Filed under: Climate change Development 2.0 Disaster response Environment Social innovation

A herd of sheeps grazing on a yellow land in front of their shepherd

Shepherd, Vashlovani National Park. Photo: Agency of Protected Areas, Georgia

Just over 35,000 hectares of protected land in Vashlovani national park, Georgia, is vulnerable to climate change and under threat of desertification.

The park is also used for winter pastures by Tush shepherds (about 45 farms), who have been grazing their sheep on the land for centuries.

Unsustainable use of pastures within the territory has resulted in speculation that if extensive grazing continues, vegetation degradation will continue, quality of pastures and floristic diversity will decrease, erosion will increase and desertification will spread.

The verdict is that pastures need to be used in a sustainable way, so the Clima East project (funded by the European Union) is working to:

  • Rehabilitate pastureland in the protected areas
  • Introduce sustainable land management practices to farmers
  • Increase the eco-friendly ways that they can make a living

If we introduce a sustainable pasture management plan, it is very likely that we will ask the shepherds to reduce the number of sheep that they graze in a particular area. But they’ve been grazing their sheep the same way for centuries, and I can just imagine they will look at us like we’re crazy!

We’ll be working closely with them, providing training and support to local farmers and sheep breeders on sustainable land use and grazing practices – so the request won’t come out of nowhere, but it still may be a hard sell.

The hope is that the farmers will manage the land in a way that is sustainable, helping to reduce the risk of anthropogenic degradation, and desertification.

We also want to convince some of them to gradually move to alternative pastures outside of the protected areas (uncertain land claim issues only serve to add complexity to an already complex issue).

We’re not only thinking about protecting the land, but also the farmers and those who live off the land.

Climate change is an abstract concept to most people – at least until you see it in your own life, in the present, with your own eyes. The problem is when that happens, it’s probably too late. So we want to get the shepherds and farmers on board before the beautiful National Park turns into a desert.

We already know that this is going to be difficult, and I think it can only happen if we can clearly show the benefits to the farmers and their families.

That’s why we were intrigued when we heard that UNDP wanted to explore behavioural science for development. We saw that applying principles of behavioural science encouraged people to be more energy efficient.

So before we start engaging the shepherds and farmers, we’re hoping to go in prepared with some approaches that will get them on board from the very beginning.

Can you help?

We’re looking for partners and advice, so please get in touch with us if you have experience working on behavioural change and sustainable land management in rural areas.

Or just let us know what you think! It’s bound to be a hot topic and we’re open to suggestions and opinions.

  • Michael Gamtsemlidze

    Drear Sirs,
    Only the use of EM (Effective microorganisms) technologies there is a way to treatment and rehabilitation of the land. Only the implementation of the new technologies in Animal Feed production, is a factor to change the traditional skills of farmers in this area. In this situation the use of EM technologies and the new enzymatic Bio technologies, will lead to reduce the risk of anthropogenic degradation and desertification.

    Michael Gamtsemlidze
    Director of Biotech Ltd.
    0032. 7a Shavgulidze str. Tbilisi, Georgia
    Tel: 0095 685 101012
    E – Mail: sale.

  • Vittorio Marletto

    …a good idea (taken form an old Sahel project) could be to fence off a portion of the area in order to show local populations the effects of excessive grazing on soil and vegetation… the fenced area will much easily get green and flourish again in a few months, demonstrating empirically the importance of correct land management to your target.

    • Tornike Phulariani

      Thank you for your suggestion!
      We have already planned enclosure experiments: we will fence several little sites (10X10 metres) and observe them periodically in order to determine the
      “self-restoration” potential (plus compare them to the similar sites nearby, which are grazed), however this might not be enough..
      Even if the territory gets green, the project will have to calculate food value of the area and introduce some restrictions and rules. The shepherds won’t be happy with it. In addition, there are territories with certain plants (e.g. Bothriochloa), which should be grazed (of course properly), otherwise it will “capture” the area, cover the soil and prevent the growth of other plants and finally become a thick mat of litter (old dry leaves) preventing any annuals of other valuable pasture plants to establish and grow. Additionally, this dry matter is extremely flammable..
      The issue is also to find a balance between over- and under-grazing, not “damaging” livelihood of shepherds.
      Thank you once again for your valuable input !

  • Dilki paliyeguruge

    it was so interesting to see ur effort. what i felt through my experince is that
    – this takes much time
    – at the same time , farmers need to see, experince the benifit of sustianable land managemtn through thier active involvemnt
    – as Vittorio stated farmers need to see the differnces
    -Apar that, scientific experiment will add advantages

    • Tornike Phulariani

      Thank you for your comments.
      I know it takes time, but what we are doing right now is that we are making socio-economic assessment of shepherds (livelihood assessment) and hopefully by the end of the survey we will come up with some recommendations regarding possible enhancement of shepherds income. Basically, now we want to identify the areas of their expenditures and income, barriers etc. which we could address..

  • Zhang Xiaohong

    I am very interested in your article. Grassland and adjacent wetlands are also in different stages of degradation due to overgrazing in Tibet Plateau, China. And we have restored wetlands to ensure the water supply and prevent the ecosystem degradation. And local government invested to fence grassland within their contracted grasslands with herders. Grazing is the only subsistence for pastoralists. Now tourism becomes an emerging income source. Control livestock population is one of key elements to prevent the land degrdation. In a word, alternative livelihood option must be available to the herders and remove some of them out of national park. And resettlement will be considered.