Deforestation is increasingly becoming recognized as the number 

one threat to mountain ecosystems and mountain cultures.  The Himalayas 

are no exception.  During the last 20 years studies have focused on the 

relationship between deforestation and the corresponding increase in 

population.  Although extensive numerical statistics are lacking, the 

trends and indicators blatantly illustrate this causal relationship.  

This study examines Sikkim as a specific example of the larger trends 

that are occurring in the greater Himalayan region.  Although Sikkim has 

not yet suffered as extreme deforestation as its neighbors, its rate of 

deforestation is much more dramatic.  Because Sikkim is only in the early 

stages of deforestation, there is a greater chance that this destruction 

is reversible. This study examines different demographic factors which  

contribute to the amount and rate of deforestation and then outlines 

policy recommendations  which could be used to slow or reverse these trends.

        Sikkim, the newest state of India, is located in the northeast 

corner of the country bordering Tibet on the north, Nepal on the west and 

Bhutan on the east.  (Appendix 1, Map 1)  Compared to the rest of the 

Himalayas, the state has been visited by few outsiders and therefore has 

been less disturbed by western influences and consumptive tendencies.  As 

in other areas, resources are becoming more scarce as population 

increases and consumption patterns continue at present levels.  

        According to Dr. William Drakes theory of transitions, Sikkim 

appears to be in the midst of a forestry transition -- a period of rapid 

change, relative instability and volatile conditions.  Sikkim is at this 

vulnerable state because it is in the beginning stages of dramatic change 

rather than being near the end of the transition, a period returning to 

relative equilibrium and stability.  While this transitional stage makes 

Sikkim especially vulnerable, the transition period also provides policy 

makers in Sikkim with unique opportunities to direct change in positive 

rather than negative directions.  Typically, when such periods of 

transition and crisis are recognized, people tend to act aggressively and 

develop creative solutions.  Since deforestation is a relatively recent 

phenomenon in Sikkim and it is in its early stages, there are great 

opportunities now to implement changes which will direct and shape future 

forestry trends. 

A Model  Simulation to Assess Deforestation

        While the majority of research on deforestation explores the 

causal relationships between the many different factors, it rarely gives 

an indication of the magnitude or time frame involved.  In a paper 

entitled  Man versus Mountain:  The Destruction of the Himalayan 

Ecosystem (Rieger in Lai, 1981),  Hans  Christopher Rieger has devised a 

model simulation which graphically illustrates the magnitude and severity 

of current population and deforestation transitions in the Himalayan 

region as a whole, rather than simply stating that these problems exist.  

Rieger uses an ecological model of the deforestation processes based on a 

set of assumptions describing the Himalayan region to illustrate current 

forestry trends and to predict future ones.  The assumptions include a 

population growth rate of 2 per cent per annum,  an  extraction rate of 

1400 kg per capita per year, a natural forest density of 360 tons per 

hectare of timber, and a natural forest growth of 5 per cent per decade.  

Using these initial conditions, the model was first set in motion for a 

period of 100 years.   The results are depicted in Figure 1.  

Figure 1:

Source:  Reiger, 1988.

        As is expected the extraction curve has a close similarity to the 

population curve.  Since the natural growth of forests curve lies well 

above the extraction curve, the ecological system appears to be in 

balance.  A policy-maker in year 100 looking back  on past developments 

would have no cause for alarm if he assumes -- as most politicians do -- 

that the future is most likely to be like the past.  However, an 

examination of Figure 2, in which the same curves have been projected for 

a further century, shows that this complacency is ill-founded (Rieger, 1981)

Figure 2:

        Because of the exponential growth of population, the extraction 

rate increases so rapidly that before the year 120 is reached, extraction 

exceeds the natural regeneration of the forests.  Within a few decades, 

the remaining forests are depleted to the point of complete 

destruction.   The result is not only the complete destruction of the 

forests,  but also the destruction of all the people who depend on 

forests for their survival.  This model does not, however, necessarily 

predict what will happen in the future because other variables are not 

considered in the equation.  But it does illustrate the current trends 

and projects one possible future scenario (Lal, 1981).

        Sikkim is no exception to this model.  In fact, the available 

data indicates that the rate of deforestation in Sikkim may be occurring 

at an even greater speed than that described in Riegers model.   When 

running the model using initial conditions which are more representative 

of Sikkim, the simulation yields much more dramatic results.  The rate of 

destruction appears to be occurring at a much faster rate.   The 

population growth rate is faster and thus the population and extraction 

curves are steeper; the population density, exacerbated by urbanization 

trends, is higher in Sikkim than that depicted in Riegers model; the 

changing ethnic composition and the booming tourism industry is affecting 

the total population growth as well as increasing the resource extraction 


Demographic Indicators

Population Growth

        One of the most apparent indicators that Sikkims extraction rates 

will exceed natural forest growth and total forest stock is the extreme 

population growth rate. While Rieger used a population growth rate of 2 

percent per year, the population of Sikkim has grown at a much faster 

rate.  (Figure 3)  During the last 30 years, the growth rate has 

accelerated from 1.77% per year to 5.07% per year in 1981 (Karan, 

Figure 3:


Source: Karan, 1989.

The dotted line on the graph shows the actual population during the last 

100 years while the solid line shows the exponential projection of 

population growth over the next fifty years.  This projection indicates 

that the population will continue to grow at an increasingly rapid rate.  

This projection assumes stable conditions and does not consider other 

factors.  A closer examination of different demographic characteristics 

of Sikkim, however, allows one to assess whether in fact the population 

will continue to grow at the exponential rate depicted in the graph.  

        The demographic information provides conflicting indicators of 

the future population growth.  During the past 100 years, on of the main 

factors which has caused the growth rate to approach  a  5.07 per cent 

per annum growth rate in 1981 has been the migration of Nepalese settling 

in Sikkim.  The population growth rate of Nepalese living in Sikkim has 

averaged around 7 per cent between 1931 and 1981 and between 1978 and 

1981, the population growth rate was 8.81 per cent per year.  Figure 4 

illustrates this:

Figure 4:


Source: Desai, 1988.
Figure 5:


Source: Desai, 1988.

        Thus, much of Sikkims population explosion is due to migration 

rather than to high fertility and other  demographic characteristics.   

Migration however is not necessarily a positive feedback loop, where an 

increase in immigrants triggers a greater increase.   In fact the 

opposite occurs; when a significant amount has migrated, there is less 

room and therefore less desire for others to migrate.  A high migration 

rate in one decade does not guarantee a high migration rate the next 

decade.  In fact, at some point the migration rate will start to level 

off and eventually decline as an area becomes exceedingly crowded and 

less appealing.   The data indicates that Sikkim appears to be nearing 

the end of its migration transition. (Figure 5)  Assuming the ratio of 

Nepalese to Sikkimese has remained constant between 1981 and 1991, the 

decline in total population growth of Sikkim indicates a corresponding 

decline in the population of Nepalese immigrants. 

        However,  other demographic indicators show that while migration 

trends may be slowing, the total population growth rate of Sikkim will 

continue to increase dramatically, although perhaps not to the same  

degree as in the past due to high migration rates.  One such indicator 

that the population growth rate will continue to increase is the age 

structure of the current population in Sikkim.  Figure 6 indicates that 

almost 70% of the population is under the age of 29 (Desai, 1988).   

Thus, a majority of the population is either at child-bearing age or will 

be there soon.  According to present patterns, the fertility rate will 

either continue at the same rate or increase.  The fact that only 10% of 

the population is over 50 years old indicates that the death rate will 

remain low since most of the population is young and therefore at a low 

probability of dying.

Figure 6:


Source:  Desai , 1988.  


        Literacy levels can also be used as an indicator of population 

growth rate since a low literacy rate often corresponds to a high 

population growth rate.  In Sikkim, only 34.05% of the population were 

literate in 1981.  In general, the urban population is more literate than 

the rural population; the literacy rate in urban areas is 54.86% and in 

rural areas is 30.05%.  Similarly, the literacy rate for males is almost 

twice as high that of females, 44% and 22% respectively (Balaraman, 

1987).  Although this study does not directly examine the relationship 

between literacy and population growth, this causal relationship is 

generally accepted among demographers.  While there are exceptions, a low 

literacy rate often suggests a high population growth rate.

        Sikkims population is currently growing at a rapid rate, a 

majority of the people are in the young age groups, and literacy rates 

are low.  Thus, it is reasonable to expect that the population will grow 

exponentially even if migration is slowed.  Thus, assuming that the 

consumption rates in Sikkim are similar to those in the simulation and 

that there is a similar causal relationship between population and 

consumption as there is in other parts of thee Himalayas, these 

demographic indicators suggest that both the population and the 

corresponding extraction rates are more severe than what is shown in the 


Population Density

        Another assumption Rieger makes in the simulation is population 

density.  Rieger assumes a population of 1,000 people living in a 100 area,  yeilding a density of 10 people per  After 100 years 

the density in the simulation was 72.5.  In contrast, the East district 

of Sikkim had a much higher population density with 187 people per 

in 1991 (Lama, 1994).   As a whole, Sikkim currently has an area of 7,096, a population of 406,452, and a corresponding density of 57 people 

per sq. km.  Thus, Sikkim does not have a significantly higher population 

density than that depicted in the simulation.  However, since the 4,226 in the North district are largely uninhabitable due to rock and 

snow cover, extreme altitudes and harsh weather, the majority of the 

population lives in the other three districts.  Consequently, 92% of the 

population lives in 40% of the geographic area ( Map 1, Appendix 1; 

Figure 7, 8).  Thus, while the density of the country as a whole is only 

57, the density of certain districts is significantly greater than the 

density assumed in the model both under the initial conditions and after 

the first 100 years.  Figure 7 and 8 illustrate this phenomenon.

Figure 7:


Source: Desai, 1988.

Figure 8:


Source: Desai, 1988.


        Current urbanization trends in Sikkim further indicate how much 

more densely populated these southern three districts will become.  For 

example, not only is the East district already more densely populated 

than the North, but the population growth rate is also much higher than 

the growth rate of the North district.  This difference in rates is at 

least partially a consequence of the fact that population growth, as 

mentioned earlier, is a positive feedback loop: a chain of 

cause-and-effect relationships that closes in on itself so that a change 

in any one element in the loop will change the original element even more 

in that same direction.  Hence, an increase will cause a further increase 

(Meadows, 1992).  Therefore, since the East district has more people than 

the North now, the positive feedback loop suggests that the East district 

naturally will increase at a faster rate, even though the resources are 

more scarce.  

        Another reason that the East district is becoming more densely 

populated is because of the recent urbanization trends.  Figure 9 

illustrates the urbanization transition which has been occurring over the 

past fifty years.  In 1941, the census revealed no urban population at 

all.  By 1981, however, almost 20% of the population was considered 

urban.  This indicates that much of the population is concentrated in 

pockets, thus placing even more constraints on the resources in these 

urban centers.  While in some countries, urbanization trends have had 

beneficial impacts on deforestation   because large amounts of people 

with not enough forests are forced to find alternative sources of energy, 

in Sikkim it is the urban centers which have suffered from the most 

deforestation as evidenced by land slides (Desai, 1988).    Nevertheless, 

the unevenly distributed population and the increasing urbanization 

trends mean that certain areas of Sikkim are becoming much more densely 

populated than that depicted in Riegers simulation.

Figure 9:

 Source:  Desai, 1988.

        Just as the number of people per geographic area is significantly 

higher in parts of Sikkim than in the simulation, so too is the 

corresponding number of people per forest area.  The simulation begins 

with an assumption of 1,000 people and 9,800 hectares of forest; this 

yields 9.8 hectares of forest per person.  After 100 years, the 

simulation indicates 1.18 hectares of forest per person.  According to 

many estimates of deforestation in Sikkim, the remaining forest area in 

the 1980s was 265,210 hectares while the population was 316,385.  This 

indicates a ratio of .84 hectares of forest per person.  Since .84 is 

already well below the simulations 1.18, this may indicate that the lines 

on the graph are actually closer together than those in Riegers 


        By using a different population growth rate and a higher density, 

and assuming that extraction rates per person is similar to that used in 

the simulation, it is clear that the population and extraction curves 

will both be steeper than those in the simulation.  No data could be 

found on the natural forest growth rate or the rate at which forest stock 

is declining.  Therefore, by using the forestry rates depicted in the 

simulation, combined with higher population and extraction rates, it 

becomes clear that the point where these lines cross may occur sooner in 

Sikkim than in other Himalayan regions.   Consequently, Sikkim is 

currently at a point along the transition more similar to that projected 

for the second hundred years where the lines are closer together.   

Perhaps today is most accurately represented by the 100th year of the 

simulation rather than the 10th year.  Such information is critical for 

policy-makers and forest managers.  The immediacy of the situation needs 

to be considered in adopting and implementing new forest policies.
Changing Ethnic Compositions

        There are other demographic characteristics, not accounted for in 

Riegers simulation, which significantly affect resource use and 

consequently affect the forestry transition.  Numbers and statistics are 

often the most commonly used indicator of change in a society although 

other factors may have a more significant impact on resource use in a 

particular region.  For example, the different ethnic groups in Sikkim 

utilize forest resources very differently and consequently have very 

different impacts on the environment.  An increase in the population of 

Nepalese people in Sikkim has caused corresponding changes in forest 

use.  Historically, Sikkim was inhabited by two major ethnic groups -- 

Lepchas and Bhotias.  The Lepchas are believed to be the original 

inhabitants of this area while the Bhotias are the Tibetan immigrants who 

took refuge in Sikkim in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  These 

two groups intermarried and became assimilated.

        Before the 1900s, the Nepalese began to migrate to Sikkim because 

their lands were deforested, over-cultivated, and over-populated (Kazi, 

1993). In 1904, however, when Sikkim became a British protectorate, The 

Nepalese began to migrate in large numbers.  The Indian government 

encouraged Nepalese people to settle in Sikkim, help bring the land under 

cultivation, and build roads.  The Indian government also brought 

Nepalese people to Sikkim in an effort to outnumber the Tibetan-minded 

Sikkimese peoples so that the state as a whole would be more closely 

aligned with India than with Tibet.  As a government official said, an 

influx of hereditary enemies of Tibet (Nepalese) is the surest guarantee 

against revival of Tibetan influence. (Desai, 1988)  As a result, 

Nepalese people have moved in and now comprise approximately 80% of the 

population as shown in figure 10.  Not only has it changed the culture of 

Sikkim, but it has also impacted the forest base.

Figure 10:

 Source:  Desai, 1988.

        In addition to the actual speed of immigration, the cultural 

differences between the Nepalese and the other ethnic groups has had a 

significant impact on forest destruction.  The traditional Bhotias and 

Lepchas practiced a shifting cultivation called jhuming in which they 

moved to a new location every time the soil began to erode and became 

less productive.  New land was cleared while old land was given time to 

rejuvenate.  Given the low population of Bhotias and Lepchas before the 

Nepalese arrived, there was always plenty of land to practice this type 

of agriculture sustainably.  However, when the Nepalese came, they 

brought with them knowledge of terrace farming in which they settled in 

one location and farmed the land.  Terrace farming has definite 

advantages over jhuming in terms of soil erosion; however, since the 

Nepalese came in such large numbers, most of the available land was 

cleared for these permanent settlements.  Additionally, with all the land 

in agriculture and a decreasing amount of forests, the amount of rainfall 

is reduced.

        The Nepalese were also brought to Sikkim to help build roads.  

This meant that not only were forests cleared for roads, but they were 

also cleared for new agricultural lands which became accessible by the 

new roads.  

        The influx of Nepalese people also has an impact on the total 

population growth rate because as a group the Nepalese have a much higher 

fertility rate than the Bhotias and Lepchas.  While the Lepchas and 

Bhotias are poorer and therefore marry later because of the high bride 

price , the Nepalese have typically married at an early age and have 

traditionally practiced polygamy.  Since the Nepalese have a higher 

fertility rate, an increase in Nepalese residents means an increase in 

the overall fertility rate and consequently a higher growth rate for 

Sikkim.  While the arrival of Nepalese has caused Bhotias and Lepchas to 

assimilate, the Nepalese have maintained their traditional culture and 

fertility patterns rather than adapting to those of the host cultures.  

        While on some levels the Nepalese seem to contribute more to 

deforestation, there are other situations in which the Bhotias and 

Lepchas use more resources than the Nepalese.  While the Nepalese 

typically build concrete or mud thatched houses, the Lepcha and Bhotias 

have traditionally built their houses out of valuable timber even when 

other materials are available.  A house for 5 people requires one tree 

trunk annually for construction purposes.  Consequently, about seventy 

cubic meters of valuable wood is logged per house although less than 

twenty cubic meters would suffice if properly and efficiently utilized 

(Karan, 1984). 

        The Lepchas and Bhotias also have more livestock than the 

Nepalese.  These animals utilize the forests for grazing and deplete the 

forest density.   While tracts of forests are not necessarily cut down 

for the livestock, the animals feed on the undergrowth and on young 

plants which affects the forest health and productivity.  

        Understanding these cultural differences in resource use enables 

policy-makers to design programs which target some of the fundamental 

causes of high extraction rates.  For example, by limiting the flow of 

immigration, less forests will need to be cleared for agriculture.  

Similarly, by providing education and incentives for Lepchas and Bhotias 

to utilize less valuable timber or other building materials for their 

houses, timber resources would be utilized more wisely.  


        Another significant change which has affected resource use in 

Sikkim is the increasing number of tourists.  As other popular Himalayan 

tourist destinations become over crowded and deforested, tourists are 

flocking to Sikkim in search of unexplored and undisturbed environments.  

Relative to its neighbors, tourism is a recent phenomenon in Sikkim.  

While tourism in Nepal and Darjeeling began in the 60s and 70s,  tourism 

in Sikkim only recently began to accelerate in the 80s.  Although  

numbers and hard data describing the tourist trend in Sikkim are not 

available, a look at the trends in Nepal and Darjeeling, two places with 

similar natural resources and similar pressures, provides an indication 

of what may be currently occurring in Sikkim and also what is likely to 

occur.  Tourism in Nepal increased from 12,000 tourists in 1966 to 

110,321 in 1975, an increase of 8.2%.  The number of foreign tourists in 

Darjeeling increased from 3,299 in 1974 to 10,977 in 1983 (Lama, 1994).  

Based on a survey done in 1976, over 90% of the tourists visiting 

Darjeeling are Indian nationals.  Therefore, it is estimated that between 

1974 and 1983 the number of tourists rose from 32,990 to 109,770.  While 

this is only a 3-fold increase in Darjeeling, tourists comprised 

one-tenth of the total population of Darjeeling at that time.  In both 

Darjeeling and Nepal tourists represent a significant percentage of the 

population although they are not typically accounted for in census data.  

Thus the actual population in these areas and their corresponding use of 

resources is significantly greater than what is depicted in the figures.

        Not only are the number of tourists significant, but also the 

type of tourists are important in that different types utilize resources 

differently.  The tourists in Nepal and Darjeeling can be divided into 

two major types, domestic and foreign.  In Darjeeling 90% of the tourists 

are Indian nationals who are coming to the hills for a long weekend or 

short stay.  These people are among the wealthier and are looking for 

somewhat luxurious tourist facilities.  Consequently, Darjeeling has 67 

hotels in the 4.4 square miles of the state.

        Nepal, on the other hand, caters to a different kind of 

tourist--trekkers who have come from places outside of India to hike in 

the Himalayas.  The resource needs of these tourists are very different 

from those of Darjeeling visitors.  Relatively speaking there are not 

many hotels in Nepal because the majority of tourists are hiking, staying 

in modest accommodations, and theoretically eating more locally grown 

foods.  Thus, these tourists consume less of the forests.  However, the 

situation is not that simple since many of the trekkers in Nepal hike and 

stay at higher elevations near tree line, where the forests regenerate at 

a much slower rate than in the moist hill regions.  Thus, the location of 

these tourists has more destructive impacts on the environment.  

        Sikkim has a mixture of these two types of tourists with an 

estimate of 80% domestic tourists and 20% foreign tourists (Lama, 1994).  

Using the information from Nepal and Darjeeling, Sikkim has the 

opportunity to develop a tourism industry which caters specifically to 

the types of tourists who will have the least impact on the environment.  

Environmental  Impacts of Population Pressures

        The actual relationship of human activity and forest destruction 

has recently become more heavily studied and understood.  Although the 

exact rate of deforestation is unknown, the fact that it is occurring at 

fast speeds is suggested by the increasing number of landslides, one of 

the most common visible effects of deforestation in mountain 

environments.  While exact statistics on landslides are not available, 

experts agree that landslides are occurring more frequently than in the 

past (Blaraman, 1987).  The fact that they are reported to be most common 

around places with the highest density of people is an indication of the 

interrelationship between people and landslides even though no specific 

data is available.  

        However, landslides have historically been a part of life in this 

area.  The physical geography, steep slopes, high amount of rainfall, 

drastic altitudinal changes and variety in soil types, as well as the 

geologically unstable, young nature of the Himalayan region, located on a 

fault line between two tectonic plates make Sikkim extremely susceptible 

to landslides.  Although there are many natural causes of landslides in 

Sikkim, there are also human factors which contribute to landslides. 

        The most obvious connection between human activity and landslides 

is deforestation.  As land is deforested, there are no longer root 

systems to keep the soil in place on the steeper slopes.  Thus, in a 

heavy rain, the soil is washed downhill resulting in huge landslides.  

Deforestation is probably the leading cause of soil erosion and hence 

land slides.  Figure 11 illustrates the impact of humans on the 

Figure 11:

Source: Desai, 1988

        The chart illustrates that deforestation is caused by a 

combination of the number of people and the behavior of people.  Some of 

the boxes on the top level of the flow chart are areas that have been 

emphasized in this study -- differing demands for shelter among ethnic 

groups and tourist types, food demand, construction techniques, 

agricultural techniques, and grazing.  Each of these uses trigger other 

processes leading directly to deforestation and landslides.  For Example, 

Cardamom is one of the largest commercial crops and is grown along steep 

river banks.  When the crops are harvested the soil is loosened and 

washed down stream after a heavy rain fall.  A use that is not depicted 

on the chart is the unscientific construction of roads and buildings on 

these steep slopes.  This is one of the biggest factors that can destroy 

natural ecosystems and trigger landslides (Desai, 1988).   Such 

construction prevents the free lateral movement of moisture.  Once this 

equilibrium is broken, progressive erosion occurs (Desai, 1988).

        The steep slopes and heavy rainfall mean a high velocity of water 

flow and therefore the transport of large quantities of silt, sand, 

boulders and timber.  This erodes the river valleys and decreases the 

lateral support to hill sides, causing cracks in the upper level due to 

mass stress.  As the cracks fill up with water, the resistance of the 

hillside decreases and major landslides occur.  Such landslides can 

extend uphill and lead to the collapse of steep faces causing dangerous 

damming of big rivers (Desai, 1988).

Policy Implications and Recommendations

        The consensus among experts that there is an increasing number of 

land slides and that these landslides are at least partially caused by 

deforestation has been enough to trigger forestry policies and programs 

in Sikkim.  While the existence of government programs suggest progress 

and action, the approach used to arrive at such programs is often flawed; 

the policies are not based on scientific data or carefully designed and 

therefore fall short of achieving their objectives.  It has been a trend 

throughout history that policy makers prefer to make new policies rather 

than to successfully implement or monitor polices which have already been 

adopted.  Consequently, many policies are adopted haphazardly, do not 

address all the aspects of the problem they intend to solve, and are not 

monitored to see whether they are in fact effective.  

        In Sikkim, as in other areas and countries, the solutions to a 

problem as large as deforestation have been piece meal; each government 

department, development worker, or scientist has a different perception 

of the problem and a different solution.  The typical response to a 

problem such as deforestation is to sound the alarm and then take the 

driver seat, without analyzing the full scope of the problem and all its 

components.  In Sikkim for example, there are more than ten different 

government-sponsored developmental programs working on fixing 

deforestation -- the department of education, forest, land use, soil 

conservation, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, rural 

development, public works, power, health, and the Sikkim Trading 

Corporation and Spices Board.  While each department is working on an 

important component, there is no unified comprehensive overall natural 

resource management strategy.  There has been little collaboration among 

the different departments to collectively try to understand the 

complexity of the problem.  The issue of deforestation spans many 

disciplines.  Consequently, solutions lie in an integrated 

cross-disciplinary approach where physical scientists, social scientists 

and demographers, local residents, and policy makers work together as a 


        The first and most obvious gap in Sikkims forestry policies is 

the dearth of numerical data and the uncertainty of the data which does 

exist.  Measuring forest cover has always been more of a challenge in 

mountainous regions, however the need for data here is as important if 

not more important than obtaining forestry data in other parts of the 

world.  The data that is available is largely qualitative.  For example, 

one scientist writing about deforestation (Moddie, 1981) describes the 

road heading north from Gangtok.  In 1947, 15 km up the track from 

Gangtok was one of the worlds finest rhododendron forests, dripping with 

500 cm of rainfall a year.  It was a shock to discover ten years later, 

that not one tree stood there.  Such data is typical of what is available 

on the deforestation situation in Sikkim.  Many of the reports discuss 

the fact that there are only 265,210 hectares of forest area left.  This 

figure is from the early 1980s and is the only figure found in all the 

different sources of information.  Thus, it is probable that one 

scientist came up with the figure and all the others have relied on that 

information as the commonly accepted amount of forest cover left.


Figure 12:

        Among the various reports I found only one map illustrating the 

land use patterns (Figure 12).  While this map is better than nothing, it 

does not have enough detail upon which forestry policies and 

reforestation schemes can be based.  There is a real need in Sikkim for 

GIS and remote sensing technologies in order to understand the situation 

accurately enough to design strategies that will be effective.  Obtaining 

accurate and sufficient data should be the first step in developing 

policy recommendations.  Such information will serve as base line data 

against which success can be measured.  Having base line data is an 

essential tool needed to monitor the success of policies, and to know 

when certain policies need to be altered to better achieve their goal.  

Depending on the level of local expertise in this area, training programs 

may be needed in order to develop a skilled people who are able to gather 

such data.

        Another set of information which will be critical to designing 

effective policy is socio-cultural data.  It is becoming increasingly 

recognized that policies which do not examine and understand the social 

components and the needs of the local residents are often short-sighted 

and unsuccessful.  Consequently, a comprehensive study of the 

socio-cultural aspects is desperately needed before any regional forestry 

policy can be designed.  There are many different approaches to use, 

including participatory rural appraisal or a social impact analysis, 

however the most essential element is to go to the villages, speak with 

the resource users themselves and become familiar with their specific 

needs.  This study has outlined some of the social aspects of the 

deforestation dilemma, yet the source of information has been largely 

outside experts or government leaders living in the capitol of Gangtok.  

It is typical for development work to rely on such information without 

actually going to the communities, having community meetings, and hearing 

from those groups of people whos voices are rarely heard.  

        The most important group to target in obtaining socio-cultural 

information is the village women.  These are the people who make the 

household resource decisions.  They gather the fuel for cooking and the 

fodder for livestock.  They are the ones playing the most vital role in 

the village economies.  They are also the ones most underrepresented in 

government departments or government decisions.  Culturally, they do not 

interact much with men and therefore they do not participate in 

decisions, nor do they have access to information about natural resource 

issues.  Consequently, it will be essential to spend time with these 

groups of women to understand their resource needs.  Given the cultural 

norms, the most valuable data would probably be obtained from a female 

researcher rather than a male one.  Such details are often overlooked yet 

are critical to obtaining accurate data which will lead to effective 

policy strategies.  

        The final set of information needed is data regarding 

deforestation patterns and forestry polices in other parts of the 

Himalayas.  Such information can be used to assess which strategies have 

previously been used and which ones have been effective.  This will 

assist the government in implementing policies and programs which have a 

greater likelihood of effectively reversing the current deforestation 

trends rather than implementing programs which have already failed in 

other areas. 

        The most obvious intervention strategy is to improve the 

regeneration rate of forests using afforestation schemes and 

erosion/landslide control.  However, these two solutions deal with the 

immediacy of a particular situation yet do not address or alter the 

fundamental causes of the problem.  Looking back to figure 11, soil 

erosion and deforestation are in the lower half of the flow chart.  While 

schemes to reverse these trends are important and do address the most 

visible aspect of the problem, the underlying causes of the problem 

remain unchanged.  Consequently, while more trees may be planted, the 

consumption rate and overall deforestation rate, affected by population 

numbers and behaviors, will continue to increase.  Thus afforestation 

programs and erosion control measures will not be effective when 

implemented in isolation.

        Solutions need to focus on the causes of deforestation, those 

boxes that are at the top of the flow chart -- the number of people and 

the behavior of people.  This first part of this study has illustrated 

how these two factors, number and behavior, affect resource use 

differently.  Utilizing the information outlined previously, policy 

makers can begin to design solutions which deal directly with the causes 

of the problem.  Consequently, rather than investing money in 

reforestation and scientific remedies, it is important to address the 

human components which are at the heart of deforestation.

        The foremost social intervention involves reducing the population 

growth rate.  Based on the first part of the paper, it is apparent that 

handing out birth control may not be the most direct approach to limiting 

population numbers.  In fact, the most important strategy does not 

involve fertility rates at all, but rather, involves the migration rates 

of Nepalese residents since this has been the driving force behind rising 

population growth rates.  The second area to target is fertility rates.  

However, these programs need to specifically target the Nepalese 

residents rather than the Bhotias and Lepchas; the Nepalese are the ones 

with high fertility rates.  Such details, based on a sound analysis of 

the situation, are absolutely critical to the success of the various 

policies.  A typical policy maker, government bureaucrat, or development 

worker may not realize these subtleties and may invest significant 

amounts of money on birth control in an area dominated by Bhotias and 

Lepchas who have an extremely low fertility rate anyway.  Reducing 

migration and curbing the fertility rate of Nepalese are two initial 

strategies to reduce the number of people.  After a comprehensive 

analysis of socio-cultural factors has been conducted and more base line 

data has been gathered about the specific regions of Sikkim and the 

different ethnic groups, other strategies can be devised which 

specifically address the needs of these people.

        The second social intervention that can be used to reverse 

deforestation is to change population behaviors and therefore consumption 

rates.  This study has outlined the various ways in which differing 

behaviors affect resource use differently in Sikkim.  Based on this 

study, specific behavior patterns can be targeted in an effort to 

decrease the rate of deforestation.  

        The first and perhaps most effective strategy in changing anyones 

behavior is through education.  In addition to targeting those people who 

currently go to school, education programs need to address those 

populations who do not attend school and instead are at home managing the 

natural resource needs and decisions.  These are primarily the women.  

Women are the ones who make the majority of natural resource decisions 

yet they have the least access to information on conservation and 

resource management techniques.  Targeting this female population through 

village workshops, adult education programs, and dissemination of 

educational materials would be an important first step. There needs to be 

a mixture of formal technical programs and informal non-technical ones 

which cater to the different learning styles.  Once a group of women are 

educated, these women can then work as a team to educate other women in 

rural communities about natural resource management techniques.  More 

broad educational programs should follow after these initial female 

education programs have been implemented.   

        Some of the most obvious behaviors to change are those at the top 

of the flow chart in Figure 11.  For example, housing construction and 

agricultural  techniques are two aspects discussed earlier which 

contribute to high consumption levels.  By providing education to the 

Bhotias and Lepchas about the wood they are using to construct their 

houses, these people may be willing to change their practices if they 

understand the environmental impacts and consequences of their current 

construction methods.  Showing them alternative housing styles which use 

different types of wood or different building materials altogether could 

be enough to encourage them to change their current practices.  The 

initial socio-economic studies will be helpful in assessing their current 

housing needs and in finding suitable solutions.  

        A second behavior change which could be encouraged is a shift in 

the agricultural techniques which are currently being used.  For example, 

by having the Bhotias and Lepchas practice less jhuming (shifting 

cultivation) and switch to terrace farming, the land that was 

traditionally left fallow can be used for tree nurseries and 

reforestation programs.  In addition, a closer examination of the 

different agricultural techniques that are being used in the Himalayan 

region is needed in order to determine the most effective agricultural 

techniques with the least destructive impacts.  Agroforestry programs, 

which have been started in Sikkim, have been fairly successful although 

they are not widespread.  By planting certain species, farmers can reduce 

soil erosion while also earning economic profits from exported products 

such as cardamom and mandarin oranges.  By capitalizing on specific 

agricultural approaches such as these, farmers will be able to maximize 

production while minimizing environmental degradation.

        Another potential behavioral change which would require further 

study is the impacts of urbanization.  In some parts of the world, 

urbanization has had a positive effect on rates of deforestation.  In 

such situations urbanization trends have been paralleled with a rise in 

alternate energy sources.  This arose out of necessity because the amount 

and location of forests were inadequate for the large numbers of urban 

residents.  If Sikkim adopted alternate cooking fuels like kerosene or 

solar power, the urbanization phenomenon may not have a negative impact 

on forest resources from an energy perspective.  

        However, unless there is an increase in construction technology, 

urbanization will still be destructive from a soil erosion perspective.  

Currently, the poor technology used to build roads and buildings has led 

to an increasing number of landslides.  A study of similar urban areas 

located in mountainous terrain would help determine how, if at all, to 

develop urban areas in Sikkim.  A study could show that given the extreme 

vertical topography, it is not feasible to have large urban centers.  In 

this case, there needs to be policies which provide adequate services to 

the villages so that there are few incentives to migrate to urban areas.  

The issue of urbanization is a good example of an aspect of deforestation 

which may be overlooked by those developing forestry policies, yet is 

clearly interrelated. 

        A final aspect of deforestation which addresses both numbers of 

people and behaviors of people is the growing tourism industry.  As 

mentioned previously, the tourism industry is just recently beginning to 

grow and expand.  The government needs to understand the dynamics of 

tourism and the potential environmental and social impacts before it can 

develop an effective strategic plan for the area.  In recent years, 

Sikkim has responded to tourism by developing  facilities as needed.  For 

example, they have upgraded the accommodations with modern amenities, 

improved the transportation system with a fleet of comfortable vehicles; 

increased the opportunities for adventure tourists by providing trekking 

equipment, new trekking routes, and even hang gliding and river rafting; 

and finally, they have improved the publicity and availability of tourist 

information through private and governmental media.  While all these 

approaches are appropriate, the country lacks an overall tourism 

management plan.  The country needs to be proactive in determining what 

kinds of tourism are best for Sikkim and then devising strategies that 

are in their best interest rather being reactive to the tourist demands.

        The government again, needs to examine successes and failures of 

other Himalayan tourist destinations, especially those areas that have 

failed.  This will help Sikkim to create a tourist destination that not 

only provides the best services for tourists, but also has the least 

environmental and social impacts on the area as a whole.  As mentioned in 

the analysis above, Sikkim now caters largely to domestic tourists rather 

than foreign ones.  There needs to be a formal study on the difference 

between these two types of tourists to determine which type of tourist 

will be more beneficial for Sikkim.  Through a careful analysis of all 

the components of tourism, one can arrive at specific innovations which 

will determine the success and sustainability of Sikkims tourism industry 

in the future.  

        For example, if a study indicates that trekker tourists in 

general uses fewer resources than wealthy weekend tourists, yet has a 

significant negative impact on the fragile alpine environment, strategies 

can be devised which reduce such impact.  For example, trekking routes 

can be designed through the lowland areas where the vegetation is more 

sturdy.  In addition to having less impact, these new routes could make 

trekking more appealing to those populations who traditionally prefer to 

avoid extreme altitudes or cold temperatures.  

        Another solution would be to devise a way for trekking at high 

altitudes to have less negative environmental impacts.  Since almost a 

third of Sikkim is uninhabitable because it is under rock and snow, 

perhaps trekker tourism would be a good way to put this land to use.  

This would require designing specific trails and encouraging tourists to 

stay on them, providing for increased litter and trash, having kerosene 

imported for cooking, and possibly even having solar outhouses to take 

care of human waste.  Opening up such a high altitude trekking industry 

would provide many jobs, especially for those people who live in these 

extreme conditions of the North District and are well-suited to fill 

these roles.  There would be a need for some outside technological help, 

yet this could be the perfect avenue for development agencies eager to 

fund useful projects. 

        If the results of a tourism study show that trekkers overall have 

less impact than domestic weekend visitors, then publicity strategies are 

needed which attract foreign trekker tourists and discourage domestic 

ones.  The simplest approach to limiting domestic tourists is to limit 

the number of luxury accommodations. 

        In sum, Sikkim needs to take an active role in shaping the future 

of their tourism industry  rather than simply responding to the tourism 

demands as they arise.  This will enable Sikkim to plan for the future 

and to develop an industry that will be effective and sustainable when 

other Himalayan destinations are deforested and overpopulated.  

        This policy section has outlined a number of possible steps which 

could be taken to reverse the deforestation trends.  Underlying all of 

them is the need for a rigorous monitoring and evaluation system.  As 

mentioned previously, in many parts of the world, policies are 

implemented but there effects are rarely monitored and therefore it is 

difficult to determine if the policies have been effective.  Given that 

there will be baseline data from the initial studies, the Sikkimese 

government will be able to monitor the different components of the 

overall strategy in order to terminate programs that are not working, 

alter ones that could be working better, and to also determine which 

programs are effective and should be replicated in other areas.  By 

monitoring programs and sharing the information about successful and 

unsuccessful programs, effective deforestation programs will emerge.


        This study has used other Himalayan regions in an effort to first 

predict deforestation trends in Sikkim and then examine the population 

and environmental factors specific to Sikkim which have influenced the 

rate of deforestation.  This has provided a more accurate picture of the 

deforestation transition in Sikkim despite the absence of numerical 

forestry data.  Hopefully the study has illustrated for policy makers and 

others, the complexity of issues surrounding the deforestation 

phenomenon.  The final policy section has provided a map of issues for 

policy makers to consider before adopting any one specific policy or 

strategy.  Deforestation needs to be addressed in its entirety, 

incorporating all the interrelated aspects of the problem.  Strategic 

planning must be a joint effort of multi-disciplinary experts combined 

with the local people who utilize the resources.  Plans must be focused 

on long-term visions and goals and not just on solving immediate problems 

and disasters.  By addressing these needs, Sikkim has the potential to be 

a model Himalayan ecosystem which has maintained its biodiversity of 

species, unique and pristine mountain environment, enclaves of 

traditional cultures, and a sustainable economy.


Map 1:  Sikkim


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