Status and Dynamics of Land Resources
Land resources can be broadly classified as soil, water, vegetation and wildlife. The state and pressures on each of them were explored in detail during the project development phase through integrated participatory assessments conducted at eight pilot sites representative of the geo-physical and socio-economic characteristics of the Eastern and Western Pamirs and the Alai Mountain Ranges which comprise the Pamir-Alai project area.
A summary of the major degradation processes affecting the different types of land resources and the extent and causes of the observed degradation are discussed in more detail below.
Land suitable for agricultural cultivations as well as for dense vegetation growth is very limited in the Pamir-Alai Mountains (see arable land map ).
The few areas with appropriate soils for productive use are under intensive cultivation and prone to various forms of degradation: water and wind erosion, salinization, decrease of soil structure and fertility decline.
Top-soil erosion caused by inappropriate irrigation methods and wind erosion due to sparse ground cover are common phenomena on arable land.
Salinization, another major process contributing to soil degradation, is frequently observed in the project area; high evaporation and water flow rates during irrigation cause increased salinity on the soil surface especially in early spring when arable land is still bare. High mineral contents of irrigation water provided by springs additionally increase the hazard for salinization.
Further, capillary waters evaporating from riparian areas or along water channels result in salt crust formation on top-soils. Leaking irrigation channels are a frequent source of gully erosion on mountain slopes and croplands. Water outbreaks from channels can even cause debris flows destroying plots and houses. Intensive precipitation events in spring and autumn can generate strong water erosion on sparsely covered mountain slopes and cultivable land.
Natural and human-induced erosion by water is probably one of the major causes of soil degradation in these mountain areas.
Scarce land resources call for intensive use hence demanding considerable nutrient input into the soils to sustain fertility. However, agricultural residues are commonly used as fodder, animal dung serves as an important fuel source since artificial fertilizer is too expensive to be widely applied and only minor quantities of natural fertilizer are available. Nutrient mining is thus a common phenomenon. The continuous shortage of nutrient input thus leads to soil leaching and decreasing soil structure.
The degradation of one of the major livelihood assets shows considerable impact on agricultural cultivation: decreasing yields despite intensive labour input demand the extension of arable land to even more marginal areas.
Land users often underestimate the consequences of soil erosion and are unaware of the accelerating degradation processes or do not have the knowledge and means to protect their land. Soil degradation is mainly perceived by the land user as loss in productivity and decrease of yields while its different root causes and processes are not considered. Therefore, effective measures to combat soil degradation are hardly applied at present.
In general, water is of good quality in rural regions thanks to the low population density, the virtual lack of industry as a potential pollution source and careful water management at village level.
Although agricultural and domestic sewage is dumped without purification into the water course, water quality is seldom an issue. Water for drinking and irrigation purposes originates mainly from melt water tributaries or springs.
However, water is a scarce resource and the semi- arid climate considerably narrows the potential supply sources in specific locations to brooks contaminated by sewage from irrigation or household activities of upstream settlements.
Moreover, although water is generally pure, its chemical composition or suspended load may not be suitable for certain purposes. Spring water with high mineral contents (hot springs) provides drinking water with bad taste and its missing suspended load is unfavorable for irrigated land. The glacial water regime defines clear seasonal differences in water availability.
Sufficient supply for all purposes is only possible with extensive water channel systems and adequate distribution management. Especially in spring and winter run-off is considerably reduced, but also in summer insufficient supply constrains hydropower generation and demands tight irrigation schedules.
Thus, rather water quantity and its distribution than the quality of water is a major concern in the Pamir-Alai Mountains.
Vegetation in the project area can broadly be divided into four types of land cover: (1) Arable lands cultivated with crops, legumes and fruit trees, (2) Dense forest lands with tree populations on riparian areas or on slopes with higher precipitation, (3) dwarf-shrub communities on arid high mountain slopes, and (4) pasture lands/grasslands with alpine meadow steppe vegetation (see land cover map ). Limiting factors for plant growth in these high mountain ecosystems are minimum temperature during the vegetation period and water availability. More precisely, not water stress itself, rather the absence of nutrient supply provided by water limits plant productivity. Vegetation is affected by various forms of degradation: decrease in area covered, reduction of vegetation density, decline in number of species, and degradation of single plants.
Cultivated crop and fruit tree populations regularly suffer of pests and diseases such as the Colorado beetle, wireworm, different fungous diseases, apple ermine moth, or scurf. Pesticides are commonly not applied and thus harvests considerably reduced or even lost. Shortage of energy supply forces people to cut orchards for heating purposes to survive very harsh winters
Forest lands have been tremendously reduced over the past decades: In Tajikistan approximately 90% of the forest area has been stubbed within the 20th century (IFC 1999), and in Kyrgyzstan forest cover has been halved during the last 50 years to gain agricultural land, timber and firewood (USAID 2001). However, accurate figures on the present status and dynamics of forestlands are difficult to obtain because detailed inventories have not been updated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the classification of forest area poses difficulties due to a missing consistent definition that includes or excludes sparse tree populations, bush land or shrub communities. At present, forestlands severely suffer due to uncontrolled collection of firewood and browsing damage. Riparian forest areas have been cleared to a great extent and transformed into short-grass pastures for livestock leaving no chance for their natural rehabilitation. Lack of resource use regulations, insufficient forest management and control mechanism as well as the high demand for heating resources and lack of accessible grazing area are main reasons for forest degradation.
Not only tree populations but also dwarf-shrub communities covering mountain slopes and arid high plains are under increased pressure. The disappearance of forest as an important resource and habitat forces people to switch to other supply sources. Sub shrubs such as teresken (Eurotia ceratoides) and wormwoods (Artemisia species) have become main energy resources in wide areas of the Pamir-AlaiMountains. In the thinly populated Eastern Pamirs collection of shrubs for fuel purpose results in the annual loss of vegetation cover on a estimated area of 350km2 or 11ha per household (Droux & Hoeck 2004). Moreover, dwarf-shrub communities constitute a nutrient-rich forage base for livestock. Fuel harvesting and grazing activities are continuously clearing mountain slopes and arid plateaus provoking intense wind and water erosion, land slides and finally the hazard of large-scale desertification.
Although livestock numbers (see livestock map ) considerably decreased with the dissolution of state farms after independence, pasture land shows clear signs of degradation due to overstocking. Especially village-near pastures are overgrazed since remote summer feeding grounds (in distances of 70-150km) are no more accessible for local herders. Roads and bridges to these areas were not maintained and mobile pasturing by truck is constrained by expensive fossil fuels. Still, households try to maximize herd size to improve their livelihood situation. The number of livestock itself is most likely not the main cause for degradation, rather the limited mobility of herders preferably focusing on village-near pastures and the shortage of fodder for wintertime. Pastures in the settlement's vicinity lack sufficient nutrient-input since dung is collected for the purpose of fuel or fertilizer used on arable land. The consequences of such intensive land use are a decline in productivity, reduced vegetation cover, rill erosion, denudation, salinization and even land slides. Grazing areas on former riparian forestlands are especially prone to degradation. Since the protective tree cover is missing riparian pastures are exposed to erosion by floods as well as to intensive solar radiation and high evaporation rates of near-surface water resulting in soil salinization. This table shows the major degradation processes, their degree and extent as well as main causes for degradation affecting the different types of vegetation in the Pamir-Alai region.
The Pamir-Alai Mountains are renowned for their biodiversity including endemic species and world-famous wildlife such as Marco Polo sheep, snow leopard or Siberian ibex.
Only few animal are adapted to the extreme habitat of this high arid mountain region: Tajikistan is home to 76 and the Pamirs to 20 species of mammals, whereas Kyrgyzstan provides habitat to 83 species, of them 54 alone in the Southern parts of the country ( http://earthtrends.wri.org ).
There is a great uncertainty about present wildlife stock in the project area. Therefore, available statistics have to be handled with care. A sharp decrease of Marco Polo sheep can be observed in the Eastern Pamirs with present figures of 3,000-14,500 compared to 80,000 in 1970, and Siberian ibexes are estimated to a population of 12,000-13,000 individuals (Breu & Hurni 2003).
Given the limited opportunities available to the mountain dwellers to meet daily needs and generate income, exploitation of wildlife resources is an economic necessity. Wild animals are currently a source of meat for local people and of trophies for foreign hunters. Private and trophy hunting as well as poaching are considerably decreasing wildlife populations. In addition, interference from humans and livestock results in the degradation of habitat and displacement of wildlife to higher altitudes and remote areas.
Grazing competition between domestic and wild animals, degradation of pastures caused by livestock as well as harvesting of nutrient-rich forage as fuel forces them to resort to marginal and less suitable feeding grounds. Although it is difficult to appraise the extent of wildlife degradation, intensive land use also of remote areas, ongoing habitat destruction and population decline by hunting activities however indicate that mountain wildlife is under severe pressure.
In Kyrgyzstan almost 20% and in Tajikistan approximately 55% of all mammal species are considered to be at risk and thus included into the Red Book dating back to 1986 respectively to 1988 (Shukurov & Sadykova 2000, http://redlist.freenet.uz ). The Red Lists with endangered species have not been revised since, but it can be assumed that wildlife stocks have not recovered rather decreased considering the people's high dependence on local natural resources after independence.