One of the main objectives of El-Too is working with local communities. We believe community initiatives are the most sustainable and in each of our projects we try to share our experience and, if possible, to look for community initiatives to further develop.
Within the framework of our project “Birds of Issyk-Kul – promoting collaborative efforts in wetlands and waterfowl”, we have planned public hearings to discuss the gaps in the legislation, the role of local communities in wetlands and waterfowl protection.
Based on the results of the baseline study and a discussion from our working group consisting of state and non-state actors that work in the field of wetlands and bird protection:
- Explaining the meaning of wetlands and waterfowl that are less known to local population (source of clean water, impact to climate conditions, protecting from flood, etc.)
- Legal status of wetland areas, such as which areas are protected and which areas are not
- Discussion on hunting, fines for shooting birds and other animals inhabiting the wetland areas, how to respond to a case in which the local population faced illegal hunters
- The role of microreserves and how local population can gain income through ornithological tourism
- Possibility for local population to engage in environment protection as volunteer rangers or as civilians
The public hearings were organized in cooperation with Ulakhol local municipality, Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve and Ak-Bulun-ECO microreserve.
The public hearings lasted 2 hours and the following number of participants took part from each village:
- Kara-Talaa village – 61 participants (53 men, 8 women)
- Shor-Bulak village – 110 participants (about 30 women and 30 youth aged 18-29 years old)
- Ottuk village – 58 participants (9 women, 49 men)
- Kara-Shaar village – 62 participants (6 women, 56 men)
- Tuura-Suu village – 35 participants (all men)
The results of the public hearings show that people have interest in the topic of wetlands, as the discussion was lively and participants had many questions to the representatives of the project team, Issyk-Kul biosphere reserve and other representatives. It was the first time for many people to attend a discussion of the issues of wetlands and environment in such detail, and so local population admitted they learnt many new things about their rights and possibilities.
The following questions were raised during public discussions:
- Poor controls of waste nets left by illegal fishermen and possibility of banning the import of Chinese nets for fishing
- Willingness to act as freelance rangers to protect the wetlands area and cooperation with Issyk-Kul biosphere reserve
- Lack of transparency and distrust on ecological inspectors as they often cooperate with poachers and issue illegal licenses to them
- Legal disputes on cutting the old trees along the road
- Conditions for hunting in the wetland areas
- Local farmers were helpless while illegal hunters from Balykchi came at night and killed all pheasants, partridges and rabbits
- Prioritizing ecotourism over hunting tourism
The above-mentioned issues were documented by the project team and planned to be discussed during the second working group meeting.
Each participant received a leaflet published by El-Too, which had information about hunting fines and how to act in case they met an illegal hunter, how to be involved in environment protection.
Our partners Kyrgyz-Tourism and Kyrgyz Association of Environment Protectors provided us calendars with birds of the year, and they were distributed among participants to raise more awareness on bird issues.
The plans to organize the public hearings earlier in February was not accomplished and postponed to March, as the larger village buildings were not heated and the local municipality advised to wait for the warmer period. The right timing for public hearings gathered more people than expected (we expected about 50 people max.). Participants stated that they do not always have the possibility to attend such meetings, especially in times of field work during summer. Thus, they advised to spread information through WhatsApp groups. Despite the willingness to invite more women, the number of female participants and youth were low, except for Shor-Bulak village. Thus, the next two sessions of public hearings will be dedicated to women and youth activities in a joint activity format with partners that will interest them. For the general population, we will keep on spreading online information through messenger groups.