Central Tien Shan Mountains, Naryn, Kyrgyzstan

Naryn Province is a primarily rural, high altitude, remote region in the east of Kyrgyzstan in the arid to semi-arid Tien Shan mountains. In the Soviet era, much of Naryn was used for livestock raising as part of the Kolkhoz and Sovkhoz collectivized system of agriculture. In the 1980’s Soviet scientists began raising concerns about land degradation caused by the region’s agro-pastoral practices. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restructuring of social, economic, and political systems, land degradation continued and, according to some, has worsened. The abolition of the Kolkhoz and Sovkhoz systems and the dejure and defacto establishment of new land use and management schemes established since independence has altered the drivers of land degradation from those identified by Soviet-era scientists.

Currently, scientific knowledge of these new drivers and their impacts on land degradation and ESS is extremely limited. Contemporary Kyrgyzstani research institutions and monitoring stations are functioning at minimal levels and data sharing and links between research and/or monitoring to now localized land management decision making processes is nearly non-existent. In addition, governance arrangements at various levels have experienced numerous shocks including independence in 1991 and revolutions in 2005 and 2010. These trends are aggravated by negative climate change impacts on water resources, agriculture, natural disaster occurrence, and health in the country.

Upper Kaligandaki basin, Mustang, Nepal

The Upper Kaligandaki basin is located in the Mustang district of the Trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the northeast. The Mustang district has a population of around 15600 inhabitants, and a literacy rate of 57%. Although Mustang is not rated among the poorest districts in Nepal, it was chosen because of its relative accessibility, which is important for fieldwork, and the strategic links with local development actors.

The basin lies in the rain shadow of the Annapurna massif and receives less than 200 mm of precipitation annually. The climate of the district is generally dry with strong winds and intense sunlight. Winter temperatures regularly fall below -20ºC. The land resource of Mustang consists of abundant grassland and shrub species in slopes and valley bottoms. Apples are one of the major cash crops grown in the area.

The basin is valued for vulnerable highland ecosystems and the services they provide. Locally, water supply, agricultural production and the attractive landscape are seen as the dominant ESS. Water is a scarce productive and symbolic resource, and is highly contested between individuals, communities, and social groups within the basin. Disputes over water are related to domestic water use, water sharing, and the control of water sources. This ESS is strongly related to agricultural production, which is both a main consumer of water for irrigation, but also a potential threat to water quality because of soil erosion. Lastly, the integrity of the landscape is a major ecosystem service that benefit local people because of tourism. Melting glaciers; and soil degradation are major threats to ecosystem services. Several recent international projects have quantified glacier melt, but the impacts on local livelihoods remain unclear. Similarly, soil degradation may increase risks of floods, landslides, river cutting, reservoir capacity reduction, and water quality degradation.

Huamantanga, Lima, Peru

Although buoyant economic growth in Peru has generated positive macro-economic figures, this evolution has largely bypassed the remote communities in the Andes, where poverty pockets are widely present. Huamantanga is an example of such a poverty pocket. It is a rural community located in the Peruvian Andes between 3100 and 4600 meters of altitude, with the town located at 3400 meters above sea level in Chillon river basin, which is one of the three basin (Chillón, Rímac and Lurín) that provide water to the city of Lima, the capital of Peru. The Huamantanga community, whose main productive activities are agriculture and cattle-raising for dairy production, is under severe pressure to implement water and land conservation practices, not only to improve their own livelihoods but also to safeguard ecosystem services for downstream users.

The Tana Lake region, Ethiopia

Soil erosion decreases food production and hampers poverty reduction efforts in the highlands of eastern Africa. Despite intensive development efforts since the 1980s, erosion continues unabatedly and the already low crop yields are decreasing even further. Additionally, shallow soils are becoming shallower and are often abandoned. Lastly, gullies are swallowing productive cropland. Some of the lost soil fills up reservoirs and irrigation canals downstream.