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GCARD2: Briefing paper Land, Water, Forests and Landscapes - More effective actions for the Aral Sea
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GCARD2: Briefing paper Land, Water, Forests and Landscapes - More effective actions for the Aral Sea


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In the region of central Asia and Caucasus (CAC), collection, assessment and sharing of information on water and land resources, previously under central command of the Soviet Union, have been …

In the region of central Asia and Caucasus (CAC), collection, assessment and sharing of information on water and land resources, previously under central command of the Soviet Union, have been fragmented during the past decades. In fact, the regional program has supplemented an important role in supporting and facilitating data assessment and knowledge sharing. The presentation will highlight some results from the recent assessments of water resources and climate change impact, ground water storage capacity as an alternative water source, human impact on water and soil quality, marginal water use, and ecosystem-based intervention for improvement of water and land productivity specifically around the Aral Sea.
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Dans les régions de l’Asie centrale et de Caucasus (CAC), la collecte, l’évaluation et le partage des données sur les ressources en eau et les terres, initialement sous le contrôle de l’Union Soviétique, ont été fragilisés durant les quatre dernières décennies. En effet, le programme régional a joué un rôle important en supportant et en facilitant l’analyse des données et le partage des connaissances. La présentation montrera certains résultats des récentes évaluations sur ressources en eau et l’impact du changement climatique, les capacités de stockage des eaux souterraines comme une alternative à l’eau de surface, l’impact des activités humaines sur la qualité de l’eau et des sols, l’utilité marginale de l’eau, et les interventions basées sur les écosystèmes pour améliorer la productivité de l’eau et de la terre particulièrement autour de la mer d’Aral.
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  • 1. DRAFTBreakout session P2.2 Land, Water, Forests and Landscapes - Speaker BriefMore effective actions for the Aral SeaJozef Turok (ICARDA/CACAARI) Context – the problems being addressedUN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon termed the drying up of the Aral Sea as “ of the worstmanmade environmental disasters of the world” during his visit to Uzbekistan and the Aral Sea regionin April 2010. The Soviet development plan for the wider Aral Sea Basin had focused on the increaseof the irrigated area in the Amudarya and Syrdarya basins in Central Asia. This caused irreversibledamage in terms of ecosystem degradation and water quality as the rapid expansion of irrigatedagriculture greatly reduced the flow of the two major rivers into the Aral Sea, causing extensive landdegradation. Rampant pollution caused by secondary salinization was/is one of the severeconsequences. Climate variability, drought and extreme heat and cold stress exacerbate the situation inthe Aral Sea Basin, which comprises the largest area of persistent severe droughts in the world.Land degradation occurs widely and is associated with soil erosion, low soil fertility and high salinityof soils. In the lower Amudarya reaches (Aral Sea region), the specific problems of salinity and waterlogging cover 90 percent of the irrigated area. The yields of wheat, the main food crop, are very lowdue to the high salinization of the soils, brought about by rising watertable caused by seepage lossesfrom earthen canals, very low permeability of the sub-soils, inefficient irrigation practices, poornatural drainage of excess water and inadequate artificial drainage infrastructure. In addition, thedrying-up of the Aral Sea has brought the fishing industry which used to be the mainstay of the peopleto a standstill. Salinity and water-logging affected pasture productivity and rangelands, creatingproblems for livestock industry as well. Today, agriculture plays a crucial role in sustaining the livesof the people and providing meagre rural employment.The lower Amudarya is divided between two countries, three provinces and many more districts, withpersistent head and tail end problems along the river and within the irrigation systems. For instance,while head-enders grow high water consuming crops like rice, tail-enders do not receive sufficientwater and are shifting their livelihoods to livestock, aggravating the environmental problem caused byovergrazing in the desert steppes.The impact of climate change on water availability and quality is unknown. Upstream developmentplans – constructing large dams and predicted increase of irrigated agriculture in Afghanistan couldaggravate the situation further. Land degradation is not limited to the area close around the Aral Sea,as irrigated areas in the middle reaches of Amudarya and Syrdarya are also affected by water-loggingand salinity.Under these conditions and particularly for small users, there is an urgent need for effective andefficient interventions, including technical, agronomic, institutional and financial. It is also necessaryto further introduce highly productive crop varieties that can be grown under local production systems,are tolerant to biotic and abiotic stress and meet market requirements of the local people. An enablingpolicy and institutional environment is essential for their implementation.Further deterioration in water and soil conditions will have devastating social and environmentalconsequences, including the livelihoods of the farmers in the region. Although sustainable agriculture
  • 2. and environmental protection are key priorities in the national development agendas of the Aral SeaBasin countries, the sheer scale of the problems combined with the very complex socio-economictransition of the societies requires sustained and well co-ordinated international action – donor supportfor agricultural research and implementation of best practices. Current activities presented and discussed in the sessionSince 1998, a consortium of 11 international agricultural research centres are working together withresearch and development partners in eight countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC) underthe umbrella of the Regional Collaborative Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development. TheProgram focuses on increasing the productivity of agricultural systems through improved watermanagement (including on-farm soil and water management, irrigation, drainage and water basinanalysis), germplasm enhancement, crop improvement, diversification, and natural resourcemanagement underpinned by socio-economic and public policy research. The conservation, study andevaluation of genetic resources also represent a priority area of work in CAC. The research undertakenby the Centres and their national research partners supports the broader goals of ensuring food andnutritional security, and improving livelihoods of the local populations. In achieving its objectives,the Program relies on the significant scientific capacity, resources and germplasm available from theinternational centres combined with local knowledge and outstanding partnerships. More recently, theestablishment of CACAARI as the regional rorum has further enhanced the research-for-developmentpartnerships in the CAC Region.Collection, assessment and sharing of information on water and land resources, previously undercentral command of the Soviet Union, have been fragmented during the past decades. In fact, theregional program has supplemented an important role in supporting and facilitating data assessmentand knowledge sharing. The presentation will highlight some results from the recent assessments ofwater resources and climate change impact, ground water storage capacity as an alternative watersource, human impact on water and soil quality, marginal water use, and ecosystem-based interventionfor improvement of water and land productivity specifically around the Aral Sea.The Aral Sea region was recently identified as one of the two transboundary action sites for StrategicResearch Theme 2 (SRT-2 “Reducing vulnerability”) within the proposed CGIAR Research Program“Integrated and Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems for Improved Food Security andLivelihoods” (CRP1.1 also known as Dryland Systems). The Site constitutes the lower reaches of theAmudarya and Syrdarya (stretching from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan). TheCRP1.1 sees it as its prime objective to study and provide options for reducing vulnerability andmanaging risk in the production systems characterized by land degradation, severe socio-economicconditions, health risks and no viable development alternatives globally. It is expected that severalother CGIAR research programs will also work in the Aral Sea region. Intended outcomesThrough a multi-stakeholder consultation and analysis, the following pro-development researchoutputs were identified for the Aral Sea in 2012:  Strategic innovation platform for integrated land conservation and watersheds management leading to improved access to irrigation, enhanced agricultural practices and pasture management is established;  Improved institutional functioning to address constraints for enhanced performance of rangelands and irrigated agriculture in the lower reaches of Amudarya and Syrdarya;  Capacity of stakeholders and partners enhanced;  Improved practices for integrated water and land resources management are adopted to mitigate soil salinity and waterlogging in cotton-wheat-rice-livestock production system in the Aral Sea region;
  • 3.  Improved options for integrated water and land resources management to mitigate inequity in resource use are established and implemented with users;  Analysis of trade-offs between different scenarios and optimal use of farm and rangeland resources;  Impact of improved natural resources management, diversification options, policies and market conditions on soil and environmental health, water and agriculture productivity, human nutrition and rural employment in the Aral Sea Basin evaluated and communicated;  Integration of gender equality through accurate, adequate information and agricultural training to empower female beneficiaries and ensure their participation and responsiveness. Commitments to collective actions in 2012-2014 (national, regional or international) i. With existing resourcesA number of commitments to collective actions for the Aral Sea exist at national, regional andinternational levels. These include a few ongoing projects implemented by the internationalagricultural research centres operating in the CAC. Examples will be highlighted in the presentation.Significant resources in terms of existing knowledge, trained staff and available databases werecreated through the multi-year ZEF (Germany)/ UNESCO project in Khorezm, Uzbekistan. Thisproject is a key partner for implementation of “Dryland Systems” in the lower Amudarya. Theirprevious research findings, lessons learned and practices developed will give a head-start for newactivities. Linkages will also be pursued with the wider international development initiatives, such as“Sustaining Livelihoods Affected by the Aral Sea Disaster”, which is a joint program of several UNagencies starting in Karakalpakstan (Uzbekistan). ii. With additional supportIt is expected that the new CGIAR strategic framework and the CRPs will strengthen collaborativeagricultural research in the wider Aral Sea Basin and that new resources will be mobilized. TheRussian Federation has announced new funding support for CAC within the framework of CRP1.1. iii. With specific large scale programme investmentBelow is a forward-looking description of specific large-scale investments that could makeinternational action for the Aral Sea more effective and efficient. These will be presented during thesession.Complex water resources planning and risk management:Risk management of the water resources in the wider Aral Sea Basin will have to focus on combiningmodern technologies such as remote sensing, SMS, Web and advanced modeling for estimation andforecasting of future water availability and efficient management of transboundary water resources inorder to prevent the large year-round mismatch between supply and demand. Efficient integratedmanagement strategies need to surpass the previous fragmented approaches. Conflicts over waterbetween the users in the upper and lower reaches of the Aral Sea Basin can only be solved if all partiescan depend on a mutual agreement and acceptance of the amount of available water in the Basin.Therefore, development and implementation of improved water management strategies for securingfuture water supplies under varying conditions of water supply needs to (i) revisit the existing storagecapacities, (ii) improve forecasting methods, (iii) develop and implement strategies for improvingwater productivity at all levels, and finally (iv) improve reservoir operating regimes in a multi-objective setting. In addition to the above technological interventions, appropriate institutional, legaland policy framework must be developed for mitigating water conflicts, and securing food and feedproduction in the region.Development of innovation platform for water resources management:Growing tensions in Central Asia over water allocation and the absence of reliable information will
  • 4. intensify disputes and may affect national, regional and even international relations. An innovativeplatform should be designed to provide the essential information for effective water resource planningat the Basin level, which will potentially help to resolve the tension over future water availability andwater resources allocations and operating regime of water reservoirs.At sub-Basin level, head and tail-end problems in irrigation systems have had negative effects on themainstay of the rural population, especially during water-scarce years and in the tail-end of irrigationsystems. Therefore, key focus of the innovation platform will be enabling rural communities to have asay in decision-making on water allocations. It is anticipated that especially smallholders (kitchengardens – female smallholders) will be empowered through this approach.Rehabilitation and diversification of the production system on saline (and waterlogging) lands:An integrated agricultural program for sustainable and integrated use of marginal mineralized waterand salt-affected soils for food-feed crops and forage legumes in smallholder crop-livestock systemshas been developed for the Basin. Diversification of agro-ecosystems and development of newagricultural capacities will increase incomes of rural farmers, who are so far dependent on two majorcrops-cotton and wheat. Furthermore, the activities proposed will also contribute to carbonsequestration by large-scale biomass production which will build-up soil organic matter. Strategies forsalt affected and degraded rangelands management in the changing desert and semi-desertenvironments need to be developed and modeled.Enhancing germplasm and seed multiplication on small-scale level:The demand for seeds of salt-tolerant species has increased and a number of farmers have becomeinterested to apply biosaline agriculture techniques as a feasible option for their marginalized farms.Crop improvement programs and proper agricultural technologies are needed to multiply seeds and/orsalt tolerant plant material, establish them within natural plant communities and introduce them wherethey are suitable in different ecosystems. The evaluation, domestication and large-scale use of nativeand introduced halophytes and salt tolerant crops into the farming system will have a significantimpact on salinity control and on the economic development of the wider Aral Sea Basin.Agroforestry for biodrainage and afforestation on degraded lands:Based on previous research, options for large-scale afforestation on degraded lands are available. Inorder to implement afforestation of marginal patches of irrigated land in the lower reaches of Syrdaryaand Amudarya, multipurpose tree species will combine a number of features such as: high survivalrate based on genetic adaptive potential, fast growth, salt, drought and frost tolerance, high utilityvalue of firewood and/or foliage. The expansion and commercialization of non-timber forest productshas the potential to increase the cash income of rural households. Introduction of agroforestryapproaches into extensive farming systems includes benefits related to dryland salinity, biodiversity,carbon sequestration, renewable energy. One of the key motivations for government to develop andpromote agroforestry approaches is that it can generate these benefits in addition to financial benefitsfrom the sale of commercial products.Conservation and sustainable use of dryland forest:Rehabilitation, re-introduction and protection of desert Haloxylon and riparian (‘tugai’) tree species inthe cold margins of Kyzylkum Desert (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) and Karakum Desert(Turkmenistan).Preservation of endangered and threatened endemic species of plants and animals (migratory birdshabitats and many rare species of animals lost their habitat). Rehabilitation and protection of naturalwetlands with unique and productive ecosystems that are severely degraded by intensive irrigatedagriculture in the Aral Sea Basin.