Livelihoods of Sherpa
The Sherpa economy is directly related to their mountain environment, and falls into distinct categories: field agriculture, animal husbandry, trade, and a recent innovation tourism and mountaineering. The Sherpa’s life in the mountain is harsh and demanding. The Sherpa people use surrounding forests and grasslands for their survival ever since they first migrated into Khumbu from Tibet. Natural resources gathering, farming and livestock activities is done based on the four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn.
The Sherpas of Solu have considerable latitude for agriculture and raise the staple maize, wheat and potatoes, in contrast to the more pastoral activities of Khumbu. Hence, KHUMBU, with its high elevation and short growing season, produces a limited range of crops. No household in Khumbu is able to subsist entirely on farming. The Sherpas of this region heavily dependent on potato as major cultivated crop which was introduced to the area circa 1850. At this elevation, where the climate is colder, only buckwheat, barley and potatoes and other seasonable vegetables are grown.
The Sherpa people lived as nomads, living as nomads, living from the seasonal wild vegetables and their yaks till the introduction of potatoes to the area. The traditional economic activities of the people were subsistence agriculture, transhumance herding supplemented by barter trade across the Himalayas with Tibet. They soon developed techniques for storing potatoes, fertilizing ground with human and animal waste with leaf litter and growing buckwheat and barley. This settled a relatively prosperous community of Sherpa people free from outside interference creating a unique character of their own. Khumbu Sherpas concentrate their efforts on animal husbandry, keeping Yaks and Naks and grazing them along the vast and grassy alpine slopes. Livestock herding is still common in villages where trekking and tourism has not become the dominant economic activity. The main livestock include yak and nak, cows and bulls, dzo and dzomo, sheep and goats, and horses. Yaks and Naks are the main livestock which are adapted to high altitude as far as 5000m. These livestocks are important for the livelihood benefits as they provide milk, hair, fur, hides and dung. Yaks and Naks provides wool, milk and meat.
Among the others, dung is the most essential and livestock products due to dual benefits for fuel and organic fertilizer for agricultural purpose. There are other animals such as Dzo and Dzom, Cows and Bulls and some of these animals are used in transporting goods for trade and tourism. However, in recent years that the livestock raising by Sherpas seems not only changing but also declining due to increasing tourism and globalization.According to an estimate, there were about 4,675 heads of livestock in SNPBZ in 2003. The population of male livestock such a dzo and yaks has increased in recent years because of demand for
pack animals to move tourist luggage.
Ever since Nepal opened for Tourism since the early 50s, Nepal became one of the best destinations for trekkers and become the major source of income for the country. Like the rest of the country, the economy of the area began to change rapidly after Khumbu began to attract increasing numbers of mountaineering and trekking groups following the opening of Nepal to foreign visitors in 1950. Tourism related activities such as climbing, portering, guiding and lodge management became dominant economic activities and now determine the way of life. However, slowly the tourism is now replacing traditional livelihood strategies such as livestock herding and farming