Pakistan: Dingarh/Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve

Introduction

© Thomas Schaaf
Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve, Pakistan

The extent of desert marginal drylands in Pakistan is 11 million hectares. Vast desert plains are present in three provinces: Baluchistan, Punjab and Sindh, and the major deserts of the region which people migrate, along with their livestock, toward irrigated areas where they remain until the next rainfall. These drylands, which cover around 11 million hectares, are barren due to low rainfall and water scarcity, and groundwater is mostly saline.

The Lal-Sohanra Biosphere Reserve in the Cholistan desert is located about 65 kilometers from Bahawalpur City. The climate of the site is hyper-arid and rainfalls are scarce ranging between 100 and 250 mm annually. There are four main economic activities in the drylands of Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve, comprising livestock rearing, labouring, handicrafts, and agriculture on the periphery of the desert land. The rangelands are poor because they are not maintained properly.

The degradation of the ranges has been caused by overgrazing in an uncontrolled grazing system, as a result of which, there is an urgent need to manage the rangelands based on scientific knowledge so as to provide fodder for livestock throughout the year and to support more livestock per unit area.

Project objectives

© Thomas Schaaf
Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve, Pakistan

1. To rehabilitate degraded rangelands of Cholistan dryland by scientific management of land, water and vegetation resources.

2. To halt degradation of rangelands by adopting protective measures to enhance carrying capacity.

3. Introduction of a new concept of rangeland irrigation through a sprinkler system during the dry season using rainwater storages or groundwater to increase biomass production.

4. To enhance livestock production in drylands by providing more fodder per unit area.

5. To increase income of livestock owners residing in the dryland to improve their living conditions.

6. To investigate the most economical, sustainable and site specific ways to minimize water evaporation loss from rainwater-fed earthen ponds.

Results

© Zamir Ahmed Soomro
Soil investigation and measurement, Lal-Sohanra Biosphere Reserve

A natural grazing rangeland site has been selected for rehabilitation at Hyderwali in the Cholistan desert in the vicinity of Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve. Project activities have started in early 2009 and are focused on improving the carrying capacity of rangelands. The management strategies adapted include:

1. Rotational grazing system: The area has been fenced and divided into compartments – one compartment is allowed for grazing while the other is left for sprouting. By adapting to this strategy, rangelands will not be destroyed but have a sustainable output.

2. Application of irrigation: The rainfall in the area is too low to be able to obtain a potential yield in the rangelands, thus an irrigation supplement could not be avoided. Two irrigations (each of 30 mm) were applied in 2009, whereas four were applied in 2010 through sprinklers.

3. Reseeding of local grasses and bushes: Due to prolonged drought spells, palatable species of grasses in Cholistan desert have almost vanished. For their rehabilitation, seeds of palatable grasses were spread in the monsoon season in both years (2009–2010).

The preliminary results of the study have proved that the carrying capacity of the rangelands is increasing progressively and the vegetation cover is steadily increasing, with the area producing its own seed this year. The productivity of the rangelands was measured through the growth of canopy cover and biomass, divided into three sites for controlled and uncontrolled grazing. Two fodder crops (cluster bean and millet) were introduced to support livestock rearing.

© Thomas Schaaf
Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve, Pakistan

With the availability of grasses, migration from the project vicinity has been reduced. Alternate livelihood activities have been enhanced and an exhibition at the SUMAMAD national seminar encouraged people to take up a maximum of handicrafts. As a result of the interventions made through SUMAMAD, the Cholistan Development Authority has submitted a mega-project to the provincial government of the Punjab. A core management group that brings together institutions, universities government and local representatives had been established for developing policy-relevant guidelines.

Three major areas were identified for the sustainable management of drylands: the introduction of Resource Conservation Technology, raising awareness for adopting controlled grazing systems, and establishing a rangelands decision-making forum for the welfare and rational use of rangelands.

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