Traditional knowledge for climate resilience: Collaborative strategies to mitigate vulnerability and enhance adaptation of pastoralism to climate change
“Institute for Sustainable Development Strategy (ISDS)” Public Fund
DATE OF SUBMISSION
Kyrgyz Republic (Naryn Province)
Nomadic pastoralism was the predominant way of life in the mountain communities of Kyrgyzstan for centuries. Often described by external observers as a primitive, but in fact it was a complicated economic specialization in the mountain pasture resources’ use with a huge role in the economy and livelihoods of mountain nomadic communities of Kyrgyzstan for thousands of years. Joint initiative of ISDS and Cholpon rural municipality/pasture users association integrated the practice of community-based conservation concept by involving local people/pasture users in decision-making around pasture/natural resources management. We developed collaborative strategies of pasture conservation using traditional knowledge with long-term effect to improve the well-being of pasture users, while preserving and improving the condition of land resources. The main outcomes of the project are that local pastoralists revived traditional practices on pastures.
community-based conservation; Climate Change Adaptation; Degraded landscapes and ecosystems; pasture management
Anara Alymkulova, ISDS; Urmat Omurbekov, Cholpon Pasture Users Union; Nazira, Community Development/Capacity Building Practitioner
The summary sheet for this case study is available here.
Nomadic pastoralism was the predominant way of life in the mountain communities of Kyrgyzstan for centuries. Often described by external observers as a primitive, but in fact it was a complicated economic specialization in the mountain pasture resources’ use with a huge role in the economy and livelihoods of mountain nomadic communities of Kyrgyzstan for thousands of years. It still has great potential for further development of the country. Our pastoralists have demonstrated high skills and traditions of mobility, flexibility and reciprocity and ecological understanding in exploiting the complex mountainous environment for centuries. Much of this traditional heritage, especially its spiritual, sacred and ideological aspects, was irretrievably lost during the Russian Colonial Empire and the Soviet Union, but there are numbers of local initiatives in the country on looking for new ways to comprehend and revive the traditional nomadic culture and spirituality.
Size of geographical area
Number of indirect beneficiaries
34 822 persons (Men: 17690 persons)(Women: 17132 persons)
Size of project area
Number of direct beneficiaries
8,723 persons (Men: 4,432 persons)(Women: 4,291 persons)
Geographic coordinates (longitude and latitude)
42.04929° N, 74.98168° E
Socioeconomic, environmental characteristics of the area
More than 93% of the territory of Kyrgyzstan is occupied by mountain ridges of Tien-Shan and Pamir-Alay. Mountains are valued for its natural pastures with total area more than nine million hectares. Out of all agricultural lands, 85% are natural pastures. 44% of the whole territory of the Kyrgyzstan is occupied by pastures. The average altitude of pastures is 2750 m above sea level. 1/3 of them is located on the altitude from 400 to 3000 m above sea level.
The geographical location and mountainous ecosystem forced the local residents to be engaged in cattle breeding since ancient time. Mountain pastoral communities have accumulated a thousand-year experience of year-round livestock farming without harming the environment. Due to the different altitudes, as well as the exposure of individual pasture areas, the vegetation on them occurs in different periods (from one month to 9-10 months), which historically determined the seasonal nature of pasture use. That is why local communities developed original traditional land use systems that have been substantially eroded over seventy years of Soviet Union through settlement, collectivization, and the industrialization of livestock production, followed by a chaotic transition to independence and the free market.
As a result, many pasture users stopped moving their cattle to distant pastures, refusing, in fact, traditional methods of moving cattle to pastures. Because of the useless attitude and unsystematic use, the process of secondary degradation of pastures has gone everywhere.
Seasonal pasture rotation: moving from one pasture to another according to 4 seasons: Djazdo’o/ koktom – spring pastures; Djailo’o – summer pastures; Kuzdo’o – autumn pastures; Kyshto’o – winter pastures. Every seasonal pasture was used only for one season. This allowed to soil and plants to fully recover during all other seasons.
However, for the last decades the pastoral stopped using whether the traditional or modern methods of grazing and pasture management. That resulted in degradation of pastures/range lands.
During the last 20 years, over 50% of pasturelands in the country became degraded and depleted. Increase in number of livestock and unsystematic grazing resulted in deterioration of grass, and destruction of soil and its fertility. Local herders almost forgot traditional knowledge and traditional pasture management, and harmed biodiversity and challenged unique mountain landscapes.
In order to address the degradation of pastures and explore the customary ways of pasture management, our organization developed a case study to demonstrate and further integrate the community-based pasture conservation approach through the collaborative strategies. Current ecological challenges as climate change and its negative effect on nature were also taken into account while implementation of the initiative. We focused on Cholpon rural municipality. It is located in the north of Kyrgyzstan in Inner Tien Shan Mountains in Kochkor district of Naryn province. 1900-4000 m above sea level. The total area of the territory is 52,928 hectares, of which 49,386 hectares are pastures. The total population is 8,723 people. The total number of households is 1,624. This is a mountainous area with a very fragile natural environment, with average winter temperature -15 °C and in summer +25 °C. Pastures are mainly desert and semi-desert. As a result of excessive grazing, local pastures are severely degraded, which leads to a deterioration of ecosystem. Majority of the local residents are engaged in cattle breeding and exploit the pastures for grazing. Due to poorly developed infrastructure and limited opportunities for employment, cattle breeding became the only source of income for local families that resulted in irrational use and overload of ecosystem for the last decade. Today the locals are reviving the traditional ways of preserving nature and consolidating wisdom to secure diverse ecosystem services.
 Rural municipality or Ayil (village) aimak is an administrative-territorial unit consisting of one or several villages, in which the local community exercises local self-government in the manner established by the Constitution and laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Main environmental and social challenges:
The main part of the farmland of Cholpon rural municipality territory is made up of natural pastures. Most pastures are clogged and prone to erosion, in fact, because of excessive grazing, local pastures are severely degraded, which leads to a deterioration of local ecosystems. Particularly alarming is the condition of the village pastures located around villages with an area of 9,500 hectares. These pastures are subject to excessive grazing, constantly trampled by road. In addition, pastures are strongly affected by climate change factors, so in recent years, the number of snow and rainfall has decreased, which has led to aridity of the soil, which affected the growth of pasture plants.
The local population views pastures as an inexhaustible resource and current pastoralists do not use traditional methods of nomadic movement and remain in the same place all seasons, which does not allow the pasture plants to recover, which finally led to the degradation of pastures.
Objective and rationale: including intended outcomes
The main objective of Cholpon municipality’ projects (2015-2019) is to empower local community members to increase their resilience and adaptation to climate change through revival and preservation of traditional pastoralism practices and collaborative strategies to mitigate vulnerability of ecosystems in Cholpon rural municipality.
The project achieved mid-term results that include revival of nomad pastoralism practices, development and endorsement of collaborative strategies of community-based pasture conservation and establishment of climate monitoring system.
In frame of the project, a Community Climate Change Adaptation Center was established to revive traditional systems and climate adaptation strategies by Participatory Rural Appraisal approach to map traditional knowledge and practices reducing the vulnerability of the local community to the effects of climate change, reveal the available tools of collective solutions for climate change, and pasture management.
We supported the local residents and pastoralists to deliver inventory and documenting cattle and pastures to develop pasture management and conservation strategy and introduce it into practice. The project fostered the revival of traditional knowledge and customs of nomadic migration to remote pastures and conservation of pastures. As a result of community mobilization and public awareness campaigns, the local community members and pastoralists learned how to balance between scientific approach, traditional nature management and pasture ecosystem. This result was achieved due to intensive series of learning sessions and practical workshops that equipped the herders with traditional methods of nomadic movement and do not remain in the same place all season to support plants recovering.
Joint initiative of ISDS and Cholpon rural municipality/pasture users association integrated the practice of community-based conservation concept by involving local people/pasture users in decision-making around pasture/natural resources management. We developed collaborative strategies of pasture conservation using traditional knowledge with long-term effect to improve the well-being of pasture users, while preserving and improving the condition of land resources. The main outcomes of the project are that local pastoralists revived traditional practices on pastures using, herders moved from degraded pastures near the village to the remote pastures on the Son-Kul Lake located on the altitude more than 3000 m above sea level. Before it was used only on 20% resulted in spreading uneatable herbs. Conservation started from 30 hectares (2016), then 900 (2017) and finally 9,500 hectares (2018) conserved based on traditional knowledge (TK)/practices.
Measurement of outcomes
Table 1: Landscapes Outcomes and Indicators of Wellbeing
People are aware of the values of biodiversity:
Both qualitative and quantitative indicators were used to measure the outcome, such as a number of people participated at community/village meetings. Several community meetings on a village and municipality level were conducted using participatory approach. Approximately, 50% of total population took part at the meetings in 7 villages of Cholpon municipality (about 4,500 villagers). Seven local schools of the municipality were involved in the project activities, over 100 school students were informed about values of biodiversity and were involved in the project activities. Qualitative indicators – changes in behavior of villagers and their role and support of values of biodiversity, incl. careful attitude to lands/pastures by using traditional knowledge. Measurement – observation of changes in behavior and attitudes described in narrative reports, meetings with villagers
Over 4,500 villagers are informed about values of biodiversity, particularly about importance of revival of rangelands/pastures based on indigenous/traditional knowledge and practices.
Over 100 school children learned more about local history, documented local legends and myths, now they become more concerned about pastures, wild and domisticated animals, have a sense of place in relationships with nature, with the past and elder generations.
A number of informational materials (posters, leaflets, booklets, etc.) were produced and dissiminated among local villagers and other pasture users associations around the country.
Local pastoralists started using the knowledge and practices inherited from the experiences of their ancestors to sustainably maintain their livelihoods and improve their resilience to the impacts of climate change.
People are aware of the steps they can take to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity:
Direct work with local schools mostly located in the remote rural areas, creation and maintenance of biocultural/ecological centers opened in schools (biodiversity values included in the school programs). Intergenerational transmission of biodiversity values/traditional knowledge from elders/custodians to younger generations. Capacity building of pasture users/herders/farmers on a district and municipal level on innovative and traditional methods of husbandry. was enhanced through a series of trainings/workshops, local festivals and exchange and study tours.
Biodiversity values/community-based range lands conservation issues included in local development plans in targeted areas of Naryn and Chuy provinces, particularly, 5-year plans of pasture/range lands use of rural municipalities.
A community multimedia center was created on base of a local school with a focus on revivavl of biocultural diversity’ themes.
Biodiversity values integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies:
Awareness raising campaign was conducted among national and local stakeholders about degradation issues of pastures through participation of our organization in National Coordination Council of National Pasture Users under the National Association of Pasture Users “Kyrgyz Jaiyty”.
Pasture degradation issues are taken into account by the national and local government and included in the local development plans in the targeted areas.
Degraded landscapes and ecosystems of pastures in targeted areas, along with their sustainable management, restored to ensure a continued provision of ecosystem services
9,500 of hectares (area) and several types of degraded ecosystems in the landscape have been restored
Livelihood and wellbeing of community members in the targeted areas sustained and enhanced through the development of livelihood enterprises in line with local traditions and cultures.
A small portfolio (Revolving Fund of Adaptation Practices) to support livelihood/economic alternative sources of income for local herders was created/maintained
Experience of Cholpon rural municipality on pasture management using traditional practices are scaled up by multiplication in other target rural municipalities in Naryn and Chuy provinces
3 rural municipalities in Kochkor district of Naryn province and 1 municipality used practice of Cholpon municipality
Detailed description of activities
- Conducting inventory and documenting the cattle and pastures to develop pasture management and conservation strategy and introduce it into practice;
- Revival of traditional knowledge and customs of nomadic migration to remote pastures and conservation of pastures by combination of modern methods of pasture management and traditional practices (Integration of traditional knowledge and practices into community-based pasture conservation);
- Community campaigns and public meetings to systematize traditional knowledge and popularize it among other pastoral committees in the region (Interaction of all stakeholders to enhance the adaptive potential of the local population, including youth, to climate change by creation and development of the Community Climate Adaptation Center);
- Integration of climate monitoring system based on the best practices of traditional pastoralism.
- Restoration of 9,500 hectares of the Kyzart pasture near the village by reviving the traditional practice of conservation of pastures.
- Reviving intergenerational connections and passing traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and ancient pastoralist culture to young generation of Cholpon municipality (young herders and local schools children) – Trainings for herders; Local festivals; Forum-Theaters with participation of local schools’ students & Street Theaters with involvement of local pasture users/villagers.
Results and lessons learned
Participatory exercises with the community to increase their understanding and assessing impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.
- As a result of the exercises, the following findings were revealed:
- Large concentration of livestock during herding led to a disturbance of the grass stand
- The replacement of the eaten vegetation with poisonous, harmful one
- Lack of climate monitoring system
- Pasture load and overgrowth of uneaten plants led to fall of productive mass of animals and the forage dignity of pastures, as well as pasture degradation and soil
- The population irrationally use pasture resources due to loss of tradition of nomadism and careful attitude towards nature
- The locals ignored traditional methods, culture of using pastures and zootechnical methods, which caused the degradation of pastures
Activities to integrate nomad pastoralism customary practices in climate change adaptation strategies:
- Participatory Rural Appraisal approach to map traditional knowledge and practices reducing the vulnerability of the local community to the effects of climate change, reveal the available tools of collective solutions for climate change, and pasture management
- Inventory and documenting the cattle and pastures to develop pasture management and conservation strategy and introduce it into practice
- Revival of traditional knowledge and customs of nomadic migration to remote pastures and conservation of pastures
- Combination of modern methods of pasture management and traditional practices
- Community campaigns and public meetings to systematize traditional knowledge and popularize it among other pastoral committees in the region
- Climate monitoring system is integrated and revised based on the best practices of traditional pastoralism
Enhance the pastoralists to use traditional practices to sustainably maintain livelihoods and improve resilience to the impacts of climate change:
- Local communities and pastoralists consider the balance between scientific approach and traditional nature management and pasture ecosystem
- The herders are equipped with traditional methods of nomadic movement and do not remain in the same place all season to support plants recovering
- They learned to determine seasonal pastures, depending on the mountainous terrain of vertical roaming, up into the mountains according to the traditionally worked annual cycle
- Collaborative strategies of pasture conservation using traditional knowledge have long-term effect to improve the well-being of pasture users, while preserving and improving the condition of land resources
- The approach fosters a balanced distribution of livestock in pastures during grazing seasons and be proactive to address climate change
However, it took time to enhance the local communities and pastoralists consider the balance between scientific approach and traditional nature management and pasture ecosystem. The herders could not understand the importance and rational of traditional methods of nomadic movement, and continued to remain in the same place all season and prevented the plants recovering.
Traditional knowledge and practices reduce the vulnerability of the local community to the effects of climate change
Local communities and pastoralists consider the balance between scientific approach and traditional nature management and pasture ecosystem
Traditional methods of nomadic movement (instead of remaining in the same place all season) will support plants recovering
References and bibliography
- Carol Kerven, Bernd Steinman, Chad Dear, and Laurie Ashley, Mountain Research and Development, 32(3):368-377 (2012), Researching the future of pastoralism in Central Asia’ mountains: Examining Development Orthodoxies
- Inim Ur Rakhim and Daniel Masenin, University of Central Asia (2011), A manual for shepherds
- About Priorities for the Conservation of Biological Diversity of the Kyrgyz Republic for the period until 2024 http://www.ecology.gov.kg/page/view/id/25
Web links of any relevant organizations and projects
Syn-Tash pasture users union (which replicates the practice of Cholpon municipality in Chuy province) – series of video
Anara Alymkulova holds Master of Social Work with concentration on Community & Organizational practice from Michigan State University. She has over 18 years of experience in community-oriented programs focusing on capacity building/outreach/resilience, and empowerment around social/biocultural issues.
Urmat Omurbekov is a head of a Pasture Users’ Association of Cholpon rural municipality. From 2011 to now, he has been a Chairman of the Pasture Users Association of Kochkor District of Naryn province.
Nazira Satyvaldieva holds Master of Public Administration from Academy of Management under the President of Kyrgyzstan, she is a national expert on community development and capacity building, has over 10 years of experience in organizational and institutional development of non-government organizations, strong expertise in gender mainstreaming and conflict management, and communication/advocacy.