Can we save the livelihoods of farmers of the devastated Aral Sea region?
Unsustainable use of the region’s natural resources has led to a dramatic shrinking of the Aral Sea since the 1960s. It is now a mere 10 percent of its original size, and the effects have been disastrous to the region’s environment and economy.
The way out is not only to find ways to increase water levels but to bring modern agricultural practices to farmers and to create new economic opportunities for the region’s citizens.
The UN Aral Sea Programme is working to create new income-generating opportunities for small subsistence farmers and to create new jobs in tourism and handicrafts for the region’s most vulnerable: women and young people.
To date, the programme has engaged more than 300 farmers and dehkhans in its capacity-building activities and has supported the development of 32 business plans in 2012 and 14 this year for the establishment of demonstration plots in various areas of agriculture, including gardening, livestock and pasture management, greenhouse vegetable production, beekeeping, and community forestry. To date, the programme has co-financed the set up of 14 small business projects, with others coming soon.
Based on data from the Council of Farmers of Karakalpakstan, the existing supply of water for irrigation covers only 30 to 40 percent of what farmers actually need. This severe water shortage is being compounded by outdated agricultural and irrigation practices, resulting in low land fertility and a subsequent loss of income and reduction in food security for the surrounding communities.
So how can we improve the efficiency of small farms given existing agricultural practices and environmental conditions?
Water-saving technologies, such as laser land leveling, will be a big part of the solution.
Laser land leveling was initially demonstrated by the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme and Khorezm Rural Advisory Support Service in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan.
The technology involves the use of a laser device to level the land surface, which allows for the even spread of irrigation water, improving the fertility of the land by up to 10 percent and reducing the amount of needed water by up to 25 percent.
What does laser land leveling look like? From “Abat turmis” on Karakalpak National TV
Scaling up best practices
The UN Aral Sea Programme, together with the Council of Farmers of Karakalpakstan, has now provided six sets of laser leveling equipment to small farming enterprises in Kanlikul and Shumanay districts.
With support from the Khorezm Rural Advisory Support Service (KRASS), the UN programme conducted introductory workshops and practical field trainings, engaging 78 dehkhan farmers from Muynak, Shumanay, and Kanlikul districts.
Makhmud Ataev, a 53-year-old owner of a small farming enterprise in Akjap community of Shumanay district, says that the major issues his farm faces are high levels of soil salinity and uneven land.
“We use pumps to irrigate our land, and we don’t have agricultural machinery to cultivate the beds between cotton plants; therefore we have low-yield productivity. If we do land leveling with laser technology, it will bring higher land productivity and will help us save water.”
To ensure the sustainability of this initiative, the small farming enterprises will be sharing this equipment with each other and with neighboring districts. The Council of Farmers of Karakalpakstan will manage the schedule of sharing and provide ongoing support to the dehkhan farmers on the use of this technology.
The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme will also be providing a further six sets of laser leveling equipment for the southern districts of Karakalpakstan.
The introduction of laser land leveling technology to the farms of Karakalpakstan will allow for a more efficient use of water resources, a reduction in land degradation, the return of land resources to productive use, and increased economic activity and food security for the region.
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