Local Societies and Livelihoods
Employment possibilities are scarce and the symbolic salaries of a few dollars per months are often not sufficient to live on. The majority of the population is thus engaged in subsistence farming hardly allowing the generation of a minimal income. Poverty is a widespread phenomenon in the project area forcing people to overtax local natural resources and hindering any economic development.
In Kyrgyzstan around 50% and in Tajikistan even over 80% of the population (http://news.somoni.com) lives below the national poverty line of 15 USD per month. Employment possibilities are scarce and monthly salaries range around 11 USD on average. The most common livelihood strategy is thus to rely on the available natural resource base as main asset. Different forms of agriculture and livestock farming often provide not even sufficient yield for the family's daily needs let alone for generating an adequate income. Selling crops, legumes, fruits and livestock in local markets provides financial means to purchase clothing and additional foodstuff. Expenses for daily comestibles and religious or traditional ceremonies are significant. In the Eastern Pamirs 40-50% of the household budget are used alone for buying flour and in the Tajik Alai around 60% are spent on meat and flour. In the Kyrgyz Alai, 50% of the family's annual budget are spent for funerals, weddings and celebrations. Consequently, the household budget suffers great deficiency still during subsequent years. As reported by the local population excessive expenditures on religious celebrations are one of the main obstacles to overcome poverty. Substantial support to the households is provided by remittances from family members working abroad in urban centers, preferably in Russia. At least every third family in the project area depends on income sources from abroad. Cash flow is poor in this subsistence-oriented economy and barter trade still common even to pay electricity fees or taxes. Alternative sources of income and poverty alleviation measure are urgently needed since land size and livestock numbers are usually too small to live on. Furthermore, extension of arable land is constrained by bio-physical conditions and intensification of land use already shows its impacts in increasing signs of natural resource degradation.
The dissolution of the Soviet planned economy resulted in the loss of numerous jobs; many factories and state farms have been closed leaving highly educated and formerly well paid employees with no occupation or only symbolic salaries. Official unemployment rates in Kyrgyzstan with 7.2% and Tajikistan with 2.7% (http://news.somoni.com) are as low as in Western European countries. However, these figures considerably underestimate the actual unemployment situation, because they only encompass the people officially registered as unemployed. Due to low unemployment benefits many jobless people do not register and thus do not appear in the official statistics. Moreover, people engaged in subsistence farming usually do not consider their occupation as proper employment, since they were formerly employed in administration, education, health care, productive agricultural or engineering. Subsistence agriculture and livestock farming is rather seen as last option to survive. Unemployment, underemployment and poor job perspectives are main reasons for seasonal out-migration of young man to urban centers within the country or abroad. Creation of employment possibilities in the second and third sector with adequate salaries is of great need in the project area. A shift from subsistence farming to productive agriculture with local product processing may be a first step towards alternative income sources and new job opportunities.
Community Activities and Knowledge for Land Management
Within the past decade basic democratic structures at community level were established, arable land was privatized and the population was confronted with a higher degree of self-determination. The change from the Soviet planned economy to the mechanisms of the market economy posed great challenges to the inhabitants of the Pamir-AlaiMountains. Commonly, people are still waiting for external help because they are not used to take self-initiative for the improvement of their situation or to take responsibility for mitigation measures. Several community-based development projects such as hydropower plants, water supply systems or reforestation initiatives implemented by national and international non-governmental organizations lacked active participation of the local population and severely suffer from inadequate maintenance and management. Moreover, unsuccessful projects considerably decreased confidence and motivation for new initiatives. However, local empowerment, strengthening of collective work and responsibility are important preconditions to ensure effectiveness and longevity of mitigation projects. Therefore, proper education and training in maintenance and management, but as well adequate motivation and clarification of property rights are essential groundwork for community activities. Not only modern know-how for financial management and maintenance have to be fostered, but also traditional forms of resource use need to be recovered. Indigenous knowledge for land management and traditional livelihood strategies have disappeared to a great extent in these high mountain ecosystems during Soviet times. Present land use systems often lack adequate agricultural methods to increase yields and prevent degradation. Moreover, knowledge for using the full potential of the local natural resource base, i.e. to collect and process medicinal herbs, is no more present.