Home | Sitemap | Imprint | Privacy Statement | Deutsch
Economy and Education

3.2.02 Opening up new perspectives – sustainability in Uzbekistan

Stopping the inefficient and ecologically damaging use of the soil and waters while alleviating poverty among the people: these are the objectives of a German-Uzbek project at the Aral Sea. There is an urgent need for action in this area as decades of intensive agriculture (cotton production) have resulted in the gradual disappearance of the Aral Sea. At the same time, the initiative hopes to provide local farmers with the necessary knowledge to improve their income using ecologically sustainable farming methods.

The irrigation agriculture practised in Central Asia reduces the productivity of soil and water resources, while poverty continues to rise – issues that can be attributed to the inefficient and unsustainable use of available resources. This applies particularly to the irrigated lowlands of the Aral Sea basin in Uzbekistan, an area that is home to some 27 million inhabitants: intensive cotton production has had a serious environmental impact on the region’s soil and waters.

To halt this downward spiral, the Uzbek population should be able to work in a more market-oriented manner. After all, farmers account for over 70% of the population, and they are most likely to protect their resources if this will help them to raise their income. However, they have insufficient experience of private agriculture, having only recently become independent operators. In addition, their economic freedom is still quite limited: the farmers are still under the strict control of the central government and are bound by its plans. Merely demonstrating to these people how sustainable agriculture works would therefore be wholly inadequate. It is equally essential that they understand the local decision-making structures and consider the interests of the different policy-makers.

Concepts for irrigation agriculture

To make sustainable improvements to the utilisation of resources at the Aral Sea, the Centre for Development Research (ZEF), an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Bonn, joined forces with UNESCO and the Uzbek government to launch the research project “Economic and ecological restructuring of land and water use in the Khorezm region” (period of study: 2002 to 2012). Institutes from Germany, Uzbekistan and other countries are also involved in the project.

A ship graveyard on the dried up ground of the Aral Sea

A ship graveyard on the dried up ground of the Aral Sea
A ship graveyard on the dried up ground of the Aral Sea

Experts from a range of disciplines (land use, agricultural sciences, water management, economics and social sciences) are developing concepts for the ecologically sustainable and economically efficient use of resources in the Aral Sea basin. The model region of the BMBF-funded project is the Uzbek province of Khorezm, situated south of the Aral Sea along the lower Amu Darya. The most important local partner is the Urgench State University, where a modern laboratory building was constructed and equipped for the project.

One of the fundamental objectives of the initiative is to support the persons responsible in the region in their independent implementation of the necessary measures. The scientists are therefore looking closely at local decision- making structures in order to make recommendations for improving the organisation of land cultivation and water management – in conjunction with the local decision-makers. Studies relating to agricultural business and macroeconomics and covering the entire product chain are to uncover potential for a more efficient management of resources and improved value creation. New land use technologies are also being tested. The project also supports the academic training of Uzbek students: many are given the opportunity to attend a Masters degree course in Tashkent, while 22 postgraduate students have gained their doctorate at the ZEF in Bonn (many of whom have found positions in Central Asia or are now supporting the transfer of knowledge as post-doctoral fellows in this initiative).

Forestation of a degraded area

Forestation of a degraded area
Forestation of a degraded area

Participatory approach

The success of technological innovations is also greatly dictated by the level of participation: the needs and expectations of the partners must be addressed, while technical and institutional changes must be adapted to local circumstances. Close co-operation with the Uzbek partners has a significant impact on local acceptance. Regular training of farmers and water technicians is equally essential, as is the development of appropriate organisation and communication tools. With regard to technical cooperation, the project team is working closely with German, Uzbek and international organisations.

Part of the initiative included the creation of interdisciplinary models for water and land use, which incorporate ecological, social and economic aspects. These have proved particularly helpful in examining the interplay between the various factors and participants, thus allowing the team to predict the long-term effect of specific measures. At the same time, cost/benefit calculations are employed to highlight the financial benefits if individual technologies, thus enabling the local decision-makers to implement suitable measures.

Four project phases

The ten-year project has been broken down into four phases. The first phase involved the creation of the local infrastructure and required database (e.g. digital maps), both from existing materials and the team’s own research.

An irrigation channel with distribution structure

An irrigation channel with distribution structure
An irrigation channel with distribution structure

Based on intensive field studies and model developments, the second phase saw the generation of options for the future management of resources. These included new, soil-friendly cultivation methods, optimised irrigation strategies and technologies as well as the introduction of alternative crops and tree species, which not only offer environmental benefits but also increase the earnings of local farmers.

These concepts were then tested by the project participants during the third phase, in close co-operation with farmers, representatives from the water authorities and the partner institutions in the Khorezm region. Phase 4 (2012) is the implementation stage, in which the scientists and their Uzbek partners intend to spread their restructuring concept across the province. The ultimate aim is to implement a long-term solution that will allow the region to enjoy an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable future.

University of Bonn
Centre for Development Research (ZEF)

Prof. Dr. Paul L. G. Vlek
Dr. John P. A. Lamers
Walter-Flex-Straße 3
53113 Bonn, Germany
Tel.: +49(0)2 28/73-18 38
Fax: +49(0)2 28/73-18 89
E-mail: jlamers@uni-bonn.de
Internet: www.zef.de/khorezm.O.html
Funding reference: 0339970A, 0339970C
Ressource Wasser
Quick view