Safeguarding the Rich Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of Pastures and Grasslands of Armenia

Safeguarding the Rich Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of Pastures and Grasslands of Armenia

Armenia is one of the world’s renowned biodiversity hotspots. A huge part of that rich biodiversity is within the pasture and grassland ecosystems. Besides the provision of fodder for livestock, pasture and grassland ecosystems also provide a variety of other services, such as regulation of terrestrial water cycle, maintenance of soil productivity and carbon storage, provision of edible plants, medicinal herbs, etc.

Text : IBiS    Photo : GIZ

 

In Armenia, 70% of the rural population earn their living from agriculture. With natural fodder areas constituting around half of the country’s agricultural land, livestock keeping is the main agricultural activity, and pastoralist grazing has a long tradition. For the rural households in the Armenian highlands the production of meat and dairy products is not only an important income source, but also an integral part of the daily diet.

At the same time, natural fodder areas are highly valuable in terms of biodiversity. On a global level, Armenia is a vital center of origin of agrobiodiversity and endemism of wild relatives of cultivated plants. Being rich with the latter, the natural fodder areas are also an important constituent of the country's agricultural biodiversity. Besides fodder for livestock, pasture ecosystems also provide a variety of other ecosystem services. They are essential to the terrestrial water cycle, maintenance of soil productivity, and elimination of the risk of soil erosion as well as natural hazards and disasters. The loss of these multidimensional biomes would mean loss of their rich biodiversity and decrease of services they provide. Despite the significance of natural fodder areas, they are increasingly endangered because of degradation processes. The main causes are inappropriate pasture management practices. Pastures and grasslands are identified as one of those ecosystems in the world that are most affected by degradation and biodiversity loss.

Recognizing the need to build local capacities and to provide appropriate methods and tools for improved pasture management, GIZ, together with its key partners, including the RA Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development (now RA Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure), RA Ministry of Agriculture (now RA Ministry of Economy) and the Strategic Development Agency (SDA), has been promoting sustainable use and management of pasture and grassland ecosystems in the framework of environmental programmes since 2012.

35% of the territory and 59% of the total agricultural land in Armenia represent natural forage lands.

 

In this context, a toolbox for the monitoring and sustainable management of natural fodder areas suitable for the Armenian context has been developed by the environmental programme supported by GIZ. A Manual for Monitoring of Pastures has been elaborated allowing to analyze local pasture conditions for developing and evaluating management mechanisms. The Guidelines for the Development and Implementation of Sustainable Management Plans for Pastures and Grasslands provide instructions for elaborating community-based pasture management systems. Based on these, the pilot communities in the regions of Syunik and Tavush started to implement monitoring of pasture conditions and developed community pasture management plans, including rotation schemes. Due to these sustainable pasture management practices, the diary and meat production increased in the pilot communities leading to an average growth of farmers’ income.

Nevertheless, the community-adjacent pastures often reach a level of degradation where natural rehabilitation by rotation is no longer effective. Community representatives mentioned that they lack the know-how for improving these sites. In response to this issue, the practice-oriented Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Degraded Natural Fodder Areas (Pastures and Grasslands) of Armenia have been developed. The purpose of developing the Guidelines was to provide a standardized and comprehensive practical instrument for rehabilitating degraded natural fodder areas in Armenia. Accordingly, the programme has carried out a comprehensive piloting of the Guidelines to test their validity in Aragatsotn, Shirak and Syunik regions of Armenia targeting different landscapes and different types of degradation.

 

Pasture rehabilitation activities: before and after

 

Together with the local working groups the results of the rehabilitation activities in all pilot sites have been assessed. In one year, the vegetation cover on rehabilitation sites improved by 29-77% compared to the baseline. Particularly, high-quality edible forage plants showed a clear increase, and their content almost doubled in some sites. An analysis of the plant communities also indicated increased plant biodiversity in these areas.

Representatives of the pilot communities emphasize that the combination of rehabilitation measures and pasture management plans has led to positive results and improved fodder quality. The coordinated pasture management has also changed the people’s mind-set. The local population starts to understand that the overgrazing of pasture areas can lead to negative ecological impact, and that sustainable pasture management is necessary. In various ways, participation, cooperation and coordination have been the driving forces of success of the pilot projects on sustainable pasture management and rehabilitation. On the one hand, active participation of the community stakeholders in the decision-making and coordination of the local intervention has been crucial. This approach also helped to build capacities within the communities, which is valuable for developing future community-based projects.

The above-mentioned toolkits, jointly developed, tested and approved by the correspondent local partners, are now widely used in Armenia. The toolkit is thus an important contribution to establishing a common participatory approach in the sector of sustainable pasture management, which was characterized by a diversity of different and not harmonized methodologies in the past.

 

Pastures and grasslands provide around 75% of the food supply for the livestock sector.

 

Owing to the improved natural fodder base, pilot communities produce increasing amounts of high quality milk. However, because of the remote, mountainous location of the communities and the limited access to adequate markets, the improved milk production has not translated into increased economic benefits for the farmers.

Seyran Arakelyan from Brnakot settlement runs one of the few milk processing companies in the area that focuses on using locally produced milk, providing a steady income to few nearby supplying farmers. The company had identified the economic opportunity of catering to the increasing demand for high value dairy and cheese products. Thus, in order to increase competitiveness, the company, with GIZ support, obtained a pasteurization machine, which is indispensable for meeting quality and safety standards for dairy products. In addition, the company made its main investments into upgrading the production, administrative and storage areas. With the improvements, the company has considerably increased its sales of high value products and has even entered the international market, increasing its demand for locally produced milk. The higher and more stable incomes provide an incentive for farmers to continue and extend the sustainable management of local pastures.

Besides IBiS, there have been numerous programmes and projects in Armenia working on pasture management in recent years. The need to strengthen cooperation and ties within the sector at national level has been repeatedly highlighted by many stakeholders during relevant conferences and meetings. Based on their long-term cooperation, GIZ, the Sustainable Development Agency NGO (SDA), and the Community Agricultural Resource Management and Competitiveness project (CARMAC II) initiated discussions on developing a national coordination platform on pasture management. In July 2018, the Coordination Platform for Sustainable Management of RA’s Natural Fodder Areas: Pastures and Grasslands has been established. The members of the platform coordinate relevant programmes and projects, exchange experiences, implement joint projects, and formulate strategies. The fact that under the umbrella of the platform different stakeholders come together can be considered as a big step towards more coordinated efforts of improving the natural and economic conditions of Armenian forage lands.

Platform members and associates: RA Ministry of Economy, RA Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, RA Ministry of Environment, CARMAC project powered by the World Bank, SDA, GIZ, UNDP’s “Sustainable Management of Lands and Forests in North Armenia Mountainous Landscapes” project, Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development (CARD) Foundation, Environmental Law Resource Center of YSU, Armenian Territorial Development Fund (ATDF), Armenian National Agrarian University, and others.

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