"If you treat your land as a mother with respect, then the good will come from this land" - Aigul Aydarbekova, woman pastoralist
Aigul Aidarbekova is a wife, mother, and herder living in the village of Cholpon, in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. As a person juggling a lot of roles, Aigul starts her day at 5 a.m. to cook, bring out the cattle for grazing, and milk their cows and mares.
In the view of nomads in Kyrgyzstan, the women are the custodians of the land. Even though women do not always have equal decision-making power as men, they remain the key to practicing sustainable pasture management.
Kyrgyz families who work as herders often rely on the women's traditional knowledge of land and ecosystem preservation.
Aigul grew up in a family of herders and learned from her parents everything that she practices today. Despite the fact that she was educated as a philologist, in 1992 she and her husband had to quit their jobs after the collapse of the Soviet Union and return to the farm to become herders.
All year round, except for the season when they need to go out on pastures, Aigul sows potatoes, grain and other crops, sells cheese and milk in order to feed her family, contributing at least 50% of the household income. Since her husband is one of the leaders of a herding community, Aigul sometimes participates in meetings and holds various meetings with the women of the village.
She received from her mother unique knowledge and methods of sustainable pasture management. One of the things she remembered well from her mother was the traditional method of valuing land called Zhurt chalu, which was used by herding communities before moving from one pasture to another. The method requires sending either a woman or a man on a horseback to scope the grass, soil and water availability. If everything is good, the herders are then allowed to move.
Aigul also sorts waste because she believes the land cannot be desecrated with residues that it cannot digest. She reveals that the water drained from processing cheese should not be poured into the ground as it contains a lot of alkalies and will harm the soil.
Like many herders in the area, Aigul has a knack for handicraft and wool manufacturing. She refrains from using chemicals when dyeing wool since there is nowhere to toss the waste to. Aigul instead uses natural dyes such as onion husks for yellow tint, rhubarb for red, and leaves for green.
Aigul believes that if you treat your land as a mother with respect, then the good will come from this land. She hopes that more and more women will continue to be the backbone of Naryn’s herding communities and pass down the traditional knowledge they’ve inherited to future generations.