Caravan of hope: How mobile shelters changed the lives of shepherds in Türkiye

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Caravan of hope: How mobile shelters changed the lives of shepherds in Türkiye

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In spring, families of herders leave their villages for the highlands. © Yelda Yenal

Winters atop Türkiye’s Taurus Mountains can be harsh, with temperatures often dropping as low as –5o C. Despite the punishing conditions, local shepherds have relied on this mountain range for their livelihoods for generations.

Come spring, families of herders leave their villages for the highlands, where their cattle can feed off fresh grass and pasture plants, and drink freshly melted snow. They spend the summer in the highlands, where there are more suitable grazing conditions for animals.        

But living and working on a mountain is no mean feat. Families in flimsy tents find themselves face to face with nature’s ruthlessness, including freezing temperatures, unrelenting dust, insects and snakes.

A shelter from the elements

That was until 2021, when the IFAD-funded Göksu Taşeli Watershed Development Project provided mountain-bound herders with caravans—mobile shelters for more comfortable, hygienic and safe living conditions.

Families find refuge inside their mobile shelter. © Aykut Aniç

Families that once lived on the fertile plateau between May and October, can now scale the mountainside as early as April and stay until December. This lengthens their production period, helping them grow their income.

Modern caravans keep ancient traditions alive

For goat shepherd, Zekeriya Karaer, the caravan made all the difference between quitting and keeping this ancient farming tradition alive. With a family to provide for, the rise in feed costs and the mountain’s harsh conditions had him searching for a different job. Then in 2021, he received a mobile shelter.

“We used to live in tents – dust, insects and snakes could enter, we were living in fear. Even snow was getting inside,” says Zekeriya. “Now, thanks to the caravan, we can continue farming and are much more comfortable.”

Zekeriya is now able to raise healthier and bigger goats, which he sells at 20 per cent more than the average market price. The family also produces cheese and yoghurt, selling the surpluses.

With grazing expenses dropping by a third and with increases in their dairy production, they now have more money for the family. “It's like a dream, it's like a home," says Zekeriya.

Thankfully, the family was not directly affected by the catastrophic earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria in February 2023.

Self-sustainable homes thanks to solar panels

Solar energy powers the shepherds’ refrigerators, allowing them to secure their produce. © Yelda Yenal

Herders are also provided with solar panels, which they use to power their fridges and keep their produce fresh, as well as charge their flashlights and phones, and watch TV.

Without a refrigerator, the shepherds previously had a short window of time within which they could sell.

With a safe and comfortable shelter from the elements, they are no longer at the mercy of an increasingly erratic climate. And when the days start to shorten and the snow begins to fall, the families need just close the door behind them and turn the heating on.