A Rapid Tipping Point in Himalayan Agroecological and Socio-cultural Responses to Climate Change

A Rapid Tipping Point in Himalayan Agroecological and  Socio-cultural Responses to Climate Change


Missouri Botanical Garden, USA

The Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau – often referred to as the “Third Pole” because of their importance in shaping worldwide climate patterns – are experiencing the most drastic global climate change outside of the poles with temperature increases of 5-6oC, 20-30% increase in rainfall, and melting of permanent snows and glaciers.  Simultaneously, this area is a worldwide center of temperate biodiversity, including a majority of medicinal plants important to Tibetan medicine. Our data show that climate changes affect Himalayans’ health, agriculture, and livelihoods in a many ways including diseases, pests, crops, water, and annual cycles.  Also Tibetans’ culture and cosmology are affected.  Rapid climate change in the Himalaya threatens the traditional livelihoods of diverse indigenous peoples, challenges traditional systems of knowledge and stresses venerable socio-ecological systems.  Documenting local observations of climate change, its impacts on traditional livelihoods, and actions taken in response reveals socio-cultural and agroecological impacts of climate change in the Himalaya. Indigenous observations of rapid change in temperature, precipitation, permanent snow cover, and glaciers directly inform traditional perceptions of and adaptations to Himalayan climate change. Adaptation strategies include a shift from traditional agropastoral practices to combinations of  agropastoralism, tourism services, and cash-crop production. Climate change has rapidly tipped the scales in favor of fruit, vegetable, and wine production, cash crops previously unsuitable to the high Himalayan climate. New livelihood strategies signify transformation within the socio-ecological systems of the Himalaya in an effort to develop greater resiliency to climatic change. Rapid development of relevant, place-based adaptations to Himalayan climate change depends on indigenous peoples’ abilities to understand the potential impacts of climate change and adjust within complex, traditional socio-ecological systems. Himalayan communities must be given an opportunity to voice their observations of climate change, localized concerns, and culturally relevant resolutions within the global discussion of climate change policy and community development.



Jan Salick, PhD, Senior Curator of Ethnobotany at the Missouri Botanical Garden has been working with indigenous peoples since 1973 and on their interactions with climate change since 2000.  She worked with the Orang Asli in Southeast Asia, with numerous tribes in throughout the Amazon and in Central America and Mexico, and with many Himalayan peoples since 2000.   Most recently (2013-present), she is working with American Indians (Wampanoag and Narragansett) on the impacts of and their adaptations to climate change and sea level rise.  She has developed many creative participatory methods as well as published many innovative results. She specializes in traditional land use management, agroecology, and climate change ecology and has over 70 peer reviewed publication and 2 books.  She received a PhD from Cornell University (1983), was a Research Scientist at The New York Botanical Garden (1983-9), Professor at Ohio University (1989-2000), Senior Fellow at Oxford, Institute Environmental Change (2005-7), as well as her senior position at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  Previously, she has contributed to policy efforts of IPCC, IPBES, CBD, IUBS, FAO, CGIAR and UNESCO efforts on traditional knowledge and climate change including presentations in Rome, South Africa, London, Mexico, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Peru, Paris, etc.

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