Local Perceptions of Change in Climate and Agroecosystems in the Indian Himalayas: A Case Study of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) Landscape, India

Student Authors

Lincoln M. Butcher '10

Document Type


Publication Date


Department 1

Environmental Studies


Agricultural communities in the Himalayas are especially vulnerable to the shocks of climate change. An improved understanding of how residents perceive changes to climate and agroecosystems is critical to creating and implementing locally appropriate adaptation strategies. In this study, we administered a questionnaire to 251 residents within 16 villages in and adjacent to the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS), a culturally and ecologically important area in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The study area is rugged and remote, and the resource-dependent communities are among the least-studied of the region. Using the questionnaire, we investigated how residents perceive changes to climate and agroecosystems, how households are adapting, and whether perceptions and adaptations differ by demographic and livelihood factors. We used both quantitative (summary statistics, t-tests, and chi square tests) and qualitative strategies (interpretation of open-ended responses) to analyze the questionnaire results. A majority of respondents perceived an increase in many variables including flash flood/landslide events, total annual rainfall, average summer temperature, agricultural pests, crop failure, and crop raiding by wild animals. In most cases, perceptions did not vary by demographic or livelihood factors. However, larger landholders were more likely to perceive an increase in intense rain/snow, average annual rainfall, and wildlife sightings in fields. Most respondents reported that they were not adapting or planning to adapt to change. However, a few reported adaptation strategies such as changing crops and planting vegetation to stabilize soil, as well as pesticide use. Respondents believed that to effectively adapt they need assistance from outside institutions. Locally-based (panchayat) and state-level institutions were ranked as very helpful for adaptation, but the Forest Department, Government of India, and NGOs received lower rankings. Overall, the respondents demonstrated a high level of agreement in their perceptions of change and barriers to adaptation. The broad consensus among residents offers an important opportunity for consensus building and collaboration with local and national institutions. The study has implications for collaborative public works and research projects which can help to build trust, develop locally-appropriate adaptation strategies, reduce conflict with wild animals, share insights, and increase the visibility of local knowledge about climate and agroecosystems. Furthermore, the study illustrates how understanding the perceptions and insights of agricultural communities around protected areas can inform adaptation at the ground level.



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