Community approach helps nomads solve harsh ecological issues


The Altai Mountains in the extreme west of Mongolia are harsh, daunting and offer views of tremendous grandeur — sweeping grasslands overseen by snow-capped peaks, milky rivers that derive their startling color from glacial meltwater, and immense lakes that are crisp, clean mirrors reflecting vast and turbulent skies.

This is home to the Kazakh nomads of the Akhbastau (literally meaning "white springs") community, proud and dignified herders and horsemen who hunt with golden eagles and who live in "gers" (yurts) warmed by horse dung-fueled stoves and decorated with colorful doors and wall and floor carpets.

Life is both hard and beautiful here in the Altai Mountains, part of the Altai Sayan Ecoregion — one of the global 200 ecoregions identified by the World Wildlife Fund as priorities for conservation. It straddles four countries — Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan and Russia — and is home to rich biodiversity, endemics, as well as endangered species such as the snow leopard and the argali sheep.

The winters are long and brutal. Light snow falls even in August. Fierce gales combined with drought create a catastrophic phenomenon called the "dzud," when deep snows and bitter cold are preceded by dry summers. It is reported that the dzud, which are becoming increasingly frequent and severe, killed over 9 million head of livestock (or 20 percent of the total number in the country) in 2009.

The Akhbastau community consists of 12 households and they herd 2,300 head of livestock, mainly sheep, goats, yaks and horses.

The older generations speak of the clear environmental changes they have witnessed over the last 70 years. Wildlife numbers have decreased significantly and the pasture conditions are much poorer. The direct cause of pasture degradation is overgrazing. Climate change exacerbates the problem. Many herders have stopped traditional rotational grazing methods that involved moving seasonally in search of good pasture, leaving time for other pastures to recover.

To remedy increasingly adverse living conditions, in 2006 the families in the Altai Mountain region started forming herder groups, working with the Altai Sayan Conservation Project funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the United Nations Development Program.

"I think we have been able to achieve changes in herders' perceptions," said Amangul Sakeyi, the project's social mobilizer. "Through forming a community group and taking charge of managing a defined area of land, people feel much more responsible for caring for their pasture and wildlife resources."

In the Altai "Soum" (subdistrict of a province) where she works, five such communities have been formed, and they are engaged in wildlife monitoring activities, increasing livestock and pasture quality, and diversifying livelihoods.

Naranbek Ristan, a 23-year-old Akhbastau herder is in charge of wildlife monitoring activities. He conducts a monthly wildlife monitoring mission on horseback covering a 25-km route in their 6,000 hectare community-managed area.

Regular training courses are provided by the Altai Sayan Project to support the monitoring activities and information is collated and analyzed by the project supporting the Environment Unit of the Soum Government.

"Before the training and wildlife monitoring, wild animals looked rather similar," Naranbek said. "But now I can recognize individuals and enjoy observing the different behaviors of snow leopard and other animals."

He said that learning about wildlife is also beneficial for avoiding human-wildlife conflict as it enables the community to better predict wildlife attacks on livestock and take precautionary measures.

Forming a community group with other households has also helped individual herder families. They cooperate in wool shearing, making the process more efficient. Collectively they plan rotational grazing and hay making in preparation for winter months and dzud. As a result, the community decided to decrease the number of livestock as they realized that there were just too many for the grasslands environment to support. Quantity was reduced, but the quality of livestock improved.

The community has also established a tourist ger for "top-end" tourists who want to experience the nomadic life of the Kazakh people, see and photograph the breathtaking vistas, wildlife, geology, plants and spring flowers. The community charges about $30 per night for the ger and it currently attracts around 40 international tourists per year. Horse trekking is also proving a success. Fifteen percent of tourism income is put into the community fund and the rest is divided among the households.

"We now have more options and different income sources," Naranbek said. "And we are better prepared for harsh winters. The dzud impact in this community was minimal last year, which I believe is owing to our organization."

The Altai Sayan Project has also and importantly instituted the establishment of an environment unit within the local government structure. The unit comprises extension officers from different disciplines, including environment, agriculture, land use planning and education, and is expected to render continuous support to herder community groups. The project is also supporting the development of a community-based wildlife management law, which will provide incentives and tools for wildlife management.

"This is essential for sparsely populated countries like Mongolia," said Onno van den Heuvel, the program officer for biodiversity conservation at UNDP Mongolia. "The only eyes and ears in many wilderness areas belong, like their land and all that lives in it, to community people."
Midori Paxton is a regional technical adviser on biodiversity and ecosystems based at the UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Center.


Post a Comment

Facebook page

Powered by Blogger.


Advertising in Mongolia An Culture Editorial of the Mongolianviews education Environmental protection Famous Mongolians Foreigners in Mongolia Inner Mongolia Ivanhoe Mines Mongolia agriculture Mongolia analysis Mongolia and Australia Mongolia and Belorussia Mongolia and Cambodia Mongolia and Canada Mongolia and central Asia Mongolia and China Mongolia and Cuba Mongolia and EU Mongolia and Germany Mongolia and Hongkong Mongolia and Hungary Mongolia and India Mongolia and Inner Mongolia Mongolia and Iran Mongolia and Italy Mongolia and Japan Mongolia and Kazakhstan Mongolia and Korea Mongolia and Kuwait Mongolia and Malaysia Mongolia and Nato Mongolia and North Korean Mongolia and Poland Mongolia and Russia Mongolia and Singapore Mongolia and South Korea Mongolia and Taiwan Mongolia and the world Mongolia and Tibet Mongolia and Turkey Mongolia and UK Mongolia and Ukraine Mongolia and UN Mongolia and USA Mongolia and Vietnam Mongolia Banking Mongolia civic society Mongolia crime Mongolia diplomacy Mongolia Economy Mongolia Education Mongolia Energy Mongolia Finance Mongolia Health Mongolia History Mongolia holiday Mongolia in international media Mongolia Industries Mongolia Joke Mongolia law Mongolia LGBT Mongolia medical Mongolia military Mongolia Mining Mongolia Mining Developments Mongolia Mortgage Mongolia natural disaster Mongolia Petroleum Mongolia public announcements Mongolia railways Mongolia Religion Mongolia society Mongolia Sports Mongolia Stamp Mongolia telecommunication Mongolia tourism Mongolia Urbanization Mongolia Wild Life Mongolian Agriculture Mongolian Archeology Mongolian Food Mongolian Gay Mongolian Government news Mongolian History Mongolian Military Mongolian Mining Development Mongolian Movie Mongolian News Mongolian Parliament Mongolian Political news Mongolian Press Mongolian Songs Mongolian Women Mongolian Youth Mongolians abroad Moninfo Opinion Oyu Tolgoi Investment Agreement Photo news Press Release Rio Tinto Tavan Tolgoi coal mine Ulaanbaatar development Weird expatriates in Mongolia

Blog Archive