Preserving Traditions on the Roof of the World

Preserving Traditions on the Roof of the World

Khorog, Tajikistan
Project Summary
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The Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are often referred to as the Roof of the World. Their remote location and unique mountain culture allow for an unparallel tourist experience. De Pamiri Handicrafts has been working since 2004 to help local artisans benefit from growing tourism to the region by linking them to the tourist market. The project started by indentifying artisans who still remembered the methods and motifs to produce traditional crafts and working with them to create crafts that reflected the culture of the Pamirs. The project then worked to train other artisans throughout the region to increase their artisan skills. By revitalizing traditional handcrafts in the region through ...

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Name of your organization

De Pamiri

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10 Elchibek str





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Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of benefit to residents for the destination .

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Medium (101 to 1000 employees)

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Conservation/Preservation organization

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Living culture.

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What is the goal of your innovation? Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

De Pamiri Handicrafts works to revive and revitalize traditional Pamiri crafts by linking artisans with growing tourist markets in Tajikistan.

Please write an overview of your project. Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the map located on the competition homepage.

The Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are often referred to as the Roof of the World. Their remote location and unique mountain culture allow for an unparallel tourist experience. De Pamiri Handicrafts has been working since 2004 to help local artisans benefit from growing tourism to the region by linking them to the tourist market. The project started by indentifying artisans who still remembered the methods and motifs to produce traditional crafts and working with them to create crafts that reflected the culture of the Pamirs. The project then worked to train other artisans throughout the region to increase their artisan skills. By revitalizing traditional handcrafts in the region through design, quality and technical assistance, De Pamiri Handicrafts has provided a direct link that allows local residents to benefit from tourism. Through their work, the organization has been able to improve the cultural landscape of the Pamirs by offering a more authentic experience for tourists and helping Pamiri Tajiks understand the importance and value of their own culture.

Explain in detail why your approach is innovative

De Pamiri Handicrafts is the first organization of its kind in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Started as a way to increase incomes for local residents, the organization has provided a number of benefits to the community. One of the most inspiring elements of De Pamiri Handicrafts’s approach to community development is the sense of self worth the organization has provided to local artisans. Before working with De Pamiri Handicrafts artisans were often ashamed to sell their crafts in the local market and thought that no one would buy them. When they saw that foreigners were eager to purchase their products they realized that their skills and traditions were valuable.

De Pamiri Handicrafts is also working to create innovative craft products based on traditions that will be appealing to tourists. Most of the tourists to the Pamir Mountains are long-haul backpackers that usually have little room in their baggage for souvenirs. By working with artisans to design smaller, lighter products, tourists have begun to buy more crafts. Also, the organization has begun establishing shipping services for tourists who want to purchase larger products.

Describe the degree of success you have had to date. How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism? How does your approach minimize negative impacts?

The number of artisan members in DPH has risen from 25 in 2004 to 80 in 2008 illustrating the organization’s good reputation and the willingness of artisans to join. Artisans receive approximately 70-90 Tajik Somoni per month from the sale of crafts. This represents mostly supplement income as artisans are either non-working women or partially-employed men for whom craft remains a second source of income. DPH also measures success via annual sales. In 2007 DPH sold $21,500 representing a 30% increase from 2006. These sales assist DPH in becoming a self sustaining business which is a major goal and representation of success for the organization. Although they are currently partially supported through grant funding, the goal is to become self sustaining by 2010.

Qualitatively, DPH realizes that an artisan’s sense of self worth is an important measure of success. DPH sees that self worth is reflected by artisans who have faith in their abilities to create beautiful products that tourists will purchase and measures this by production capacity. The organization also gains input on this indicator through their annual artisans meetings which are used to provide artisans with information and training and to minimize negative impacts by ensuring artisans’ needs are being met.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

Each year DPH holds an annual artisans meeting in Khorog. During the meeting, artisans are provided with information and training on design trends, methods to increase their production capacity and ways to access quality raw materials. The meeting is also a forum for artisans to voice their concerns and suggest improvements. Additionally, artisans use this time to form partnerships to improve their products and market access. DPH also stays in regular contact with artisans throughout the year as they come to Khorog on a monthly basis to drop off new products and receive their sales income.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

As we usually say to local people as well as for tourists that we do not only selling point or we don’t work only with the staff but firstly we work with the people mostly artisans. We started in 2004 with explaining them the calculation, design and marketing, we organized training for them and exhibition in Tajikistan as well as abroad. Now we have our specific group of artisans from different part of our region.
Tourists not only want to buy things but some time they wants to see the maker and to have a contact with them. In future we are going to organize a home stays for tourist in the artisans houses so tourist can not only see and pass but will live some time with the artisans and will better understand them.

Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area's cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues.

As mentioned above, DPH works to educate tourists through information provided with their craft purchases. This information helps the tourists to understand the culture and natural heritage of the region since many craft traditions and motifs are based around the reliance on the mountain sheep and yak. From these animals artisans get wool to make knitted hats, felt carpets and woven rugs as well as milk and meat for subsistence. Wild yaks in surrounding areas have become endangered through over hunting and are at a vulnerable status in Tajikistan. By educating tourists about the important of yaks to Pamiri culture, DPH can raise awareness beyond the borders of Tajikistan.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

DPH is funded through both external grant funding from donors (at the moment two separate donors) and through product sales from the DPH shop in Khorog and other retail shops in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The organization’s annual budget in 2007 was $93,996 with sales of $21,500. DPH has four full time staff including a Manager, Accountant, Retail Sales Assistant and Janitor; two part time staff including a Production Manager and Designer and a handful of volunteers.

Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? Is there a potential demand for your innovation?

DPH is working toward financial sustainability and in order to achieve this the organization needs to increase sales. However, it is important to note that the organization has increased their sales dramatically in the past 3 years, showing growth rates above average for handcraft businesses in developing countries. As tourism in the country continues to grow, sales will increase and help DPH become more financially stable. Additionally, DPH is looking to diversify its markets through craft exports to Europe and other Central Asian countries in case the tourist market collapses due to a natural disaster or violence.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

One of the most significant challenges Pamiri artisans face is access to high quality raw materials and methods to process raw materials such as wool and wood. These issues result in products that are not up to international tourist expectations. To deal with these challenges, DPH created a raw materials bank for artisans where they can buy high quality, pre-processed raw materials at a slight mark-up to cover the costs of processing. Although this has been successful, more work on this challenge is still needed. Increasing the production capacity of artisans is another constraint that DPH is tackling by providing more upfront payment of products and less consignment agreements. This was done by setting aside a portion of grant funding to increase upfront purchasing of products. Again this is working but using grant funding in this manner is not a financially sustainable solution. Lastly, poor physical and information infrastructure, lack of access to appropriate microcredit and lack of consistent electricity are all challenges that DPH has little control over. However, the organization has been working to address these challenges through partnerships.

What is your plan to expand or further develop your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

De Pamiri Handicrafts has strategic goals to increase the number of artisans in its membership through awareness raising and capacity building training. The organization has been successful in this goal for the past few years but it remains an on-going objective. Since poor product quality and low production remain two of DPH’s biggest challenges, DPH will also establish new raw material and production workshops to increase the quality and quantity of products. Ultimately, DPH aims to begin exporting to regional markets in the other Central Asian Republics and to European and American markets. Although the tourist market is DPH’s largest market, is it vulnerable to shocks from natural or man-made disasters thus DPH aims to diversify its income streams.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.

The Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) is the home to the Pamir Mountains and De Pamiri Handicrafts. The region, part of the former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan, is well known for its majestic and isolated landscapes as well as its complex history. During Soviet control heavy subsidies and Russian migration created unprecedented population growth in the Pamirs and destabilized the precarious balance previously maintained between a nomadic people and the region’s natural resources.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan struggled to overcome the legacy of this centralized and subsidized economic system. Previous nomadic lifestyles and subsistence agricultural could no longer support the large population and there were few jobs in the newly capitalized country. In addition, Tajikistan endured a devastating civil war that began shortly after independence. Since the end of the war in 1993, Tajikistan has faced the dual challenges of reinventing its economy in a post-Soviet world and rebuilding infrastructure after years of conflict.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union, known for its strict control over art and culture, pushed for the traditions of the individual republics to be diminished and for a uniform Soviet culture to be promoted. The communist economy did not encourage innovation and citizens did not have income available to purchase crafts. Most artisans gained employment through the state and abandoned their positions as tradition bearers. There were small groups of artisans that created crafts for state purposes but most of them were confined to state approved designs and traditions. Some artisans continued to practice their craft in secret in order to keep traditions alive and pass down their skills to the next generation.

Impoverished and isolated regions such as the Pamirs have limited access to information, markets and economic opportunities and reviving traditional skills has become an important part of economic and cultural reconstruction. Rebuilding in GBAO was started in the early 1990s by the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), a local development organization which implements programs to reduce GBAO’s reliance on food aid and increase the self-reliance of local communities. In the early 2000s, MSDSP increased its attention on creating income generating enterprises in order to achieve broader and longer-term economic development in the region.

This coincided with the work of Arnaud Baobil and Yorali Berdov who begun partnering with area artisans to revive their traditions and build income opportunities. Mr. Baobil, a French citizen and development worker, and Mr. Berdov, a Tajik artist and designer, began De Pamiri Handicrafts with the support of MSDSP’s business incubator in 2004. When they first began, the most difficult challenge was to encourage artisans that their skills and talents were valuable. Mr. Berdov recounts stories of bringing shy and skeptical artisans to the marketplace to demonstrate that there was a demand for their crafts. When the products sold completely the first day, the astonished artisans were convinced that crafts, which had been hobbies and traditions until then, were an economic option for the future. With this hope in hand, De Pamiri Handicrafts was born.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Yorali Berdov, the co-founder and Manager of De Pamiri Handicrafts, was born and raised in Khorog, the regional capital of the Pamir Mountains. After attending art college in Dushanbe, he returned to Khorog in the early 1990s. From then until 2004, Mr. Berdov worked as a private designer and artist. In 2004, he was approached by Arnaud Baobil to found De Pamiri Handicrafts with the support of MSDSP. Mr. Berdov signed onto DPH as Deputy Manager until 2005 when he took over the organization as Manager. As an artist himself and an advocate for Pamiri traditions, Mr. Berdov is devoted to the development of the artisan sector and the revitalization of Pamiri culture.

Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.

The unique part of our approach that the culture, traditions and crafts what we are reviving up and the things we are bringing to the tourists market was lost during the Soviet time. Some things are not even possible to revive because people lost the knowledge how to do it. The information did not pass through generation to generation. But some thing we can, and it is attractive and interesting for tourists as well as for local people. People living in Pamirs speaks unique old languages, eastern Iranian branch of Indo-European language .
In general Pamirs is a unique place for tourists because in 20 century it was close even for local people to come out or in. They did it only with the special permit from government.
We working in a unique place with the unique people and they unique culture.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

Tajikistan’s long civil war placed the country years behind other Central Asian nations in terms of economic development as well as handcraft development. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and, to a lesser extent, Kazakhstan have devoted resources to revitalizing craft traditions, improving market access and linking crafts to tourism. Tajikistan has only recently begun looking to revive craft traditions and develop craft as a source of income generation. Thus partnerships with craft organizations in other regions such as the Central Asia Craft Support Association and international organization such as Aid to Artisans would help improve the quality of and market access for Tajik craft products.