Opportunities for positive change through grazing management in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan
Grazing Respond Index approach as a way to prevent pasture degradation and improve their condition in Kyrgyzstan.
Historically Kyrgyz people were nomads who migrated with their livestock in harmony with the seasonal changes of vegetation. Many changes in the last century resulted in the breakdown of this system and today degradation of the grazing lands is common, negatively affecting people’s livelihoods and well-being.
To curb the degradation of the land, the grazing respond index project was initiated by CAMP Alatoo as a pilot project in one of the seven provinces of Kyrgyzstan. The project assists shepherds to change how they use their grazing lands, which not only improves the condition and resilience of the land but also brings more income for the shepherds’ products. The hope is that this grazing management method can be adjusted and integrated on a national level, bringing multiple benefits for the people and the environment.
What we do
The project’s aim is to restore degraded pastures in the Naryn province by implementing an approach of rotational use of pastures. The approach is based on the Grazing Response Index (GRI) methodology, which is designed to describe the annual use of pastures, to interpret the influence of livestock grazing and to assist in the planning of livestock grazing. GRI is therefore based on general indicators for the annual use of pastures.
The essence of the method is to rotate the use of pastures within one season. In this respect, a user can divide a pasture territory into minimum four or more sites. To perform this method, it is necessary to know the exact number of grazing days, the vegetation-growing period and to conduct a simple assessment of the pasture at the end of the livestock grazing. GRI considers three key indicators that are closely related to the livestock grazing:
frequency of grazing
intensity of grazing
provision of opportunities for vegetation recovery
CAMP Alatoo started the project in 2016 with the aim of testing the GRI approach in close collaboration with local shepherds in the Naryn region. Here we present a story of one of the shepherds who was involved in the project. Before starting in the project, the local shepherd had been grazing about 500 sheep with some – but inadequate – management. He used to divide his pasture into a few plots, but the grazing was done in an unsystematic way, not allowing the vegetation to recover.
In 2017, the grazing scheme implemented by the shepherd was monitored for the first time. That year, favourable precipitation and temperature supported good vegetation growth, therefore the obtained monitoring results were not negative for all the plots. In 2018 the grazing schedule was elaborated and implemented by the herder and the final assessment of the grazing results showed that by implementing the GRI approach to the pasture area, the number of grazing days increased by 30% and the pasture condition improved significantly.
The GRI method is similar to the traditional knowledge of the Kyrgyz ancestors related to the rotational use of pastures. Of course, previously, no one kept accurate records of the livestock grazing days and documented the data, but the shepherds were well aware of the vegetation growth periods of each site and did not bring pastures to a dire state. However, today people do not recall this knowledge, and as a result, the pastures are degraded.
From a 4 returns holistic perspective, what could be potential outcomes at a landscape level in 20 years?
This Landscape has the potential to turn the losses from degradation into 4 Returns. The ENABLE team identified potential 4 return outcomes at a landscape level over period of 15 to 20 years.
Return of Inspiration
- Encouragement of the local community to improve and maintain the pasture ecosystems
- Encouragement for neighbouring communities to implement the same methods when they observe the multiple benefits
Return of Social Capital
- Mitigation of conflicts over access to good pastures
- Decreasing poverty level through increase of shepherd’s income from livestock
- Empowering pasture users with knowledge and tools for sustainable pasture management
- Creating new business opportunities, for example, tourism
- Rehabilitation of pasture infrastructure
Return of Natural Capital
- Improved pastures
- Carbon capture
- Prevention of soil erosion and landslides
- Restoration of biodiversity
- Improved water retention capacity
Return of Financial Capital
- Increased income of shepherds and livestock owners on a stable basis
- Improved access to markets when the products are of better quality
The holistic restoration approach that connects and combines three different landscape zones was not applied to the pasture management project from the beginning. The project, however, fits well into a larger landscape restoration approach where the three zones are interconnected.
Implementation of the GRI approach contributes to restoration of the degraded ecosystems and biodiversity conservation. Each pasture plot, on the basis of the GRI estimations, gets sufficient time to recover from the livestock grazing and trampling. In general, this has positive impact not only on the pasture condition, but also on the flora, fauna and soils of the mountain ecosystems.
Along with the biodiversity restoration the communities receive benefits from pasture ecosystems through systemic GRI based grazing.
Improved livestock condition due to the GRI tool implementation brings economic sustainability to the communities whose livelihoods is based mostly on the animal husbandry. Financial stability opens up new opportunities for rehabilitation of infrastructure including roads, bridges and watering points at pastures, new businesses related to animal husbandry and agriculture.
The Kyrgyz Republic is located in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, China to the southeast and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the south and west. Mountainous terrain and continental climate shape the mountain ecosystems with cold dry winters and warm wet summers. The project covers an area of 779 hectares in the Naryn province in Jergetal Aiyl Aimak (administrative territorial unit including several villages). The Naryn region is a remote area as it occupies the inner Tien Shan mountain range that separates the province from the rest of the country.
The province is inhabited by Kyrgyz people that use most of the arable land as pastures for livestock. The pasture areas are conditionally divided into upper, middle and lower zones or summer, spring-autumn and winter pastures. The summer pastures are usually located in middle elevation and in the high mountain valleys and gorges with high productivity. They are used in summer periods from one to four months and usually located at significant distances from the villages. These pastures are often hard to access due to lack of roads and bridges to cross mountain rivers.
Spring-autumn pastures are usually located at shorter distances from the villages on the foothills below 2,500 m a.s.l. The livestock grazes there in early spring in the beginning of the growing season, and in the autumn when the harvest is collected from the fields. The winter pastures are located close to the settlements, in areas of light or negligible snowfall and where the livestock can be easily housed. These pastures are often in very bad condition since they are overused and not properly taken care of by the shepherds.
Historically, Kyrgyz people were nomads with a tribal organization of communities. Due to low precipitation and extreme weather conditions, shepherds only used their pastures for a short period in each season and migration of livestock was connected to the seasonal changes of natural vegetation from summer to winter. During winter, shepherds were located in the more resilient ecosystems of the lowlands and moved towards more fragile mountain ecosystems in the upper zones during summer. The pastures were common property and their use and management were under the tribal councils that made sure that the same area was only grazed every third to fifth year.
During the Soviet time the nomadic herding lifestyle suffered radical changes. All of the livestock and land was transformed to state property which could be managed either by the former nomads or the state. Nomads were therefore forced to settle and started working at large collective farms. Pastures were now managed centrally through state bodies like the land planning institute, which developed grazing and management plans. The collective farms were responsible for implementing the plan, while monitoring of the pasture management plan used to be done by the land planning institute. Later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the existing pasture management system was destroyed. The livestock was privatized and each villager became a livestock owner, which ultimately caused a chaotic and non-systematic use of the pastures.
The increase in livestock numbers is one of the main drivers of ecosystem degradation in Kyrgyzstan. Over the past 16 years, livestock numbers have increased by 110% and in 2017, registered livestock units (LU, sheep and cattle) were 20.3 million. The livestock population currently exceeds the production potential of the land, which together with the lack of pasture management system has led to various types of degradation. It is believed that in Kyrgyzstan approximately 30% of the total 9 million hectares of pastures are degraded.
Winter pastures in the lower zone are considered to be in worse conditions than the summer pastures in the upper zone. This is because the shepherds prefer to stay at winter pastures all year round instead of rotating between seasons since they are able to save money on livestock drive and can more easily sell their livestock products at the winter pastures. Usually the shepherds settle along the transition roads or close to the villages where the livestock products can be sold to tourists, villagers and car drivers. Thus, considering that livestock farming is often the main and only source of income for the shepherds, staying at the winter pastures is often the more attractive choice.
Despite the threat of land degradation, the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic has not yet agreed to reduce the livestock numbers, since rural residents, which count for 65% of the total population, are highly dependent on livestock farming. Instead, shepherds are encouraged to improve the rotation of the grazing, which will in return improve the state of the pastures. Careful implementation of grazing management is however crucial, since the mountain ecosystems are less resilient to grazing pressure than the lowlands and consequently might be affected to a larger extent.
How CAMP Alatoo inspires and collaborates
Within the initiative, CAMP Alatoo closely collaborates with the local shepherds and pasture committees – executive body of pasture users union responsible for pasture management at the community level. In the beginning of the project, the most responsible shepherds and pasture plots suiting the indicators were selected to pilot the approach. Then based on the received results, the instructions on the GRI approach implementation was elaborated.
In the project’s future plans, it’s envisaged that the instructions on the GRI approach will be approved by the authorized institutions, i.e. the Ministry of Agriculture and the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry, and integrated on a national level. This means that the instructions will be integrated as a required methodology for pasture management for more than 450 pasture committees in all seven provinces of the country.
The neighbouring shepherds of the pilot beneficiaries got interested in implementing the GRI approach and the derived benefits. They indicated willingness to take part in the project if it will be continued in order to learn more about the approach. This is an additional positive indicator for the project results’ dissemination and integration at the national level.
While the projects main aim was to restore the degraded pastures in the Naryn province, the project has also contributed to mitigation of hidden conflict and improved livelihoods of households in the project area. A collaborator in the project, a local shepherd living in the Naryn province in Jergetal AA, had experienced difficult conflict with his neighbour for some time. While he used to leave his winter pastures and go to remote summer pastures during the growing season, to rest the winter pastures, his neighbour did not. His neighbour stayed at the winter pastures and used his land for the grazing of his own livestock.
This is a prevalent problem in the region since the pasture infrastructure in the summer pastures, including watering points, bridges and roads are often in depleted condition after the Soviet Union collapse. The neighbouring shepherd in Jergetal did not take his livestock to the summer pastures because his water resources there were polluted and because he lacked the finances to invest in a tent at his summer pastures. This lead to both shepherd’s winter pastures becoming degraded because of overgrazing.
In order to resolve the conflict between the two shepherds, CAMP Alatoo provided the neighbouring shepherd with a tent with the condition that he would clean his water resources at his summer pastures. No grazing in the summer period allowed the vegetation to recover more quickly and therefore returned a more nutritive value for the winter period. In addition to improving the conditions of the winter pastures, the actions also enabled a reduction in the costs of both shepherds for winter fodder and improved the livestock condition at the markets.