Economic and Ecological Restructuring of Land- and Water Use in the Region Khorezm (Uzbekistan); a Pilot Project in Development Research (ZEF Khorezm Project)

Published on 30 November 2010

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Start Date: 1 January 2008 | End Date: 31 December 2011


Unsustainable agricultural practices cause livelihood insecurity and environmental instability in the rural areas of Uzbekistan, Central Asia. Irrigated agricultural practices are not only at the root of land degradation and water insecurity, but the problems have extended beyond the agricultural sector and affecting overall life. Hence, increasing land and water productivity is a major pathway to sustainable development and poverty eradication. Since agriculture is a major driver of ecosystem change, there is an urgent need to translate research findings on the best land and water- use practices into action and application. 

The ZEF/UNESCO project in Uzbekistan did not view water and land use separately but as integrated and closely linked elements of concern. Water is regarded thus not only as an input in irrigated agriculture, but as a resource for the entire livelihood systems that are part of agro-ecosystems and landscapes. As such, it provides multiple services and has many purposes. The overarching questions of this research for development project were to:

· identify options (socio-economical and institutional innovations) that can sustainably improve land and water productivity to the benefit of peoples’ livelihood and the environment by minimizing or even reversing the loss of ecosystem services;

· identify actions in which soil nutrients and organic matter dynamics lead to restoring soil fertility and link these to potential development options for the region;

· develop adequate monitoring, impact assessment and decision-support methods with the use of modern tools such as GIS and remote sensing (RS);

· improve human and institutional capacity to address these complex issues.

These goals are in compliance with the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating poverty and hunger and achieving food and water security, but also with the United Nations conventions on desertification/land degradation and climate change as well as with the long-term strategic programs of the EU and Germany devised for Central Asia.

Phase I (2002-2004) focused on the establishment of central databases and infrastructure and focused on analyzing data gaps. During Phase II (2004-2007), targeted field surveys and trials on alternative water and land use options, studies to increase the understanding of institutions and processes, and value chains of cotton and wheat underscoring were completed. During Phase III (2007-2011) an integrated concept was tested for restructuring land and water use on a landscape segment made available by the regional authorities. Evaluation and adaptation of innovations with relevant stakeholders (farmers, water managers, policy makers), the so-called Follow-the-Innovation (FTI) process, was an important component of Phase III. The scale of analyses of the project has been field, farm/household, water users association (watershed level) and basin. These levels were linked with GIS/RS tools and mathematical modeling.

The project benefited from the approach of BMBF to commit itself for 10-12 year project duration. This approach allowed promoting an inter- and multi-disciplinary view and approach. The use of GIS, mathematical modeling, new analytical methods, and household surveys offered a spectrum of different solutions, which is more than what isolated projects usually can do. The extended time frame was also conducive for strategic capacity building. Since the onset of the project in 2002, 52 Ph.D. students, about half of them from Uzbekistan, have conducted their research in the framework of the project and 27 have successfully defended of which 11 from Uzbekistan (as of July 2011). Thesis findings were communicated in numerous manuscripts (see During field studies and surveys in Khorezm, Ph.D. candidates conducted not only their core research but also have supervised a large number of local M.Sc. (about 100) and B.Sc. students (about 90). However, the capacity building was not limited to people, but also involved institutions. The project works together with educational organizations such as state University of Urgench (UrDU) and contributed hardware (computers, printers, laboratory equipment), helped to develop and disseminate training and teaching materials and thus leveraged investments in capacity building. 

Tasks to be addressed in the proposed final Phase IV (2012-2014) are the strengthening of human and institutional capacity, the transfer of research and management responsibilities to local partners and the completion of ongoing research that will fill existing knowledge gaps. But above all, the project will center on the dissemination of its innovations and translating project findings into action, by introducing them into national agricultural policies and sharing them with educational and research institutions.

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