Climate Change Impact on Pastures and Livestock Systems in Kyrgyzstan

Submitted by María del Carre | published 21st May 2014 | last updated 29th May 2014
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Map shows levels of vulnerability to climate change in Kyrgyzstan


The Kyrgyz government with the support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has designed a new livestock umbrella programme aiming at helping the country to face not only today´s problems and constrains in the livestock sector but also future challenges. 

IFAD acknowledges climate change as one of the factors negatively affecting rural livelihoods and as one of the challenges that needs to be addressed. Negative climate change impacts are more severely felt by poor people, especially smallholder farmers and herders, who rely heavily on the natural resource base for their livelihoods. This programme focused on reducing vulnerability of poor rural households headed by women, which are among the most vulnerable and marginalized in this region. One of the main issues addressed was to define adaptation strategies to future climate conditions. 

Climate model simulations are essential elements of any adaptation strategy, as they allow better planning through the anticipation of future impacts. The impacts of the increased climate variability and frequency of extreme weather events on livestock and pasture systems is unknown in most regions of the world, making the recommendation of viable, practical adaptation paths even harder. 

The Climate Research Foundation (Fundación para la Investigación del Clima, FIC) and the Institute for Hunger Studies (Instituto de Estudios del Hambre, IEH) signed a letter of agreement with IFAD to detect and analyse the expected impacts of climate change in livestock and pasture systems in Kyrgyzstan, making preliminary recommendations on how to better adapt these systems to climate risks, while contributing to increase resilience among the project beneficiaries. The methodological process applied is based on the three stages necessary to address climate change adaptation:

  • 1. Description of potential future climate conditions; 
  • 2. Assessment of future climate impacts on pastures and livestock; 
  • 3. Recommendations on how to reduce climate risks for Kyrgyzstan’s livestock sector and increase the resilience of small-scale herders in Kyrgyzstan’s rural and mountain communities.
These stages must be developed on a local scale, as many of the adaptation interventions are defined at that level.
  1. Producing future climate scenarios for the project area:

The description of future climate conditions is based on the production of climate change scenarios. A scenario is an internally coherent (IPCC, 2007), consistent and plausible description of a possible future state of a set of variables. In this case, the scenarios describe future projections for temperature and precipitation.
The phases of the methodology used to produce future climate scenarios are as follows: i) application of the most recent climate models; ii) gathering of historical observations from available monitoring stations; iii) adaptation and application of a statistical downscaling methodology (FICLIMA); iv) verification process; v) validation process; vi) development of future scenarios.

a) Climate Model selection: Six internationally recognized Climate Models (CM) used by the IPCC in its Fifth Assessment Report were applied. They were developed in Canada (CAN-ESM2), France (CNRM-CM5), United Kingdom (Hadley Centre, HADGEM2-CC), the United States (GFDL-ESM2M), China (BCC-CSM1-1), and Germany (Max Planck Institute, MPI-ESM-MR). Five of them are Earth System Models (ESM), the most advanced Climate Models available.

The different ways that humanity may develop in the future with regard to greenhouse gas concentration trajectories were represented using up to four Representative Concentration Pathways, RCPs, also used in the forthcoming IPCC5 (RCP85, RCP60, RCP45 and RCP26, with RCP85 being the highest greenhouse gas concentration trajectory and RCP26 the lowest)

 b) Gathering historical observations: The input data were daily series of rainfall and maximum and minimum temperatures. Temperature data were collected from 63 monitoring stations and rainfall from 104 stations. The historical data period was 1951 to 2012 (although most of the stations do not cover the whole period). The majority of these stations are located inside Kyrgyzstan, although some are in neighbouring countries. Before using the observations, a set of quality control analyses were performed, including homogeneity tests, leading to the rejection of some stations (or some parts of the series) that did not pass the analysis. Finally, 78 precipitation and 44 temperature stations were used.
c) Adaptation and application of a downscaling methodology: Downscaling methodologies translate the low resolution information provided by Global Climate Models into projections of local-scale surface effects (rainfall, temperature), which are then used to generate the local climate scenarios required for developing local adaptation strategies (Cramer et al, 2000). The downscaling methodology named ‘FICLIMA’ was adapted to Kyrgyzstan’s climate conditions and then applied, to produce local scenarios. This methodology is based on a two-step analogue/regression method developed by the FIC (Ribalaygua et al, 2013).

d) Verification process: The methodology’s reliability in simulating the variables of interest is determined through verification. To do this, the downscaling methodology must be applied to an atmospheric re-analysis, which offers information about daily atmospheric configurations in the past. By comparing the simulated series to the real recorded data series, it is possible to evaluate the methodology’s potential to “translate” low-resolution atmospheric information into rainfall and temperature on a local scale.

The FICLIMA downscaling technique has obtained very good verification results in previous projects in different regions of the world. Nevertheless, a verification procedure is always needed in new locations to assess the suitability of the technique for each station to be studied.

e) Validation process: The validation process shows the Climate Model's ability to simulate the atmospheric configurations that determine Kyrgyz climate. The validation was carried out by applying the FICLIMA downscaling methodology to the Climate Model control simulation (historical experiment) to obtain series of simulated rainfalls and temperatures for each model. These simulations are then compared to the climate recorded for that period.

f) Production of future scenarios: Once the methodology was verified and the climate models were validated (for each variable—precipitation and temperature—and station), the methodology was applied to the models’ projections with the different RCPs for the whole 21st century. As a result, the simulated daily rainfall and temperature values for this period at every station under study and for each of the 19 model projections were obtained (one model with two RCPs, three with three RCPs each, and another two with four RCPs each).

   2. Assessing the future climate’s impact on pastures and livestock

This assessment was begun by gathering information through interviews with key persons and a documentation review. During the field mission to Kyrgyzstan, several meetings were held with representatives of public institutions and civil society organizations in Bishkek. The purpose of these meetings was to collect information related to: (i) the main features of pastures and livestock in Kyrgyzstan, (ii) climate impact on these sectors, (iii) people’s perception of climate change effects in Kyrgyzstan, and (iv) studies and research on the impact of future climate on pastures and livestock in the region.

The documentation review included technical documents, studies and projects from different sources (international, Russian...) concerning pasture and livestock management, climate risk management and climate change impact and adaptation in Kyrgyzstan and in neighbouring countries.

The next step was the identification of critical aspects of the climate that may eventually have a significant impact on the development and/or production, quantity or quality of pasture and livestock. The definition of critical elements and the future climate scenarios generated were the basis for analysing potential future climate impacts on livestock and pasture systems.

For the analysis it was necessary to build a set of indices based on climate information (rainfall and temperature) to measure how every critical climate element affects pasture and livestock systems, programming them using “R” language (programming environment for graphic and statistical analysis).

Once verified, these indices were applied to the scenarios generated, making it possible to determine the evolution of indicators over time and their implications on livestock and pasture systems through six different climate models and 4 RCPs (19 future projections in total). The use of different models and RCPs made it possible to quantify uncertainties when applying the climate change predictions to each of the critical value chain elements.

This method of translating rainfall and temperature into information useful for the analysis of livestock and pasture systems is necessary in order to evaluate the impact of future climate on them and make recommendations for minimizing unwanted impacts.

   3. Making recommendations regarding each of the critical elements to minimize negative impacts and reinforce positive impacts

Recommendations were discussed with local experts and IFAD staff in order to jointly analyse the potential future climate impacts on livestock and pasture systems and propose adaptation actions that minimize negative impacts and boost opportunities. The results of the analysis were presented at a national workshop in July 2013 with national experts and institutions, to assess proposal feasibility and suitability.

Vulnerability and hazards:

At the first level of altitude (below 1500masl) the main factor regarding vulnerability will be heat stress in summer. North of Chuy Oblast and east of Talas Oblast are considered areas of very high vulnerability, as average maximum temperatures will increase by 2,5º-3ºC, reaching more than 30ºC (pastures and livestock will face harsher conditions). The Fergana Valley is classified as a high vulnerability area, because average maximum temperatures (also reaching more than 30ºC) will increase less, from 1,5º to 2ºC. Main hazards at this level are also related to heat stress in summer.

Areas at middle altitude (1500-2500masl) are considered of low vulnerability because increases in maximum temperatures in summer will not reach 30ºC, so the vegetative activity will not be negatively affected, and in general livestock will not suffer heat stress. Milder winters will benefit pastures and livestock. Rainfall could increase in spring, autumn and winter, and remain stable in summer. With these changes, pastures and livestock will have better conditions, despite the increasing likelihood of water deficits in summer at certain locations (more detailed water balance studies are required). The most important hazards are river floods, mudslides and water logging in spring, and snow melting in summer.

Areas at high altitude (above 2500masl) are regarded as of very low vulnerability, because general increases in temperatures will benefit pastures and livestock, especially in summer and the likelihood of relevant droughts will probably be low even in summer. Flush floods and snow melting in summer are the main hazards at this altitude.

Levels of vulnerability to climate change:

The future hazards related to climate change will be:

  • River floods and water logging in spring. This hazard will affect mainly at lower altitudes. Rainfall will be more intense, affecting areas more susceptible to flooding, such as the north of Chuy Oblast and the Fergana Valley. Infrastructures would be more frequently affected, pastures less accessible and livestock could suffer more stress. 
  • Heat stress in summer. Livestock (and people) in north of Chuy Oblast, western Talas and the Fergana Valley will suffer more heat stress in summer, as maximum temperatures will be more frequently over 30ºC. More probable droughts will reduce the availability of water needed to face heat stress. 
  • Mudslides. At medium altitudes (and in a lesser degree also high altitudes) rainfall will also be more intense in spring, increasing the risk of mudslides that could affect the access of livestock to spring pastures. Areas more vulnerable are the Fergana Range, eastern Issyk-Kul, central Batken, eastern and western Talas, western Jalal-Abad and south and western Chuy. 
  • Flush floods and snow melting in summer are due to the increase in temperatures together with the increase in winter, spring and autumn rainfall (snow at higher altitudes). Livelihoods will be more affected by these hazards, because there will be less access to pastures, damages in infrastructures and so forth. Higher altitudes (and in some degree also medium) are more susceptible to this hazard, in the Fergana Range, western and eastern Talas, south and western Chuy, central Batken and eastern Issyk-Kul.

Adaptation options:

Once the anticipated impacts of climate change on livestock and pasture systems were assessed, the results were discussed with national institutions and international experts on pasture in order to identify adaptation actions and discuss their feasibility in Kyrgyzstan. Adaptation recommendations were organized to respond to the main identified impacts on the livelihoods of herders and farmers that depend on pasture systems. IFAD organized a national workshop to present the results and share the recommended adaptation strategies.

- Addressing variability and more frequent extreme events:

  • Setting up an Early Warning System (EWS) to provide timely information about hazards and weather effects on livestock and pastures. The EWS should be based on powerful weather forecasts for at least the next ten days, and should ensure that all the information reaches end users on time, and that it is usable and useful for them. 
  • Development of preventive actions to face more frequent climatic hazards (infrastructures, shelters for livestock, drainage, wind protection, silvo-pastoral protection of soils, etc.) 

Addressing heat stress and droughts in low and middle altitude pastures:

  • Improvement of livestock water supply systems and water points in the most vulnerable areas 
  • Improvement of thermal insulation in stabling facilities for livestock using local experience and inputs (shadow trees, straw, ventilation, etc.) 
  • Promotion of silvo-pastoral systems for improving humidity of soils and shadow for livestock in summer 
  • Improvement of vegetation cover / pasture productivity with native species / varieties tolerant to climate constraints (drought, heat stress, shorter latent periods, intense rains...) 
  • Support of fodder production in irrigated lands and haymaking in rain fed areas through seed production, storage systems, market promotion, irrigation improvement... 

Promoting access to and protection of spring, summer and autumn pastures:

  • Improvement and maintenance of infrastructures (roads, bridges, water points, shelters...) and access to services (energy, drinking water, etc.) to facilitate usage of spring/autumn and summer pastures and benefit from longer grazing seasons
  • Promote river basin approaches and practices for the protection, conservation and management of land and water resources (water springs, soil protection in the upper areas of watersheds, restoration of pastures, etc.). 

Capacity enhancement and research:


  • Climate change impacts on pastures eco-systems and productivity (hydrology, soil conditions...) at local scale. 
  • Practices that enhance adaptive capacities of pastoral communities. 
  • Selection of varieties tolerant to climate constraints. 
  • Creation of a grant system for researchers on CC adaptation. 

   Capacity Enhancement:

  • Raising awareness and training for integrating climate change into livestock and pastures management and policy making. 
  • Training of trainers (extensionists, service providers) and pasture communities on climate change adaptation and resilience practices. 
  • Training of researchers (Livestock and Pasture Research Institute, universities…) on climate change adaptation. Promote the academic exchange of researchers with foreign universities and research centres.