This paper briefly narrates the historical and present challenges facing sheep herders in the Kyrgyz Republic. Originally these were nomads employing an horizontal and vertical migration system, but Russian conquest and settlement forced this to change to a system of transhumance. The latter, albeit structured in a collective system, was more or less maintained throughout the communist period. Other major changes during this period included the shift from fat tail meat sheep to fine wool sheep and the increasing dependence on imported feed.
Independence since 1991 has caused drastic changes in resource ownership, organisation and feed supply. These changes have led to a fragmentation of sheep ownership and a 50% decline in sheep numbers. Although land reform in the Kyrgyz Republic is ongoing, the situation regarding rangeland is still rather confused. Many of the high mountain pastures are State owned, but logistical problems, together with the contraction of the national flock, have caused them to become decreasingly well used. This has led to the over-utilisation of lowland pastures, which has been aggravated by shortages in feed supplements (imports of which were halted after the break-up of the Soviet Union). Producer prices are low, and can be linked to the remote location of producers, a lack of local purchasing power and the low quality of wool produced. It is not yet clear whether the sheep production system will continue to produce fine wool in the future, or whether it will revert to the meat/coarse wool production system seen commonly throughout the Near East.