Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoralism in the Gorno-Badakhshan Region of Tajikistan

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoralism in the Gorno-Badakhshan Region of Tajikistan

Article excerpt


This report describes the major grazing systems and current problems facing pastoralists in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. Field observations and household income data, as well as a participatory assessment of living standards, are presented. The report discusses changes in livestock numbers and seasonal migrations that have occurred as a result of Tajikistan's independence from the USSR and the subsequent civil war there (1993-1997). Changing land tenure laws and adaptations of pastoralist systems are described, along with development initiatives that are attempting to ameliorate poverty among Tajikistan's pastoralists.

Keywords: development, household income, pastoralists, seasonal movements, stocking rates, Tajikistan


Tajikistan was the poorest of the republics of the Soviet Union and continues to be the poorest of the ex-Soviet Republics. It has experienced many of the same trends as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, including a decline in livestock numbers and associated reduction in movements. However, economic recovery has been retarded due to a civil war that took place from 1993 to 1997, geographical isolation and a slow pace of agrarian and economic reform.

This short article describes the major grazing systems and the problems currently facing pastoralist populations in the Pamir mountains of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). This region represents half the area of Tajikistan but is populated by only 213,000 people, just over 3 per cent of the total population of the country. It was among the most highly subsidised parts of the former Soviet Union and thus was amongst the worst hit when it collapsed. The World Bank (2004) estimates that GBAO is the poorest region of the country with 84 per cent of the population classified as poor.

The western Pamir consists of high mountains rising to over 7,000 m split by deeply incised valleys characterised by irrigated agriculture. The population is ethnically Tajik or Pamiri (comprising a number of groups speaking Eastern Iranian languages such as Shughni and Wakhi). The eastern Pamir comprises a cold desert plateau at about 4,000 m. This plateau, most of which is covered by the district of Murghab, is inhabited by a mix of Pamiri and Kyrgyz people and is the only area of the country where year-round mobile pastoralism is practised.

The information presented here is a result of observations made and data collected during a household income survey undertaken in 2003 and a participatory assessment of living standards undertaken in 2004 by the Policy and Evaluation Unit of the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, the major rural development NGO in Gorno-Badakhshan. It also cites sources produced for the Pamir Strategy Project undertaken by Berne University for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Western Pamir Agropastoralism

The grazing systems of the western Pamir reflect the agropastoralist nature of the rural economy and follow a transhumant pattern of movement. The animals herded include sheep, goats and cattle. Yaks are rare in the western Pamir.

During the winter months, animals are kept inside and fed on fodder produced during the summer months. Fodder, like all other crops, can only be produced under irrigation, which involves huge investments of labour, building canals to bring glacial melt-water to tiny fields. During Soviet times most food for human consumption was imported and thus the majority of agricultural land was used for fodder production. Agricultural land has now been fully privatised in the region (in contrast to other parts of Tajikistan), but since each family has on average only half a hectare of land, most of which must be used for potatoes and wheat, the amount of fodder available is very small and is the major factor limiting livestock production under present economic conditions.

In autumn and spring, animals are grazed close to the villages. …

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