As the world searches for practical innovations that can soften the impact of climate change, traditional methods of environmental management can offer inspiration. In northern Pakistan, local people have been growing, or grafting, glaciers for at least 100 years. Legend has it that glaciers were grown in mountain passes as early as the twelfth century to block the advance of Genghis Khan and the Mongols.
The aim of these activities is to “grow” the amount of ice at high altitudes during the winter months so that there will be increased water for crop irrigation from meltwater during the summer growing season. Typically, a dozen local men climb to shaded areas above the snow line in September and October with packs full of glacial ice (300kg) and pots of Indus River water (120kg), as well as other ingredients (saw dust, wheat husk, charcoal and salt). These ingredients are placed in a cave or depression and then covered with soil.
Since 2005, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme has been conducting research on the viability of glacier grafting at 18 sites in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. Because glacial ice grows slowly and can be influenced by a number of variables, it is too soon to present scientific proof of the success of the grafts. Local people suggest, however, that the techniques have been successful and that they present the only solution to late summer water shortages in their villages.