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Tien Shan Mountain Range Kyrgyz Republic- Central Asia and Desertification  RSS feed

 
Alan Leo
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Good Day Professor Savory,

I have had the pleasure of working and living in the Kyrgyz Republic, and I still have family there. The elevations are extreme and the majority of people are nomadic herders. The country is transitioning from one that is predominantly a herding nomadic economy to one that is attempting to become agrarian. For all intent and purposes grazing is accomplished in the mountain valley's with small ruminant herds (goats, sheep etc.), with cattle making up a relatively small portion of all grazing animals.

Valley grazing in the mountains is relatively stable; but the mountainous grazing zones are markedly deteriorating, and here comes the catch, because of alleged over grazing taking place in these zones. I have been in quite a number of discussions relative to this type of situation and I am having difficulty convincing my family, clan and neighbors about the benefits of aggregation of animals and the gains it would provide for their herds, as well as for the improvement in the sustainability of the deteriorating environment.

My two questions are the following:

1. How would you approach a situation where folks are adamant in placing the blame for the deterioration of the mountainous grazing zones and their apparent ossification and desertification on overgrazing. How could I facilitate a discussion that would provide the foundation upon which we could develop consensus from a micro trial, and then once this trial is successful, than move onto a larger or macro trial? Most grazing land is either family and clan owned or rented land.

2. Given the relative small size of herds in Kyrgyz, and taking into account that goats are not really grazers but are rather browsers, how would you seek to begin rehabilitating a small area to demonstrate the effectiveness of your techniques with a mixed herd consisting of goats, sheep and a very small number of cows (1- 2 animals) + a horse that is generally used by the shepherd/s?

Thank you for your consideration,
Alan

 
Allan Savory
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Alan,
I have had a good look at the sort of land you are working with using Google Earth and see there is an ancient pattern of terrible erosion and desertification over a long time as well as the recent deterioration. And I see you are well in that large area I highlighted in my TED talk where about 95% of the land can only feed people from livestock. You are going to need to do the best you can at the local level while others of us keep trying to get governments to understand the need for all policy to be formulated holistically. The policy there is as is almost universal in agriculture going to cause unintended consequences and violence ultimately – this can only be avoided by using the holistic framework in place of that policy makers there are using. Let me deal with your immediate questions first.

Placing the blame on overgrazing is universal and taught in universities, agricultural colleges, the range management profession and is the belief of governments, international agencies and the major environmental non-profit organizations (as I said at TED – just as we once thought the world was flat, we were wrong). So with this in mind we cannot blame the pastoralists for believing overgrazing is the problem. As you now know over-resting due to too few animals is the greatest cause of the desertification, and when the plants are at the same time exposed to those too few animals for too long the resulting overgrazing of plants only adds to the problem – both by the damage to those plants but also to the fact they can no longer provide the ground-covering litter. Rangelands cannot be overgrazed. Only plants can be and when they are on over-rested rangelands it is the straw that breaks the camels back and gets blamed. There are thousands of PhD dissertations but I have yet to see one that provides any scientific evidence that overgrazing is caused by the numbers of animals – all simply express it as a scientific truth despite no science to back it. These beliefs being so old and universal the best way I believe to have the pastoralists begin to understand is to have them do a simple demonstration for themselves.

Just have them agree on setting aside a small area (say 1 hectare). I am going to assume they herd their animals. So have them mark the boundary of that plot with stones or whatever. Agree to not graze any animals in it except for say two times in the year for one day each time – and when they do that to put a great many animals into the plot. Then just watch what happens and keep doing that and talking about it. They must keep all animals out of that plot in between, especially if there is no perennial grass at present. The pictures I showed in TED where the land had been bare and eroding for well over 30 years regardless of how much rain we got all became grassland almost immediately after concentrating our herd on them and your pastoralists will I assure you find the same. I have suggested a long recovery period here only because this is only a demonstration of land recovery using high animal impact and no overgrazing of plants. Later when holistically planning grazing it will be different – this is just to show everyone that too high a level of partial resting of the land is the main problem – the few animals wandering on it without bunching or herd behavior leading to bare surfaces often algae covered, capped, etc.

Do not worry about goats being mainly browsers – they graze and browse - and when you do a test plot as described you will find that all plants begin to grow better including the browse. The first ranch in the world ever to double the livestock numbers over the entire ranch was that of Dave Jack in S. Africa. When we began it was desert bushes and no grass – we actually measured 6 km from one annual grass plant to the next. We just began the holistic planned grazing and increasing the numbers as fast as we could. In that planning I based the planned recovery periods for all plants (browse that was providing the bulk of feed and for presently non-existent perennial grass) on the needs of the non-existent grass. My reasoning was that only perennial grasses with fibrous root systems could stabilize the soil in such low rainfall and not tap-rooted plants as are all dicotyledonous plants. We were severely criticized by academics and government officials and told we would kill the desert bushes that they had research showing needed 18 to 24 months to recover from severe browsing. We decided to use 30 to 60 day recovery depending on daily plant growth rates to balance the needs for livestock performance and land reclamation. And because this gave us on average very short grazing periods browse plants were no longer severely browsed and began to provide far more feed for the increasing numbers of animals, and perennial grass began to appear. It is now grassland and we did that entirely with small stock – and the critics faded away.

Only changing public opinion is going to lead to governments changing policies and this is universal whether there or in the UK, US or any nation. We are doing all we can to mount that public opinion change everywhere – no hope of addressing global desertification, increasing droughts, floods, poverty, violence and climate change without that. Forming policies and development projects using the holistic framework is far easier than we have done over centuries – the difficulty is entirely how we get that knowledge into institutions in any country. Suggest you keep informed on this through our web site as things develop www.savoryinstitute.com
As mentioned in other responses we have people from 10 countries attending a conference here in Boulder next month. Currently the closest showing interest to you is still far (Turkey) but things will keep changing now that information is finally going round “experts” and “authorities” since TED.
 
Alan Leo
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Dear Professor,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on Kyrgyz and your other Posts. I would have never thought that I would have been able to contact you in person and received such a complete answer. When next when I return to Kyrgyz I will be sure to address this topic and suggest a small demonstration project for them to evaluate the results for themselves.

I would also like to thank Permies for their foresight and your graciousness in both extending an invitation to you, as well as your thoughtful responses to our questions.

Alan
 
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