Tagab-i-Keshem , managing the environment for future generations In Badakhshan a Province where outstanding natural beauty is combined with serious, on-going environmental degradation and widespread poppy cultivation, the valleys of Tagab-i-Keshem are an exception. Since 1998 the local inhabitants have banned the cutting of trees, the uprooting of bushes for fuel, hunting and fishing and have started rehabilitation of the environment. The valley has its own non-governmental organisation known as Maihan Rehabilitation Foundation which, together with the local communities has rehabilitated roads, constructed bridges, schools and a clinic as well as being actively involved in environmental protection. In addition, not only did the people of Tagab-i-Keshem voluntarily surrender their weapons to the security forces three years ago, they have also never cultivated opium poppies. The people of Tagab-i-Keshem have thus already demonstrated their community spirit, open mindedness and capacity to plan for the future with vision and commitment.
INTRODUCTION TO TAGAB-I-KESHEM DISTRICT All pictures were taken during the month of May 2005
Until 1994 Tagab-i-Keshem (black frame) was part of Keshem District which is located in the South West corner of Badakhshan Province . It is now a separate district. Badakhshan province, Afghanistan
Tagab-i-Keshem is mountainous with peaks up to 5,800 m and deep, narrow valleys. There are 67 villages in the district, all located at altitudes between 1,400 and 3,000m in three main valleys. The population is approximately 35,000 people. The valleys include substantial forest cover higher up the valleys.
In the narrow valleys irrigated land is scarce except on the valley bottoms and here wheat is cultivated. Families with land on the valley bottoms are surplus producers selling wheat to traders in Keshem. Other communities have to buy in almost all wheat consumed.
Further up the valleys, orchards of mulberry, peach, apricot, pear, cherry and apple are grown. Walnut, almond and pistachio are also cultivated. These fruit and nuts are of high quality and are sold to traders who come in from Taloqan and Keshem. The profit is less however, because marketing and on farm processing is poor.
In recent years, expanding population has forced communities living on the mountain slopes, to cultivate higher and higher up the mountainside. Farmers now climb up to 1,000m higher than their village for rainfed agriculture, ploughing land so steep that erosion is inevitable.
The majority of families particularly those living higher up the valleys, depend on livestock as their major source of livelihood . Animals graze all summer in high mountain pastures and are handfed in stalls during the winter. Animal produce such as wool and dried yoghurt is sold in Keshem but on farm processing is poor and the profits are marginal.
The people of Tagab-i-Keshem are mainly of Tajik descent. Community cohesion is unusually strong thanks to the inspirational leadership of Haji Awrang who has been a community leader for the past 20 years and is the Director of Maihan Rehabilitation Foundation. Under Haji Awrang’s leadership, community shuras are not only active in development projects but have also formed a central shura for the district.
The proposed development of Tagab-i-Keshem consists of two integrated parts. The first part concerns the strengthening of the conservation initiative by improving the management of the environment and ensuring the financial sustainability of the conservation effort. The second part concerns the development of the economy of the valley through support to existing livelihoods and providing livelihood diversification as appropriate.
In 1997, Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) established a tree nursery in Keshem and started work on awareness raising amongst communities regarding the environment. The communities in Tagab-i-Keshem then established their own tree farm (opposite) and by 2005, 1,500 grape vines have been planted on the mountain side, orchards, vegetable plots and tree nurseries have been developed.
NAC’s work encouraged the communities in Tagab-i-Keshem to preserve their forests, mountainsides and rivers.
At the request of the communities NAC trained 35 forestry protection officers. These officers were initially supported by the communities and whilst under training by NAC. For the past three years they have, again, been supported by the communities. Their duties include continuous awareness raising amongst communities through regular meetings. As a result, although ploughing of upland mountainsides still occurs, uprooting bushes for fuel, cutting wood from the forests and the grazing of animals in the forest, hunting and fishing have all been banned by the communities themselves for more than five years.
As a result of these conservation efforts, the mountain forest is naturally regenerating and a large part of the pistachio forest (more than 2,500 trees) is growing vigorously for the first time in many years. The mountainsides have increased groundcover and wild life has returned particularly to the forest.
Tagab-i-Keshem’s vision for the future of conservation
Conservation efforts should be strengthened through expert advice based on an assessment of achievements so far and a baseline survey
Through community based, participatory processes, long term plans for conservation should be developed
The conservation process should be made sustainable within a reasonable time period through revenue generating projects using the advantages brought about by the conservation eg. tourism, sale of natural products (eg. trout, venison) etc.
Tagab-i-Keshem is, for example, a prime location for tourism for both expatriates and urban Afghans. Not only is the scenery spectacular even by the standards of Afghanistan …
higher up the mountains are reportedly Siberian ibex, Urial sheep, lynx, and snow leopard. Continued conservation will increase the number of wild animals which could become a major attraction for tourists, controlled hunting etc and a major asset for Afghanistan.
In spring and summer the mountain sides are covered with a multitude of wild flowers.
The District is a trekking dream whatever the means of transport : pony, horse, donkey or walking. The tradition of picnicking is also already well established.
.. a walk is guaranteed to bring plenty of surprise meetings of a life style which has disappeared from many other countries….
Traditions of hospitality ensure that visitors are welcomed by all and local produce is full of goodness and flavour.
Future tourism development could also include rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing, white water rafting, canoeing, …
Artistic talent is plentiful with for example, beautiful paintings in mosques. There are also Buddhist remains and ancient paintings in caves which are readily accessible on foot.
229km of roads have been rehabilitated by the communities using WFP funding and the management of Maihan Development Foundation, 18km of new roads are presently under construction
25 road bridges and 13 foot bridges have been constructed, and 4 new bridges are under construction
A clinic was constructed in 1995 providing health care for the first time in the valley. An average of 800 patients receive medical advice per month. (350 male, 250 female and 200 under 5 years old).
There are a total of 15 schools, 7 girls, 6 boys, 2 mixed – but only 5 have school buildings, all of which have been constructed by the communities with food for work support.
Development of the new District centre will strengthen the performance of local authorities and encourage local trade. With the allocation of land, young families will be able to construct their own homes. Centre for small businesses under construction Temporary District headquarters The Ministry of Urban Development and Housing has approved the design and drawings for the establishment of a new district centre on the site of an ancient Buddhist city.
Development of the valley has been achieved through community effort and participatory planning at all stages.
Finally, the people of Tagab-i-Keshem are united in their statement that ‘each and everyone of us living in the valley wish for a better future and are willing to join forces around a common plan’.
With support and encouragement life can only improve for the communities of Tagab-i-Keshem