Water Buffalo Commons CLIMAVORE x Jameel at RCA

Water Buffalo Commons

CLIMAVORE x Jameel at the Royal College of Art (RCA)


Water Buffalo Commons is a long term research project that aims to highlight and support Istanbul’s wetlands, their ecological and culinary heritage.

Wetlands, mangroves, swamps, bogs, marshes and mudflats have been drained to ‘improve’ land for centuries. These liminal landscapes are nonetheless important biodiverse habitats, crucial migratory bird stopovers, water-filtering zones, and invaluable buffers against sea flooding and storms, contributing to overall climate resilience.

On the outskirts of Istanbul, the post-industrial wetlands are home to water Buffalo, their herders, and a host of species that depend on them. Knowledge brought by Bulgarian herders in Ottoman times, and Turks exiled from Greece after the 1923 population exchange, boosted buffalo milk as an essential ingredient in yoghurt, kaymak and sütlaç. Water Buffalo Commons aims to help preserve the efforts of buffalo herding practices in the area by spotlighting the importance of these peripheral landscapes to the city’s long term climate resilience and cultural traditions. Despite being a fundamental part of the city’s fabric, water buffalos are encroached by urbanisation that has profoundly transformed their grazing areas, driving their wetland habitats and the herding traditions close to extinction. Through the study of metabolic interactions across species the project works to preserve the food and ecological heritage of the wetlands, herders and their pastoralist ways of life.

We are building on our existing collaborations with the herding communities through a number of different strategies to help achieve these ends, including the opening of Çamuralem Muhallebicisi in Kurtulus which reintroduces water buffalo milk products back into the city, an annual Manda Festivali to celebrate the culture of the wetlands, and developing a prototype of agro-biodiversity corridors to provide common grazing routes for the buffaloes.