Farmers regain access to traditional pastures, help protect land

suusamyr shepherds
Suusamyr pasture users. Credit: Jyldyz Kuvatova / UNDP

"Sandyk is a distant pasture which was used by my ancestors throughout the centuries," says Kanat Isabekov, a farmer from the mountainous Suusamyr valley in Kyrgyzstan.

"But last year, I had to stop using the pasture because of a car accident on the difficult road to the pasture. Now I let my cattle graze in a pasture nearby, which is used by all the residents of our village."

Highlights

  • The project helped open roads to additional 30,000 hectares of pasture land.
  • 51 kilometers of mountain roads and 56 artificial culverts were restored
  • More productive barley helped increase harvest from 55 hectares in 2010 to 550 hectares in 2011.

Pasture land in Sandyk can accommodate over 28,000 heads of livestock, however, poor road conditions and deteriorated infrastructure made it extremely difficult to access for many farmers in the Suusamyr valley and Chui province.

Mr. Isabekov was the only farmer using it until recently, when he decided that the risk of taking his livestock there for the summer was too high.

This year UNDP and the Global Environmental Facility supported the construction of sixteen bridges and restoration of the road to pastures in Sandyk. This opened up 30,000 hectares of pasture land – helping to reduce the pressure on pastures with easier access.

"We did not think that there would be such massive work done within the project," said Kulbuldiyev Saparbek, who can now use pasture land in Sandyk.

"Pasture land in Sandyk is the closest to our village, so I am planning on using it, as are many of the other villagers. I know that 50 to 60 families from other villages of Suusamyr valley and even Chui province are planning to use it next season."

The project aims to demonstrate cost-effective pasture management practices that reduce negative impacts of livestock grazing on land and improve rural livelihoods.

The project helped to:

The project is also working on attracting farmers to distant pastures by installing green technologies, including six mini hydropower stations and 18 solar energy stations. This equipment helps to improve the livelihoods of families and shepherds working in distant pastures.

"Now we have electricity for TV and radio, but most importantly, we can now constantly use cell phones – we don’t have to go down 40 to 50 kilometres just to charge them for several days" said Kydyralieva Sharapat, one of the pasture users.

Sharapat is a member of Maksat jamaat, one of the community associations of pasture users created with UNDP assistance. The jamaats represent people who are interested in using the distant pastures and who want to participate in project activities, including:

UNDP is also supporting local communities who are growing a dry breed of barley for cattle. The project helped them to purchase 11 tons of high quality barley which are more productive compared to those previously used by local farmers.

Within two years, jamaats went from planting 55 hectares in 2010 to 550 hectares in 2011 – due to the high fertility of the new seeds and optimal growing practices, which UNDP helped to introduce.

Kyrgyzstan is a largely agricultural country and proper management of its agricultural resources are vital to the economy.

The project is focused on Suusamyr valley – the largest pasture area in Kyrgyzstan. During Soviet times the pastures of Suusamyr were widely used. Lack of proper pasture management practices were compensated by heavy subsidies and support from the central government. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union infrastructure related to pastures have badly deteriorated. Thousands of hectares of distant pastures became inaccessible.

Lack of resources and clear distribution of responsibilities as well as absence of effective management mechanisms prevented local authorities from streamlining regular rotation of pastures in order to preserve their fertility.

Poverty driven farmers started using nearby and roadside pastures, as taking livestock to distant pastures became expensive and risky. In 20 years since independence, pasture use dropped by as much as five to six times in some areas, and the soil quality has degraded in half of all pasture land.