Planning and policies on extensive livestock development in central Asia

Working and discussion papers
January 1996
Carol Kerven, John Channon and Roy Behnke

The main objective of this review is to identify policy and research issues on range livestock production in Central Asia. This report reviews collected material in English, and presents a bibliography and abstracts of works in Russian, on extensive livestock production systems dependent on natural pastures in the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Pasture is the predominant type of agricultural land in these republics.

Migratory livestock husbandry - the traditional livelihood for many Central Asian peoples - persisted in altered fonns during the Soviet period of collectivisation and continues today to make an important contribution to the national economies of the newly independent states of Central Asia. Much of Central Asia, being semi-arid to arid grassland, is suited to extensive livestock production, but can only be converted to other uses through irrigation, which has proved to have major environmental costs. Many livestock management questions revolve around the seasonal variability of usable pastures, due to differences of altitude, cold, biomass production and pasture quality. These are recurrent problems in the dry desert-steppe-mountain ecology of Central Asia. Over the last century, several approaches have been applied to these problems. Prior to Soviet collectivisation, animals migrated in order to avoid areas of temporary feed insufficiency, snow and/or cold, and to take advantage of natural forage surpluses in other areas. Later, under collectivisation, livestock movement was restricted, cultivated forage substituted fo r the natural pastures previously captured through migratory movements, and winter settlements were imposed.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of agricultural markets has, however, subjected the partially sedentarised livestock producers to new pressures. The newly independent Central Asian republics are now in various stages of transfonnation, including in some cases, privatisation. Restructuring of the extensive livestock sector has three main components: legal changes in the status of grazing land, the distribution of formerly collectively-owned livestock to individual families or cooperatives, and lastly, the emergence of free markets for livestock inputs and products. The rapid co-evolution of these three processes means that profound changes are occurring in the livestock economies of households and nations, at a depth and pace which cannot be monitored by the normal state statistical services. The momentum of change means that policies and projects are being designed in an information vacuum.

There are questions about the commercial viability of irrigated fodder production and, hence, about the economic sustainability of livestock husbandry based on cultivated fodder. From a comparative advantage perspective, it may be more efficient on marginal land to grow sheep on unirrigated pastures, rather than growing wheat or fodder under irrigation. The environmental consequences of irrigation and concentration of livestock have also raised questions about sustainability. Finally, important regional markets for specialised livestock products such as wool have been lost to international competition, and it is unclear whether regional urban consumers - especially in a period of economic transition - have sufficient purchasing power to afford meat from irrigationdependent husbandry systems. These economic pressures are reflected in recent trends which have been observed toward 're-nomadisation' among newly independent pastoral households.

This review considers some of these questions through published sources and interviews with some of the key figures concerned with the extensive livestock sector in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Short visits were undertaken to these countries in June 1995, to collect material and hold

discussions with senior scientists in the desert, pasture and livestock research institutes' and with personnel in the EUrrACIS (European Union, Technical Assistance to Confederation of Independent States) agricultural projects, concerning plans for developing the extensive livestock sector. Material was also obtained from libraries in Moscow and in the UK.

Many issues arising from decollectivisation and a new market economy for land and livestock have not yet been closely studied, while policy-makers and

international donors demand guidance and infonnation. Important decisions with long-tenn implications are being made now in the context of a policy debate about the future organisation of agriculture undergoing transfonnation. An opportunity exists for policy-oriented research, in collaboration with local scientists who are experiencing reductions in research funding from the newly independent governments and are, simultaneously, trying to identify a new role for themselves. Local scientists expressed a keen interest in developing joint research programmes with Western-based range and livestock research institutes. This is therefore a period in which insights and findings on the processes of change at the household level could contribute to a critical debate.

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