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The battle over Afghanistan’s highland pastures

Mining and overexploitation are damaging Afghanistan’s highland pastures and driving ethnic conflict between nomads and farmers.

The mismanagement and overexploitation of pasture lands and their conversion to rain-fed farmland is not only threatening the livelihoods of millions of Afghan people but will also impact on the restive region’s water resources and biodiversity.

And the impact will not just be environmental. Rangelands in the country – one of the most volatile in the world – have often become sites of ethnic and communal conflicts and will remain at the core of these conflicts in future as well, says a new research paper published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Rangelands constitute between 45 and 70% of Afghanistan’s land area.

“Livestock raising based on the extensive use of the rangeland resources is an essential component of the local farming system and a livelihood strategy for over 80% of Afghanistan’s nearly 30 million people,” says the paper by Aziz Ali and Yi Shaoliang, rangeland management experts at the Aga Khan Foundation.

Estimates by organisations like the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) put the number of nomadic pastoralists, or Kuchis, who depend entirely on raising mobile livestock for their livelihood, at around 1.5 million.

According to researchers, the high-altitude rangelands of Afghanistan provide a wide range of ecosystem services. They are critical resources for the country’s socio-economic development, habitats for biodiversity conservation, sources of water and corridors for cultural exchange.

Problems with these resources, the researchers say, would affect crop production in the lowland areas and the whole livelihood system, especially the food security of rural communities.

For the complete article please see The Third Pole.