This project, the Approach to Participatory Management of Natural Resources (APMNR), intends to develop an approach to manage conflict over natural resources and test it in two aiyl okrug along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. The aiyl okrugs of Ak Say and Ak Tatyr are located in the Batken oblast in Southern Kyrgyzstan, and border the Tajik enclaves of Chorkhu and Vorukh.
Relations between ethnic Kyrgyz and Tajiks in the APMNR pilot areas can be tense, and the tension has escalated to violence more than once in the recent past. Both the Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the area have few livelihood options since Soviet era markets dissipated and Soviet supported industry closed. The area generally suffers from poor infrastructure, and greater poverty comparable to other areas of both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. This is compounded by extreme weather patterns and reliance on labor out-migration and agriculture for survival.
Yet, there is significant evidence of interdependence between the Tajiks and the Kyrgyz in the area. The Tajiks and Kyrgyz often engage in trade of goods and services, and they share important resources and infrastructure. Pastures are among the resources shared and are the subject of this report.
Most Kyrgyz and Tajik households own at least a few head of livestock, yet, in the Tajik enclaves of Vorukh and Chorkhu there are no pastures. Livestock must be fed and taken to pasture during the grazing season, and for this the Tajiks must rely on Kyrgyz pastures. This trans-border use of pastures has been the cause of conflict in the pilot areas but also a force for change.
To address pasture use needs, the Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the pilot area make informal arrangements for Tajik animals to be grazed on Kyrgyz land. It is these arrangements, which take place in a context of unequal or conflicting power relationships, an environment of mistrust differing legal rights to and access to pastures, and a lack of transparency in decision-making and a lack of alternatives, which are at the base of much of the ethnic tension in the pilot areas.
The legal framework for the pastures permits the use arrangements such as they are. However, pasture management in Kyrgyzstan at this juncture is not static and there has been a recent change in the law which completely re-conceptualizes how certain pastures must be managed. Positively, in recognition of the importance of pastures in the Batken region and their role in igniting conflict, the presidents of both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have expressed their will for local solutions to the problem via a Joint Statement in 2008.
Partially because of the complex legal framework and also because of the importance of the resource, there are a number of stakeholders – institutional and non-institutional – who have an interest in the pasture use arrangements. Each of those stakeholders is also affected in some way by the other factors which also contribute to the latent conflict in the pilot area.
Among those contributing factors are:
- Target population have few livelihood options
Pastures are important as a source of income for both the Tajiks and Kyrgyz in the pilot areas. This is especially true for those households – the overwhelming majority – who have limited choices for earning an income.
- Lack of access to or insufficient quantities of arable land
Pressure on pastures is compounded by the lack of access to or insufficient quantities of arable land. Livestock owners cannot rely on cultivation for incomes, neither can they grow fodder for their stock and forgo grazing.
- Lack of transparency in and access to decision making
For a range of reasons, both Tajiks and Kyrgyz have little access to or input in decision making which affect them. In circumstances of lack of information and awareness on it is not unexpected that people resort to prejudice to explain why things are as they are.
- Communication between the Kyrgyz and Tajiks is limited
Similarly, people are prone to draw antagonistic conclusions about events when there is a lack of systematic and consistent communication between them. The Kyrgyz and Tajik communities and families live side by side, share the same resources, yet for the most part, cannot communicate with one another because of they do not share a common language.
- Despite interdependence of Kyrgyz and Tajiks, ethnic tensions remain
Evidence of significant interdependence between Tajiks and Kyrgyz suggest that conflict is not insurmountable but also provides more opportunity for the conflict-creating effects of non-communication and misinformation.
- Lack of borders between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
Border issues have resulted in national attention on the pilot areas. Lack of borders in some areas means that rules can be broken unwittingly, but it also fuels the perception of border encroachment – and thus loss of land – which exists in the pilot communities.
- Tension exacerbated by mixed settlement patterns
In light of the communication and information issues, lack of recognized borders, and differing rights to critical resources, the mixed settlement patterns of the pilot areas feeds latent conflict between the Kyrgyz and Tajiks.
- Other important resources in the area are similarly prone to conflict
Water, electricity and other important resources also have a history of being contested between the Kyrgyz and Tajiks in the pilot areas. This history forms the backdrop for tension over pastures.
Despite these factors which contribute to conflict in the pilot communities, the opportunity to mitigate and manage conflict in the pilot area is great. There is significant interdependence between the Tajiks and Kyrgyz, and it is clear that a few steps to improve transparency, information and communication, and refine pasture management procedures, and improve conflict management skills, has the potential to create change in the pilot communities, as well as in other areas along the Kyrgyz Tajik border which share similar problems.