Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, has traditionally been an agricultural state, and it continues to protect its nomadic traditions. Its cities developed along the ancient Silk Road, and 40 percent of its land is mountainous, 3,000 meters above the sea level. Under Soviet rule, the nation enjoyed relatively high socioeconomic standards, but its industries and social infrastructure have deteriorated since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, leading to significant economic contraction.
Kyrgyzstan also has a great need for balanced development between rural and urban areas. According to the 2009 Census, about 65 percent of its 5.1 million people lived in rural areas. Average age of residents in the respective regions was 29 for urban regions and 26.8 for rural regions, showing a high concentration of youth in the rural areas. However, educational standard between rural and urban regions showed great disparity, with urban dwellers being more than twice as educated as rural residents.
Local governments and the national government of Kyrgyzstan have been working with relevant organizations to relieve the regional disparity. This includes the Rural Development Fund (RDF), a non-profit and non-governmental policy research organization that conducts a wide range of campaigns focused on sustainable development in rural regions. The RDF is supports activities that form the basis for the advancement of rural communities, including land development projects, local community education programs, female rights enhancement campaigns, and distribution of traditional knowledge. Ultimately, it aims to support regionally appropriate plans for poverty relief and sustainable development in rural regions. The RDF engages local communities, policymakers, and contributors in continuous cooperation and conducts diverse projects based on partnerships to achieve maximum efficiency in the use of funds.
The RDF’s efforts for safeguarding traditional knowledge deserve special mention. The RDF focuses on safeguarding and transmitting traditional knowledge that promotes harmony between humans and nature and makes peace and prosperity possible as a means to achieve sustainable development for generations to come. To the Kyrgyz, such traditional knowledge refers to the experiences of nomads and all aspects of nomadic living passed down from pre-agricultural times through customs. Traditional knowledge safeguarding is conducted through serial publications and digitization of archives and other activities.
RDF’s efforts to safeguard traditional knowledge also include the conservation of the snow leopard, an endangered species native to Kyrgyzstan. The RDF believes that protecting snow leopards is one approach towards safeguarding the ecological knowledge of traditional local communities. The idea is to approach nature conservation within the field of traditional human knowledge and to safeguard the two simultaneously, based on the experience of nomads that lived with nature in the high mountains. Perhaps understanding this harmony between nature and humans, as a form of traditional knowledge, is what sustainable development for future generations can be based upon.