In mountainous regions with limited agricultural lands, rugged topography, and large gradients, the preservation of agrobiodiversity and an appreciation of traditional knowledge about food systems are essential ingredients of a sustainable future. Therefore, the University of Central Asia’s Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI) has begun to engage in food systems research in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Residents in the high Pamir region of Tajikistan have always depended on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods, primarily through nomadic herding practices that have developed over centuries. In recent decades, however, traditional sustainable management and governance structures have undergone varying forms and degrees of disruption as a result of regional and international socio-political shifts.
In 2016–2017, a regional comparative study was carried out to assess rangeland conditions and to determine the effects of livestock production systems and wildlife use on pasture quality and productivity near Zorkul Lake and the headwaters of the Panj River (also known as the Amu Darya, and in antiquity as the Oxus River). The study highlighted similarities and some differences in herding practices between two pastoralist sub-communities, differing mainly in seasonal livestock movements and pasture rotation. More pasture degradation and livestock health problems were noted in places where local pasture management institutions were absent.
Mechanisms allowing greater coordination of effort, such as pastoralist associations, also enabled greater community-level mobilisation and a wider range of benefits. These findings further emphasise the importance of acknowledging and supporting community efforts to practice sustainable land use, as the resilience of integrated food systems in arid and fragile ecosystems is nearly always based on both sociocultural and environmental elements.
Development research on food systems at MSRI, writ large, is now established and set to continue. This research includes the documentation, protection, and strengthening of agrobiodiversity and its utilisation—and of traditional knowledge and practice systems more generally. All these processes will be further supported by cross-sectoral collaborations and broad partnerships with mountain communities, other research institutions, and private-sector partners working together to promote more sustainable food systems in the mountains of Central Asia.
Foggin, M., Emslie-Smith, M., and Hergarten, C. 2018. Food Systems and Agrobiodiversity in the Mountains of Central Asia. Mountain Research and Development 38(2): 175-79. DOI: 10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-18-0048
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