"If you treat your land as a mother with respect, then good will come from this land"
Aigul Aidarbekova starts her day at 5 a.m. by milking her mares.
Her husband Urmat Omurbekov, takes the livestock to the pastures and then, together, they make kumys, a fermented dairy product made from mare's milk, sour cream and cottage cheese. “That’s how we keep our house in a positive way.” says Aigul.
Aigul was born and grew up in Ak-Uchuk village, Kochkor district. After finishing university, she started breeding livestock with her husband back in 1992. They now live in the village of Cholpon, in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.
Both of their parents and grandparents were herders, making them generational pastoralists.
In recent years, however, climate change has had a significant impact on the health of their pastureland.
“There is no rain and the snow melts quickly,” says Urmat. “We observe a growing number of arid lands due to climate change. Once the grass used to grow well, now it burns and it’s less nutritious for the animals."
“We have to adapt somehow to climate change. If we don’t respond in time and if we don’t make an effort, we will lose all our pastures and lands for future generations"
And so they did.
"Pasture rotation is the best way to let land rest and to restore the soil. The change of the pastures, in my viewpoint, has been very good for land improvement and animal fattening.”
But the community went beyond that...
They created fenced demonstration sites where pasture users can experiment with new grass seeds to see if they are more resilient to climate change and therefore more nutritious for the animals.
It wasn't easy for Urmat and Aigul to migrate, but since then they have seen a significant improvement in the health of nearby pastures.
Urmat is also the Chair of the Pasture Users’ Union in the Cholpon aiyl aimak.
A community-based union that includes 1,600 households.
ILC member, Kyrgyz Jayity has been working with Urmat's Pastoral Association and many other communities in Southern Kyrgyzstan since 2013.
Together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Kyrgyz Jayity and the Pasture User Associations, amended the country's current law in 2019 to give more responsibility to the communities to restore their pasturelands.
Instead of blaming pastoralist communities for overgrazing, the government of Kyrgyzstan recognised that their nomadic practices and migratory patterns are...
...key to counteracting degradation in the face of extreme climate events.
Kyrgyz Jayity is a part of the Central Asia Pastoralist Alliance operating in five countries. They are helping governments amend pasture laws that recognise the role of pastoralists in healing our planet.
Thanks to this partnership, Kyrgyz Jayity has been able to secure 9 million hectares of rangelands and engage 454 pasture communities.
With the new law, things have also started to change for women and youth who traditionally have never been involved in decision making.
“Before, women did not pay any attention to the topic of the pastures, since we did what our men told us. Over the past years, we have had a good opportunity to express our viewpoint. We are invited to the meetings. We express our ideas. We talk about what we need in migration and we receive timely assistance.” says Aigul.
“Kyrgyz Jayity helps us both legally and financially. They regularly conduct training and they guide us in the right direction. Since the law was new, in the beginning it was very difficult for people to get used to it.”
Today on World Environment Day, we celebrate the over 200 million women and men who protect and heal 50% of the earth's land surface.
Rangelands cover 54% of global terrestrial surface and are home to millions of people including pastoralists and herders like Aigul and Urmat, whose traditional practices and knowledge are key in safeguarding and restoring the local ecosystems.
In order to heal the planet, pastoralists must have access to their land, and their land rights need to be fully recognised - not only in Kyrgyzstan but all over the world.