Transhumance is derived from the Latin terms 'trans' meaning across and 'humus' meaning ground. It is defined as 'the seasonal migration of humans along with their sheep, goats, and other livestock to higher or lower pastures in the summer and winter season'.
These people are basically herders who live in the valleys and tend to travel to higher pastures in summer and come down to the lower valleys in winter. Transhumance pastoralism is a traditional practice in the Alps.
This tradition is practiced even today in Austria, Bavaria, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Apart from these regions, it is also practiced in Scandinavia, Scotland, Caucasus, Chad, Morocco, France, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Iran, Turkey, Republic of Macedonia, Lesotho, etc.
Importance of Transhumance Today
Transhumance is losing its importance today. People do not find it feasible to move along the valley. Few farmers undertake short-distance movements with their herds. However, transhumance helps avoid overgrazing occurring in lowlands. Also, it helps keep mountain pastures open.
Overgrazing leads to extinction of many species of plants, birds, and mammals. These species are dependent on open habitats and overgrazing makes them lose their food.
Species like the Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, European Sousilk, and Saker Falcon are the endangered as well as vulnerable species list. Therefore, there are many projects undertaken by various governments to help promote this pastoral tradition.
Patterns of Transhumance Pastoralism
Transhumance is seen in every continent and there are different patterns according to region. Let us look at them.
Cattle rearing formed the traditional economy of Alps. Even today, traditional transhumance is practiced in many regions of the Alps as mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Today, local farmers' families tend to move to higher places. However, they may tend to employ herdsmen to carry out the seasonal migration.
Transhumance in England is the opposite of what is seen in the Alps. The cattle in England grazed on dry hills in winter and then after the flood water receded in summer, they were taken to graze in the low lying flood meadows.
Transhumance is still practiced in Scandinavia. The forest pasture where cattle are taken to graze is called the seter or bod I bua. The livestock was moved to the mountain farms in summer. Then, the women tended to the livestock in summer collecting milk and making cheese. The livestock returned to the home farm in autumn.
Like the Alps, the traditional economy of Basotho is based on cattle rearing. Seasonal migration of the livestock is carried out by herdsmen. These herdsmen are employed by farmers who own large herds.
The Australian Alps have an old tradition of Transhumant grazing. The alpine planes are used for grazing in the summer as the lower pastures are poor. There is a distinct way of life related to Transhumant grazing. This way of life has become a major part of history and culture in Australia.
The seasonal migration of humans and their livestock is dwindling with the changing times. However, for some it is still a part of tradition as well as lifestyle. Economies still depend on this kind of nomadic pastoralism, which has environmental implications.