Employment and Income  
Environmental Knowledge  
Traditional Skills  

Click on arrows
to find more
these themes












16 June 2001


Laili has been a shpun (herder; usually used to refer to those who spend winter in the pastures taking care of the yaks) since he was 15 years old. He has much experience of this occupation and knows Shimshal’s numerous pastures well. The interview focuses entirely on his experience, knowledge and perceptions as a herder. In addition to detailed descriptions of grazing patterns throughout the year, Laili has interesting comments and opinions to share on the current problems in the pastures relating to grazing management and the increasing yak population. He also has ideas on solutions to these problems.

He would like the women who graze the livestock in Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pastures) during the summer to avoid using some of the pastures, which he feels should be reserved for the yaks to use in the winter. He claims there is a need to construct more irrigation channels in the pastures to encourage the growth of grass in barren areas. He describes a difference of opinion on this issue between the villagers and the shepherds: “Five years ago, we the shpuns, had decided to construct the channel for the dasht (barren land) of Sherbuloq. But unfortunately our villagers refused [to allow] us to do that. But I suggest that something should be done for this purpose, because it would be very beneficial for us in the coming years. Our villagers didn’t know anything about these pastures. In the year of starvation they blamed the shpuns – why we didn’t take the yaks to a pasture called Mustagh – and they said that there is enough grass [there] for 15 days. That year I was with Shumbi, Hidayat, Salamat etc. We had checked all the pastures where we can protect our yaks from starvation. We took our yaks to Mustagh for grazing but it was enough for seven or eight days only.”

Despite problems of over-grazing and the large yak population, Laili believes the villagers should continue to focus on yaks as a source of income. But he suggests that they need to cull or sell more every year to ensure the long-term maintenance of this system of production: “As I told you they [yaks] have so many advantages, like we can sell them and the income can be saved in a bank for the education of our children. And on the other hand the production should be continued according to our limitations, like the grass in our pastures. The birth rate per year is 200 yaks. So we should sell at least 100 yaks per year to get the benefit, otherwise this productivity will be useless for all of us.”

detailed breakdown

You will need a password from Panos to view the full transcript of the interview. To apply for a password, click here.

Once you have a password, click here to go to the beginning of the transcript. You can also click on any section of the breakdown of content below and go straight to the corresponding part of the transcript.


Section 1-3  He started working as a shepherd at the age of 15. Today the work is more difficult because people have more livestock. Reasons for becoming a shepherd: “we had not been recruited in the army and we had no other means of [making a] living. So I adopted this, because it is our tradition and it is a source of livelihood for us. We are getting our basic needs of our daily life like meat, butter, cheese, and milk from these animals...” Detailed description of the system of grazing the yaks in different pastures throughout the year. Need to overcome difficulties by working to cultivate more suitable pasture, to prevent yaks starving.
Section 3-5  Yak population: “Presently we are having 800 yaks… it never reaches to 1000. The reason is lack of grass and heavy snowfall in the winter.Possible strategy for overcoming some of the problems: “…we must go to those valleys in autumn as soon as possible and spend as much time as we can. After shearing the hairs of our yaks we must move our yaks from Pamir to Shirilik for grazing and this way we can save the grass of the Pamir area for the winter season.” Grazing is very difficult in the winter months. Pros and cons of two different systems of grazing yaks: the “turn system” where each household has to contribute labour; and the system where only those households with large numbers of yaks are involved. Summer grazing of livestock is done by women who must be careful not to graze in those pastures reserved for winter grazing. Laili explains: “Nowadays I observed that there is not that much cooperation among our women as compared to the past. They do not care for the valleys, which are for the winter season. For the last two years I had seen them grazing the Zarsunik area in summer and nothing is left for the winter. It is due to lack of cooperation among our womenfolk.”
Section 5-6  More about grazing patterns and problems because of “carelessness” of women. While in Pamir people repair and construct water channels: “…it is important to supply water to these barren areas through water channels. We can develop these lands and grow grasses there that will help us to feed the yaks in the winter.” And they also carry out other works under the nomus (donation towards community project in the name of a relative) system. Why yaks die: “The first reason is shortage of grass, due to heavy snowfall. The second reason … is old age. Sometimes diseases spread that also kill many animals. ” Feels that they must give preference to rearing yaks: “we must prefer to produce yaks rather than producing goats and sheep, because goats and sheep harm trees etc while yaks are the animals of the mountains and no extra care is needed for their growth.”
Section 7  How the eight shepherds distinguish the 800-900 yaks: “We have to spend the whole year with them and we identify some through their colours and some through their dogh (special identification mark made by the owner). There are many colours of yaks like white, brown, light blue, which makes their identification easy for us.” Inexperienced herders are assigned an experienced herder to go around with them at first. Ways of expressing happiness and sadness in Pamir: “Sometimes many yaks die due to hunger or due to more snowfall and it make us very sad. But as far as the happiness is concerned, as I told you before, we usually live in two separate groups, one in the main Pamir (plain areas) and the second one in the Door. We meet each other on the 21st of March. At that time we sing songs, we dance together, we play different games together. We enjoy that time together as much as we can. We cook different types of dishes and eat that together.” There is a future in grazing as “In Shimshal everyone is interested to produce more yaks.” No system of herders grazing their own yaks separately.
Section 8  Milk for herder’s own use: “If we have 100 yaks with us, then we use 20 milking yaks in a day for our daily use, and we repeat the same method rotationally.” Benefits of concentrating on yaks rather than other livestock. He has been a herder for 15 years and the experience has enabled him and others to identify “all the places suitable for grazing of yaks for a specific time period according to the weather conditions.”
Section 8-9  Urges villagers to think about what to do with the increasing population of yaks and the decrease in suitable grazing areas which leads to the starvation of yaks. He suggests the construction of more irrigation channels for new grazing areas, but villagers don’t necessarily agree. The China and Pakistan border demarcation did provide them with additional pasture area. He is happy with the work of the community-based organisation Shimshal Nature Trust: “We should work for our village according to our own ideas with collective participation of all our villagers and never let outsiders to interfere in running our life and never let them influence us.”
Section 10  End notes providing more explanation of terms etc.