In Kyrgyzstan, cattle graze using a smartphone. To maintain the unique forest with walnuts

Digital technologies help farmers in a mountainous village in Kyrgyzstan protect pastures from overexploitation and maintain a unique walnut forest. How it works – in the material of Deutsche Welle.

The ancient walnut forest occupies thousands of acres on the slopes of the Pamirs-Altai. Nearby is a network of mountain villages, collectively known as Arslanbob. The walnut harvest, which the locals traditionally start in October, takes several weeks.

Along the trade routes, partly repeating the caravan routes of the Great Silk Road, the harvest is transported to local markets in the Jalal-Abad region of Kyrgyzstan and further to Turkey, Russia and Iran.

But the state of the forest could not be unaffected by climate change, soil erosion and, in addition, overgrazing.

Through local initiatives aimed at preserving this unique ecosystem, the villagers are encouraged to make better use of both the forest itself and the surrounding pastures.

In the spring, Kyrgyz shepherds lead their flocks to the highlands

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The depletion of pastures threatens the depletion of forests

In winter, the animals are usually kept near villages. In summer, shepherds lead the animals to pastures above the forest line.

The drive can take several days and the high mountain pastures, such as the forests themselves, are no longer as plentiful as they used to be.

Spring in the ancient walnut forest

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As a result, shepherds are increasingly taking the animals to winter pastures closer to home. Therefore, by the end of the summer, there is not enough food in these pastures for the cold winter months and the cattle go to the forest for food.

The animals that clean the forest for food pick unripe nuts that have not been harvested in the fall and nibble on the buds of young trees and shrubs, making it difficult for the ecosystem to recover, says retired forester Khayat Tarikov, who has been monitoring the forest for many years.

But the flora can recover if the cattle are kept out of the forest between September and May, he adds.

Jailau – one of the summer pastures

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How digital data helps animals in the herd

The right to use pastures in Kyrgyzstan is granted through special regional associations consisting of village elders and shepherds. Every year Aziz Chirmashev receives leave to graze in the highlands.

20:00 August 30, 2021

With the arrival of summer, he leads there sheep, goats, horses and cows belonging to the inhabitants of Arslanbob – about 200 heads in total.

As the season progresses, the shepherd takes the animals higher and higher in search of fresh grass.

“Our pastures are rare,” says the man.

And to find out how poor the pastures are and where they are located, CAMP Alatoo, a Central Asian NGO, is testing a smartphone app that lets you know about pasture status in the area.

This family of shepherds moves the feast up to three times during the summer

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The leaders of the regional associations that grant grazing rights collect and transmit data on rocks, lichens, bare ground and vegetation. This information helps determine the time that animals can continue to graze in a particular area.

12:15 December 24, 2021

Within a year or two of observation, the condition of pastures is difficult to predict, says Zhyrgalbek Kozhomberdiev, coordinator of pasture and forest management projects at CAMP Alatoo.

However, five years of data is a good starting point for drawing conclusions about changes in an individual location or area, he points out.

The clubs will then be able to help Tsirmashev and other shepherds by sending them to pastures that have not yet been overexploited, the expert added.

Will erosion-resistant tree seedlings save the forest?

The Kyrgyz Ministry of Agriculture intends to produce seeds of plants that are in abundance in “healthy” pastures and to sow them in depleted areas, where, due to overgrazing, there is only vegetation left that does not interest the animals as food. With initiatives to restore pastures and improve the development of remote areas, there is hope that shepherds will not send cattle to the forest in search of food.

Specific measures are also taken to protect the forest. From 2021, rangers are looking for walnuts that have proven to be more resistant to soil erosion and rainy seasons, Kozhomberdiev said.

The way of life of a mountain village depended on the time of year

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The plan is this: pick the seeds of such trees, plant seedlings and plant them in the forest.

But this decision is not quick. The seedlings of such nuts must be grown in good conditions for an average of five years to give the first fruits. And in the first years of life, young trees are particularly vulnerable to hungry cattle.

12:19 July 9, 2021

The meager walnut harvest of recent years will serve as a warning to shepherds and villagers, the CAMP Alatoo coordinator hopes, and will make them “remember the cycle of the earth and limit the grazing of animals.”

Today, Arslanbob’s pace of life is determined not only by picking walnuts or taking animals to mountain pastures, but also by seasonal work, for which many residents leave for neighboring Kazakhstan and Russia.

But they do not abandon the traditional way of life and often return – with an even more obvious desire to preserve the ancient forest, says the forester. When young people leave the mountain village in search of work, many of them return, Tarikov points out. “The forest calls them home,” he adds.

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