The Afghanistan PEACE Project has travelled extensively in the central highland provinces over the last four years. Our overall observations regarding Afghanistan's public rangelands, is that they have undergone a major conversion to rain-fed agricultural over the last 30 years; and this conversion is still occurring at a rapid rate today. Most of the best livestock wintering-area rangelands have already been lost; and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) is unable to control this conversion for both financial and technical reasons. Obviously, livestock producers have been and will continue to be the biggest losers from the conversion of public rangelands and the long-term prognosis is grim. Economically, this conversion is undependable as crops may only be successful in one year out of five. Conversion also leads to desertification because it removes the valuable drought-resistant native forage. Moreover, the decline in public rangelands represents a direct loss of species diversity for the country.
The PEACE Project has provided valuable input to the drafting of the rangeland law. Through a collaborative process lead by the UNEP, the development of the law has been productive. The UNEP produced a draft of the law in spring of 2007 at the request of the MAIL. The subsequent draft was postponed until the winter of 2007-8 so that additional field-based information could be used to improve it.
The first drafts were definitely biased towards settled livestock producers and the PEACE Project offered a nomadic herder perspective to the formation of the law. We felt that livestock producers that were based in villages would be assisted by the draft law due to recommendations to delegate management responsibility to "community rangeland associations" for nearby and province-wide rangelands. Herders such as the Kuchi, who move with their livestock, In Takhar sheep graze on a remaining piece of native rangeland surrounded by rain-fed wheat. Rangeland being plowed up for rain-fed wheat in Takhar however, were not well considered by the first drafts of the law. Furthermore, the vague use of the word "community" did not make it clear whether herders would be considered "rightful communities" for those areas that they have been using for many decades. We felt the definition of a community might be more explicitly defined so that it includes all livestock producers that depend on the rangelands of Afghanistan. Similarly, the definition for "Community Rangeland Association" excluded mobile populations of livestock producers since they were not considered residents in areas they used on a seasonal basis; or while en route to critical grazing lands.
While no one seems to argue the role that livestock production plays in promoting economic stability in Afghanistan, helping nomadic herders to raise animals more effectively, by safe-guarding their access rights to public rangelands, seemed to be lacking in the draft law. Comments such as these and others have now been incorporated and addressed in the most recent draft of the rangeland law. In this instance, USAID funding is helping to address policy issues from the ground up. While focusing on the extensive livestock production issue, the PEACE Project is gaining insight into ways to highlight the economic role that this segment of the population plays in Afghanistan.
Public Rangelands are obviously a very complex resource to properly conserve and manage. On top of the complex relationships produced by the wars in Afghanistan, there are also some serious ethnic tensions and political motivations that will be difficult to negotiate as we attempt to establish the wise use of Afghanistan's rangelands, by all livestock producers. Click the following link to see a current Land Cover map showing the different types of rangelands found in Afghanistan.