Mountain ecosystems provide up to 85 percent of all the water humans need…

not to mention other species, and globally, glaciers contain 69 percent of all the freshwater on the planet. Glaciers also cool the air in the mountain basins where they reside, and the cold water downstream has an impact on shrubs and other species. Without this cold water, species that haven’t been able to adapt to warmer temperatures will be negatively affected. In their immediate vicinity, glaciers mitigate warmer temperatures resulting from the climate crisis, keeping these areas habitable and survivable for plant and animal species who live there.

So what happens within and around the Pamir Mountains directly affects global climate patterns, in addition to the fact that more than two billion people across Asia rely on water from this region for irrigation, power and their economy.

Tajikistan, GBAO (Pamir), Bidurth Village.
The beginning of the longest night. Tajikistan, GBAO (Pamir), Bidurth Village. Photo by Shirinbek Bekmurodov.

Like everywhere, temperatures are rising in the Pamirs. Over the last 65 years, the average temperature in the mountains has increased by nearly 1C and is expected to rise by 2C within 30 years. The climate crisis is causing the glaciers to recede dramatically, which means less sunlight being reflected and more heat being absorbed by the darker rock underneath, exacerbating planetary heating. Over the last 60 years glaciers in the Pamirs have lost one-third of their area and one-fifth of their mass, which means far less water for farmers. This, along with warmer temperatures, has caused drier winters and wetter summers, increasing droughts and floods, causing more mudslides, soil erosion and loss of farmland along the rivers where most of the arable land is located. Livestock is the main source of income for local people, but degraded pastures and prolonged droughts are making keeping livestock increasingly difficult.

Reduced productivity from these arable lands has made it increasingly difficult for families to maintain food security from their own production, as the number of lean farming seasons is increasing. Furthermore, reduced water in the rivers reduces hydro-electric capacity, causing people to cut down trees to heat homes and cook food, so deforestation and soil degradation and erosion in forested areas is spreading.

The third pole is now both a victim and contributor to the climate crisis, leaving the primary water source and biodiversity of the region under threat. As more than two billion people begin to lose their primary source of water, power, and economy, they will become climate refugees who must move to other areas for their survival. Given the climate crisis is global, areas where they move will already be food and water stressed as well, in addition to likely lacking adequate housing and employment, not even to speak of the devastating impacts this will have on cultures.

Family cooking in Tajikistan
Family cooking, Tajikistan. By Beth Wald.
Agriculture in Pamir mountains in Tajikistan
Agriculture in Pamir mountains in Tajikistan

Fortunately, the Pamiri have always been living the solutions.

Agricultural programs enacted during the USSR’s control of the area set the stage for these climate impacts to be exacerbated. Deforestation was widespread, and the Pamiri were forced to plant crops not suited for the region. These have worsened glacial melting, which is causing unpredictable flooding of rivers that destroy orchards and crops. Their melting has caused inconsistent water runoff, leading to the destruction of riverbanks and traditional water flows and affecting access to clean water for everyone downstream. Increasing droughts are also negatively affecting native crops and biodiversity.

At the same time, the Pamirs are home to thousands of medicinal plants and herbs that are unique to the area, as well as this being critically important habitat of snow leopards and wolves.

The Pamiri’s traditional farming practices are regenerative by definition, so this is bringing back medicinal plants and traditional strains of legumes, grains, and other foods. Their practices naturally support biodiversity, as these crops grow within and regenerate the thin, rocky soil common in a country that is 97% mountainous.

Food Natural Background Made With Different Legumes

And when this work is done along riverbanks, the Pamiri are fortifying the rivers against increasing meltwater from the glaciers upstream.

In light of these evolving challenges, Home Planet Fund sees this as a critically important opportunity to support the regenerative practices of Pamiri farmers. Their practices naturally mitigate the climate crisis by helping preserve the “third pole,” rehabilitate soil, land and biodiversity, all while their knowledge base continues to be passed to future generations.

We are supporting local communities in their planting of traditional crops, preserving and sharing ancient seeds, strengthening their biodiversity and cultural heritage, and documenting Indigenous knowledge that has served their ancestors since time immemorial. All of this is happening across ten elevation levels to ensure localization, which has outsized mitigation impact on the climate crisis.

Heap of apricots drying on a large stone in the Pamirs, Tajikistan
Heap of apricots drying on a large stone in the Pamirs, Tajikistan