe is more common than single plant communities. The range vegetation types in Balochistan changes from south to north along the rainfall distribution. In South, shrub species Haloxylon species and Artemisia species while in north perennial grass species Cymbopogon jwarancusa and Chrysopogon aucheri are dominant.
Muhammad (1989) divided rangelands of Balochistan into three main categories: Central Balochistan ranges, Western Balochistan Ranges, Eastern Balochistan Ranges. The biomass productivity varies from 30 to 380 kg/ha
Rangelands of Balochistan are classified into following main types along-with approximate area:
- Northern Mountain R.L = 8 million ha
- Pat Plains of North East = 1.6 million ha
- Chaghi-Kharan deserts = 8.4 million ha
- Central plateau = 11.4 million ha
- Lasbella – Mekran R.L = 3.3 million ha
- Kalat area = 11.4 million ha
Range Zones of Balochistan
Balochistan can be divided into two zones regarding precipitation and grazing quality of the rangelands.
The Northern Zone
The northern zone comprises the best ranges of the province located in the districts of Zhob, Loralai, Sibi, Nasirababd, Kohlu, Pishin, Quetta, Kalat, and the northern 18% of Khuzdar area. This zone, equivalent to only 38% of the total province area, carried 76.5% of the provincial livestock.
The high stocking rate and lack of grazing management in the Northern zone is rapidly depleting these ranges.
The Southern Zone
The southern zone comprises the poorest ranges located in the rest of Khuzdar, Chagai, Kharan, Panjgur, Turbat, Gwadar and Lasbela district, which covers 62% of the province and carries only 23.5% of the livestock population.
Geo-morphological Classification of Ranges of Balochistan
Geo-morphologically, the rangelands in Balochistan can be distributed into six types of landscapes, including:
- Flood Plains
- Coastal Plains.
Range Flora of Balochistan
Following are some of the important range species of Balochistan:
- Alhagi Camelorum (Dwarf shrub)
- Artemisia maritime
- Artemisia scoparia
- Atriplex canescens (Fourwing saltbush)
- Atriplex lentiformis (Quail saltbush)
- Berberis Balochistanica
- Bromus spp
- Caragana ambigua
- Caragana vlicina
- Chrysopogon spp
- Chrysopogon aucheri
- Cymbopogon jawarancusa
- Cymbopogon schoenanthus
- Cymbopogon spp
- Ephedra intermedia
- Ephedra nebrodensis
- Eragrostis curvula (Weeping lovergrass)
- Ferula ovina
- Fraxinus xanthoxyloides
- Haloxylon griffithii
- Perowskia atriplicifolia
- Prunus eburnea
- Salsola vermiculata (Saltwort)
- Sophora griffithi
- Stocksia brahvica
- Tetrapogon villosa
Other important plants/herbs/medicinal plants include: Lavender, Rosemary, Mint, Thyme, Marjoram, Oregano, Basil, Dill, Sage, Funnel, and Tarragon
Grazing Systems in Balochistan
Following are the three major grazing systems in Balochistan:
- Nomadic Grazing System
- Transhumant Grazing System
- Sedentary Grazing System
Rangeland Ownership Systems in Balochistan
Rangeland ownership is not clear or very poorly defined ownership. Approximately 4% rangelands are under the Forest Department and the rest belongs to different groups. There are four major land ownership systems:
- Individual ownership
- Tribal claims
- Community ownership
- State Ownership
Importance of Rangelands of Balochistan
- Balochistan ranges provide a diversity of uses, including forage for livestock, wildlife habitat, medicinal plants, watershed, fuelwood, and recreational activity.
- Rangelands are the major source of feed for 90-95% of sheep and goats.
- Sheep and goat rearing is the main use of these areas and about 80% of the rural population derive their livelihood from the sale of small ruminants and by-products.
- About 87% of the people in Balochistan directly or indirectly drive their livelihood from livestock rearing.
- About 20 million sheep and goats population have been reported in Balochistan.
- Herbs found in rangelands can be used in many forms like flavours, spices, perfumes and medicinal ingredients.
- Out of the total area of Balochistan, 21 million ha (60 -65%) is used for grazing.
- Nearly 12 of the 21 million ha is classified as poor grazing, providing annually only 30-50 kg dry matter (DM) from a hectare, whereas only 2.9 million ha of better rangeland providing 250-280 kg DM from each hectare.
- Rangelands of Balochistan also provide a diversity of uses, including forage for livestock, wildlife habitat, medicinal plants, water storage and distribution, energy, minerals, fuelwood, recreational activity, wilderness and natural beauty.
Threats to Rangelands of Balochistan
- Overgrazing, drought, erosion, and human-induced stresses caused severe degradation of rangelands in Balochistan.
- The degradation processes of rangelands include changes in the composition of desirable species, decrease in rangeland bio-diversity and productivity, reduction of perennial plant cover, and soil erosion.
- A major concern of Balochistan ranges is the progressive reduction of productivity, elimination of desirable species, and how to manage and restore the health of these degraded ranges.
- Perennial grasses like Chrysopogon aucheri and Cymbopogon jwarancusa have completely eliminated in many ranges and are only found in some protected range areas.
- Many desirable shrub species like Caragana ambigua, Stocksia brahvica, Berberis Balochistanica, Prunus eburnea etc. have been replaced by Haloxylon grifithii and other unpalatable species.
- Crop production on marginal lands is also increasing and resulting in conversion of rangelands into agricultural activities.
- Removal of range vegetation for fuelwood is a major concern all over the Province and no alternative energy sources like solar cookers and other efficient cooking and heating devices are available.
Range Management Issues in Balochistan
Range management problems in Balochistan are diverse and complex. Some of the main problems are:
- The ranges of Balochistan are open and no one is responsible for management.
- Rangeland ownership is not clear or very poorly defined ownership.
- As a result of open grazing system, the ranges are degrading very rapidly.
- Limited information is available on rangeland resources, potential, and management options.
- Transformation of these communities due to rapid extension in irrigated agriculture and changes in traditional migratory routes
- Early spring migration of nomads from lowlands to highlands did not allow range plants for growth and seed production.
- Community participation is one of the main factors for any successful range management Program. However, in Balochistan, very weak community participation in range management activities has been observed.
- Limited research activities on all aspects of range management
- Lack of awareness, education and dissemination of knowledge
- Lack of trained manpower and reform in existing range management policies
Steps to Improve Rangelands of Balochistan
The purpose of rehabilitation of rangelands may be diverse like forage production, timber production, landscaping, wind breaks, sand dune fixation, and erosion control
- Natural re-vegetation practices particularly grazing management may restore vigour and accelerate the spread of desirable species.
- Grazing management alone may not accelerate the succession towards desirable species in arid and semiarid rangelands due to limited precipitation where artificial re-vegetation would involve the establishment of adapted species either by seed or transplanting seedlings.
- Restoration and rehabilitation are the two main procedures for the regeneration of depleted rangeland.
- Restoration or biological recovery means to bring the ecosystem to their pristine situation and rehabilitation or artificial recovery is the artificial establishment of a new type of vegetation different from the pristine native vegetation.
- Biological or artificial recovery may include an increase in biomass, plant cover, organic matter, soil micro and macro-organisms, better water intake and turnover, lower evaporation and runoff.
- Biological recovery may be obtained by protecting the target area from human and livestock intrusion.
- Involvement of local communities in range management activities.
- Formation of Pastoral communities or associations in major range areas may help in taking care of herd mobility, marketing of livestock, and maintenance of rangelands.
- Range management should also be based on knowledge of Pastoral communities, traditions, and local arrangements. Communities should be involved in range management planning and implementation processes.
NJMH is working as Deputy Conservator of Forests in Balochistan Forest & Wildlife Department (BFWD). He is the CEO of Tech Urdu (techurdu.net) Forestrypedia (forestrypedia.com), Majestic Pakistan (majesticpakistan.pk), All Pak Notifications (allpaknotifications.com), Essayspedia, etc & their YouTube Channels). He is an Environmentalist, Blogger, YouTuber, Developer & Vlogger.