"Strategies for Kuchi Herders in Afghanistan"
IThe Kuchi are one of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Afghanistan. They have been subjected to decades of war, insecurity, ethnic tensions and several years of drought and bad winters. This has severely disrupted their traditional patterns of land use and the relationships necessary for mitigating problems for a risk-prone life-style. Traditional risk management strategies employed by the Kuchi including mobility, herd accumulation, shared herding labor, conflict management mechanisms and negotiation skill, etc. have been compromised due to environmental, demographic, economic, social and political factors. Consequently, the herding system employed by the Kuchi has become too risky to rely on as a sustainable livelihood. Risk can be defined as the possibility of occurrence of hazards or danger that can lead to loss or injury which could jeopardize people's well being. Risk management is the systematic application of management policies, procedures and practices to the tasks of identifying, analyzing, assessing, managing and monitoring risk to avoid losses and maximize opportunities. A focus group discussion (FG) with Kuchi shura leaders was conducted in December 2008 in Kabul to understand Kuchi livelihood strategies and to gain knowledge of the extent and intensity of the threat and risks that the Kuchi are facing currently. The intention of the exercise was to suggest ways to improve the risk management capacity and livelihood security situation for the Kuchi in Afghanistan.
The herds of the Kuchi are comprised of sheep and goats mostly, with a few cows. Their livelihood is dependent on a mobile livestock production system. According to the FG, the major risk factors that are rampant among the Kuchi include, insecurity and conflict, land conversions, drought, lack of access to water for both livestock and humans, shrinking access to summer rangeland, insufficient winter feed, animal diseases and cold winters accompanied by heavy snows. Insecurity, land conversion and drought were ranked as the top most important risks. Furthermore the FG indicated that historically, the Kuchi were the finest transporters and traders to facilitate commerce between south Asia and the Middle East. They also used to be fairly economically diversified. Currently, their participation in trade is non-existent and they have a poorly diversified economy outside of the livestock production. This situation leaves the Kuchi highly vulnerable to the combined effect of climatic variability and market fluctuations. In addition, poverty among the Kuchi is widespread. They are struggling hard to make a living out of a highly constrained, risky, and failing nomadic pastoral production system. It has been speculated that risk management interventions with a focus on human and social capital development could help to reverse the trend and to improve food security for the Kuchi. This report suggests approaches to develop and implement a Community Based Risk Management (CBRMP) pilot project to improve the wellbeing of the Kuchi. The pilot project will have a focus on investment portfolio diversification, conflict management, and social and human capital development. The project will be tried in 8 communities selected from 4 districts from two provinces. Selection of the pilot areas will be based on security, accessibility and likelihood of success. The project will be implemented in partnership with local and international development and research organizations. Collective action groups with savings-led savings and credit schemes would be at the center of the whole process. The savings and credit mechanism is expected to encourage herders to market more livestock and save the proceeds for future use. This will help to minimize losses due to mortality during drought and bad winter and to minimize the risk of overstocking and overgrazing. The credit system should also enhance portfolio diversifications into non-livestock economic activities.
Action research will be a major activity in the project to document the process, assess impact and assist communities to solve problems that arise from practice. It is expected that based on the outcome of the pilot project the scheme will expand to other communities, districts and provinces gradually with an eye to integrate a risk management plan in rural development objectives and strategies in all Kuchi development programs.