Farming in mountain areas (3)

In our third and final session on “Farming in Mountain Regions,” all the presenters brought insights into grassland or pasture management – ranging from Iceland to Central Asia. A transdisciplinary approach was emphasized in some instances. With focus on Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, several studies elaborated the various uses that can be made of pasture lands, the development of a classification of farming systems, key factors driving changes in land use, and an overview land tenure systems across several countries. An integrated social-ecological perspective is maintained in all the presentations.

Astrid Ogilvie introduced mountain farming systems in Iceland, with a focus on grass resources managed and gathered as a crop. Settlement took place around AD 870 in Iceland. The economy since then has been largely sustainable, despite severe erosion problems in some places. The period of study is c. 1700 to the present, and the primary research question asks what factors have influenced the success/failure of hay cropping in the past. Insufficient hay could lead to winter livestock loss, with consequent human loss. Documentary, archeological and natural science data and methods were used. Local governance, trade, and climate/weather effects are the most important elements of past land use that impacted sustainability. The project found that climatic conditions, historic legacies, the impact of tourism and changes in livestock management have contributed most to the observed changes in management success.

Moving next to Kyrgyzstan, Aliya Ibraimova offered an overview of how conflicts over use of natural resources often related to secondary pasture uses on highland pastures. Kyrgyzstan in 90% mountainous, and over half the land is pasture area. Around 64% of the rural population depends on private farming. Pasture use is seasonal, with winter, spring/autumn, and summer pastures. The people were nomadic pastoralists until the 1930s, when they were settled by the Soviet system. Independence came in 1991. All pastures exhibit some degradation, but most severe degradation is in winter pasture.

A typology of conflict is elaborated: (1) conflicts between pasture committees (PCs), pasture users and administration of territorial units; (2) conflicts between PCs, pasture users, and forestry lands; (3) transborder pasture conflicts; and (4) conflicts between PCs, pasture users, and secondary users. Conflicts with secondary pasture users include indirect uses (tourism, business, artisanal mining, bee-keeping), including disagreement between different/adjacent administrations over boundaries; and conflicts that result from extraction of raw materials or hunting by local and foreign companies on pasture territories. Recommendations suggested include: (1) that pasture users’ access to information on legal frameworks of resource use by secondary users be increased; (2) existing mechanisms of control over activities by secondary users be increased; (3) PCs be informed about facts of land transformation into other land categories, including delineation of the borders of these lands, and legal frameworks in regard to their use; and (4) to ensure transparency and to inform about the distribution of financial flows from payments contributed by secondary users of pasture territory.

Azamat Azarov then presented his work on developing a classification of farming systems for the assessment of sustainable development pathways in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan. The methods used to determine/develop a classification system was presented. Altogether, after the collapse of USSR, the collective farms disintegrated into crop and livestock small scale farms, c. 380,000 in total. Through a stepwise classification, potentially useful parameters (or indicators) were reduced to a set of explanatory factors including: (1) arable land; (2) farming production system (livestock); (3) common socio-economic indicators; and (4) household parameters. Subsequent cluster analysis led to final classification based on the following variables: altitude of villages, actual cultivated area, length of livestock pasturing period, and off-farm income. Two distinct farming systems were thus identified in the country: Medium elevation farming, based on crop and livestock production with long pasturing period with mid off-farm income., and a second higher altitude farming system. Cluster analysis was thus found to be useful for developing a farming classification system,

Factors associated with land use changes in agro-pastoral production systems in Kyrgyzstan were presented by Munavar Zhumanova. The basic question asked was why people are changing from farming to pastoralism. Often overlooked are farmers ability to adapt their strategies and actions, the decision making processes of farmers, and the factors leading to increased livestock numbers and/or changing pasture use. The aim of this study is to understand the decision making mechanisms of farmers, and to model the interactions of the influencing factors in regard to their decision making. One hundred twenty seven pasture users were interviewed, as well as several heads of PCs; semi-structured questionnaire were also used for individual and group interviews.

Two questions that pasture users need to answer regard (1) livestock and herd size (whether or not to increase), and (2) pasture use (to decide whether or not to seek intensification). Farmer goals were found to include: to improve standard of living for self or family, pass on traditions and way of living to the next generation, benefit from the security and fluidity of livestock ownership, maintain tenure of pasture land, enable to self-insure and make less risk-averse, and be able to allocate assets. Regarding their livestock and herd size, statistical analysis showed that farmers’ preference was much in favor of increasing herd size when the following conditions are met: increasing years of experience, decreasing area of arable land, increasing infrastructure, increasing off-farm income, increasing farming inputs, decreasing animal diseases, decreasing uncertainties, and increasing market price.

The final talk today was given by Sarah Robinson, in which she introduced land tenure systems (land reform) and pasture management across Central Asia. She explained how property rights influence whether livestock herding can continue to be mobile or not. Mobility influences the impact of livestock grazing. Mobility also influences the extent to which livestock can be productive, and mobility contributes to (and partially defines) culture. Historically, the Soviet state sedentarized people, but not livestock; migration was supported by the state; intensification enabled a reduction in mobility and growth in numbers. In the 1990s, all of this changed. Most animals then became privately owned; de-intensification of the pastoral system occurred, together with the deterioration of infrastructure, and a drop in livestock numbers in some republics. The above changes led to a loss of economies of scale, and a collapse in migratory systems. Livestock became largely concentrated near settlements, leading to land degradation. The new livestock owners are mostly smallholders. Small holders only can access remote pastures through collective herding systems. More recently, in Kyrgyzstan, a new law was introduced with seasonal pastures under the administration of local government – boundaries were developed nationally, administrative issues were covered by pasture user associations (PUAs); however such associations were not always representative and not always inclusive. Yet PUAs remain the only common property management system (as opposed to private ownership) in Central Asia. In regard to regulations: the general perception is that more regulation leads to better pasture management. However studies in Central Asia have shown that herders are rational actors, and in a regulatory vacuum there is evidence of a strong relationship between herd size and mobility, and between stocking rates and forage/water resources (even without formal regulations). Conclusion: poorly designed or excessive regulation may equally hamper mobility, or exclude certain users from access. Economic factors are also crucial determinants of mobility.

 

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