Pros and Cons of Adopting Water-Wise Approaches in the Lower Reaches of the Amu Darya: A Socio-Economic View

A Water and Marine Sustainability Month Feature Article

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Amu Darya Delta, Public Domain Image - Source NASA

Maksud Bekchanov (Center for Development Research (ZEF), Bonn University), John P.A. Lamers (ZEF/UNESCO (Khorezm) Project, Urgench State University) and Christopher Martius (Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research) have published a paper titled “Pros and Cons of Adopting Water-Wise Approaches in the Lower Reaches of the Amu Darya: A Socio-Economic View,” the abstract of which reads: The increased frequency of water shortages parallel to growing demands for agricultural commodities in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River, Central Asia, calls for improving the system-level water use efficiency, by using interventions at the field level. Despite the existence of various best practices of effective water use (defined here as “water-wise options”), they are not widely adopted by farmers owing to high initial costs of investment and lack of the necessary knowledge and skills of a new generation of farmers after the Soviet era. For assessing the potential of several water-wise techniques, key indicators such as water use reduction rate (WURR), economic efficiency (EE), and financial viability (FV) were combined with expert surveys. A SWOT procedure was used to analyze the (dis)advantages, opportunities and constraints of adopting the selected water-wise methods. Results show that the examined options have substantial potential for increasing water use efficiency under promising EE. The various recommendations aim at improving the sustainability of irrigation water use.

The introduction to their paper reads:

The Khorezm region of Uzbekistan, located in the lower basin of the Amu Darya river, is representative of about 8 million hectares (Mha) irrigated lowlands in Central Asia. Its geographical location at the tail end of the water supply network often does not allow the demand for irrigation, drinking and industrial water to be satisfied in time and space. Since the economy of Khorezm heavily relies on irrigated agriculture, water scarcity directly threatens the income security and livelihood of the rural population and regional welfare. This was evidenced on several occasions during the last decade. Based on an analysis of long-term data, Müller estimated that the probability for the farming population to receive sufficient water decreased from 82% in 1982 to presently not more than 75%. Forecastings of water supply and the water use by the upstream countries Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, predict an even lower discharge of Amu Darya water in the near future. Moreover, given the anticipated population growth (about 2.5% annually), and the increasing demand for industrial water, the water demand for agriculture is very likely to increase. The agricultural sector, which uses about 95% of all water resources, can therefore contribute most to efficient water use, in particular when referring to the present low irrigation water use efficiency both on field level and in the entire system.

Furrow and basin irrigation are the most widespread types of irrigation water use in Central Asia; they are characterized by relatively low energy demand but high water consumption. But, if cropland is inadequately leveled, irrigation water is heterogeneously distributed on the field, which can reduce cotton yield by 25–30% compared to the potential yields. With furrows of 250–400 m or more in length, high percolation rates, high ground water levels, soil salinity and waterlogging become common. The estimated field level efficiency of furrow and basin irrigation practices varied between 48–55% and 40%.

The low water use efficiencies at both the irrigation system and field level call for the introduction of new approaches to obtain a more effective use of irrigation water resources. Assuming that only 40% of the water supplied to the fields reaches the root zone, there seems to be much scope for improving water use in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya. In addition, water efficient practices at the field level reduce the present high pumping and energy costs via indirect water saving in the conveyance system. In contrast, the rehabilitation of canals by lining requires capital investments as high as 1,200 $/ha, which is currently not affordable to farmers.

This study investigates a number of innovations or “best water use practices” to increase water productivity, which are defined here as “water-wise options”. Water-wise innovations are options to reduce water losses, maintaining or increasing production (more crop per drop) and increasing water use efficiency in general, and in particular at the field level. Considering the demand for efficient water use on the one side and financial restrictions on the other side, the main objective of the paper is to provide guidelines to farmers and decision makers on water efficient practices by evaluating the technical feasibility and economic efficiency of different water-wise options and innovations such as laser-guided land leveling, drip irrigation, alternate dry, double, and short furrows at the field level in Khorezm. Given the present low level of farm capital, it cannot be expected that the farming population will adopt water-wise options just because they could be beneficial to the environment. To increase the opportunities for an adoption of water-wise practices, these need to be financially feasible, ecologically sustainable and match the sociological context. Given the present low linkages between farmers and markets, the generally poor access to capital, the high transport costs to the urban market centers, and the reduced availability of technologies, farmers in Khorezm are not in a position to experiment much. Moreover, the use of water-wise technologies demands more skills and understanding of agriculture than the present practices. Thus, this lack of expertise needs to be dealt with as well. In the past, numerous technical shortcomings have been underlined, whilst equally important is upgrading the managerial skills of the producers that have only sporadically been voiced. The specific objectives of this study are therefore to (i) assess, through expert assessments, the (dis)advantages of different water-wise options; (ii) select the most feasible options given the conditions of the Khorezm region; (iii) analyze the economic efficiency of each; (iv) determine the best practices with the highest water use efficiency and the least capital requirement; and (v) evaluate the advantages, disadvantages, opportunities and constraints of adopting advanced technologies with the help of a SWOT analysis.

Read the full article in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation: Bekchanov, M.; Lamers, J.P.; Martius, C. Pros and Cons of Adopting Water-Wise Approaches in the Lower Reaches of the Amu Darya: A Socio-Economic View. Water 2010, 2, 200-216.

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