WWF Armenia and the Gnishik Intercommunity Environmental Fund signed a Conservation Agreement on April 18th, 2017 with the support of the Khachik Community in Vayots Dzor Region of Armenia.
“With the launch of this program we start the practical implementation of our policy of environmental corridors, so as our fauna can freely move,” said Artsvik Minasyan, the Minister of Nature Protection Armenia, who took part in the signature ceremony. “The communities located in this section shall be granted an opportunity; on one hand, not to damage fauna, and on the other hand, make use of and find own sources of income as to different directions of development, including establishment of new forests.”
As part of the ECF Conservation Agreement, 70,000 EUR have been provided to obtain agricultural machinery, which will help increase the productivity of meadows in the Khachik Community.
The Khachik Community is one of the co-founders of Gnishik Intercommunity Environmental Fund and one of the three founders of the community managed Gnishik Protected Landscape. They were selected as pilot for the development of the Conservation Agreement because the demonstrated a capable and trustworthy institutional setup to implement the conservation measures in form of the Gnishik Intercommunity Environmental Fund (GIEF). The GIEF was established in 2012, under the framework of the UNDP/GEF Project Developing Protected Areas System of Armenia (2010-2014).
Habitat suitability studies confirmed a high suitability of Khachik Community lands for Armenian mouflon and bezoar goat. Later on, interviews with experienced herdsmen, local hunters and edible plant collectors reconfirmed the area as an important habitat for other target species.
During 2016, a dialogue was established with the Gnishik Intercommunity Environmental Fund and the Khachik Community Council members. There was strong common understanding that current grazing practices are not sustainable either economically or ecologically. Grazing is regulated only by an annual fee per head of livestock paid to the community in order obtain the right to graze. Throughout the year (except for mid-November – mid-March), farmers release their cattle from the stables in the morning and they return to the stable in the evening. They no longer use the remote pastures due to inaccessibility and the lack of infrastructure (destroyed roads and shelters from the Soviet period, no water supply, etc.) and do not produce or buy enough hay to keep cattle indoors during winter and early spring (due to lack of capital). The result of this practice is that the grassland near the village is destroyed and eroded by overgrazing and trampling, while the remote pastures are undergoing secondary succession towards shrubs and small trees. In both cases this means a loss of pasture productivity and grassland biodiversity. Uncontrolled grazing also means that, although lightly, cattle (as well as herdsmen and shepherd dogs) are present across the entire landscape, causing disturbance to Bezoar goats and mouflons.
The following conservation measures were identified together with the community representatives:
- designation of pastures use and time period (calendar) of use by the farmers in order to utilise and maintain pasture productivity
- development of needed infrastructure (i.e. shelters, watering points) to use the designated pastures
- designation of hay meadows and their regular cutting to ensure enough hay for keeping cattle indoors during winter and early spring
- designation of grasslands and their cutting to improve their productivity and biodiversity, and to ensure accessible forage (in form of haystacks) for Bezoar goat during the snow-covered period
- operation of the regulated grassland management system by the administration of Khachik Community
- monitoring of the grassland management system by the Gnishik Foundation rangers
- designation of no-disturbance areas for the Bezoar goats and mouflon.
In December 2016, conservation measures were discussed with the local community to introduce, advocate, consider and finalize the long- term conservation agreement on pasture management of Khachik community. The draft conservation agreement was the developed, and it was discussed and approved by the ECF Management Board and KfW representative on March 1, 2017.