Drop by Drop
How Uzbekistan is trying to use water rationally in agriculture – «» report
Following the dissolution of the USSR, there has been a general confusion in how to regulate water flow and its distribution in the Central Asian region. Due to its peculiar geographical location, general depletion of water resources, transboundary problems with water distribution, and problems with irrational use, in recent years Uzbekistan has particularly suffered from water shortage for agriculture. For the country, whose economy depends on agriculture, this is a matter of strategic importance. Introduction of drip irrigation is one of the few effective approaches that may solve this
complicated problem.
"Suv bu hayot" means "water is life," a popular slogan during Soviet times that people in Uzbekistan still remember. As in other countries in Central Asia, the water related situation in quite tense in the country, with deep historical roots. Irrigated agriculture was used in Uzbekistan since ancient times and also involves the use of large amounts of water. In a country where most of the landscape is arid and desert, water is as valuable as gold. Thus, effective water use is critical for the country, and drip irrigation may be an effective solution.

The grape vines will turn green soon on 80 hectares of land in the Nurata region of Uzbekistan. In order to make his dream true and create a vineyard, farmer Laziz Siddikov had to mortgage his property and take out a loan for buying equipment.

Traditional methods of irrigation would be very wasteful. Grapes are around 80 percent water, and with traditional furrow irrigation, a large amount of water goes into the soil or evaporates without reaching the roots of the plant. Therefore, vineyards require special watering conditions.
Uzbekistan is the third CIS republic in terms of population and one of the most densely populated countries in this region. The population is more than 32 million people (January 1, 2017).

of water is used for agricultural needs

of the population in Uzbekistan live in rural areas
47 %

of water in the transboundary rivers Amu Darya and the Syr Darya are used by Uzbekistan

of the main watercourses are located outside of Uzbekistan

of water reserves have decreased over the last 40-50 years

of residents are engaged in the agricultural sector
*Official statistics
A large number of hydraulic facilities, such as water reservoirs and canals, have been built in Uzbekistan since 1945. They provided the opportunity to use virgin land for agriculture. By 1985, there were already more than 20 water reservoirs, and an extensive network of canals was created. Water reservoirs and numerous drainage collectors contributed to the rise in groundwater. Therefore, lands in the fields were exposed to secondary salinization and waterlogging. Huge amounts of water were absorbed into the ground or evaporated, but the issue of using water saving technologies in agriculture was never raised.
The intake of large amounts of water from the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya led to drastic Aral Sea shallowing that the international community raised alarm, as this was one of the main causes of the ecological disaster in the Aral Sea region. The Aral Sea drying up and water quality deterioration led to destructive changes in soil, flora and fauna. Fish stocks also decreased and global warming effects, such as salt dust storms, became more common. This has also affected the economic sector because fish breeding, hunting, and muskrat breeding almost completely disappeared downstream Amu Darya. Cotton and livestock breeding in the mid-80s suffered enormous losses which caused a wave of tensions.
By 1985, as the number of water reservoirs increased, so too did the content of salt and poisonous elements in the river water: 48% of land in Namangan, 23% in Andijan and 22% in the Syr Darya regions of Uzbekistan were extremely saline. More than 1.5 million hectares have been affected by salinization in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The Republic of Uzbekistan funds 45 million hectares of land, including about 25 million hectares of agricultural land. However, approximately 80% of this land is pasture, while arable land occupies slightly more than 14 percent. This is due to the fact that large areas of the Republic of Uzbekistan are deserts used by households only as pastures. But modern agricultural technologies and market economy conditions allow for rational and effective use of these lands.

Historically, the economy of Uzbekistan has been agrarian oriented. Its main industry for almost 100 years was growing cotton, but watering cotton fields using traditional methods required a lot of water.

The competition between socialist and capitalist thought in agricultural leadership led Uzbekistan to the edge of the food chasm and ecological collapse.

The water shortage in Uzbekistan is related, inter alia, to the use of transboundary waters in Central Asia. Disintegration of the USSR and the resulting transitional governments of the Central Asian republics have only aggravated the problem.

A paradoxical situation has emerged, in which a region generally rich in water resources now sees an acute water deficit, the reason being uneven distribution of water between neighboring countries. The main stumbling block is the use of water resources of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins that form the Aral Sea basin.
Water shortage
Uzbekistan is downstream Syr Darya and Amu Darya, so it depends on the upstream countries (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) regulating the river flow. This dependence is 77% (data of the National Institute of Strategic Studies of the Kyrgyz Republic).
Today, the country has a complicated situation with rational water use in agriculture.

Total water deficit in Uzbekistan by 2005 - 2 km³
Projection by 2030 - 7 km³
By 2050 - 50 km³

Increase as needed for irrigation:
By 2030 - 5%
By 2050 - 7-10%
By 2080 - 12-16%

The current irrigation water availability for agriculture is 75%, which is the result of measures that have already been adopted. Thus, water deficit is 25%.

Water resources in agriculture
Agriculture is an important branch of Uzbekistan's economy, providing the population with food, industries and raw materials.

Uzbekistan annually produces over 17 million tons of fruits and vegetables: more than 300 kg of vegetables, 75 kg of potatoes and 44 kg of grapes per capita, which is three times higher than the optimal consumption standards generally accepted globally. Since ancient times, to fight against drought, the people of Uzbekistan have learned to use river water for irrigation, thus creating several irrigation systems. As a result of the agricultural sector diversification, most fields previously used for cultivating cotton are now occupied by vineyards, potatoes and other crops.

The development of this sector of the economy is hindered by an inadequate supply of water resources. Given the growth of the country's population and increase in the agricultural land area, the problem is becoming more severe.

For a large agrarian country with an arid, hot climate and long summer seasons, water will always remain an important strategic resource. Thus, problems with the water supply can affect national security as well.
The drip irrigation method is one of the most effective ways of rational use of water in Uzbekistan. In 1963, the first patent for the invented drip irrigation system was issued in Israel, and a year later the same irrigation system appeared in the United States. Scientists of these countries had everything to implement their projects in practice – both funds and a team of assistants, as well as scientific literature.

However, few people know that in 1968 the agronomist Jamoliddin Boltabaev in Namangan, erected a drip irrigation system on his land by improvising with what he had around him—a hose, buttons and smoldering iron. He had a strong desire to develop his farm and use water rationally, and he was the first person in Uzbekistan to use a drip irrigation system.
Years later, the agronomist's son Adbulvohid Boltabaev used his father's system to expand his own business. First, Adbulvohid successfully tested the tubular drip irrigation system on his cotton field. From one hectare of land the farmer received 38 hundredweight of cotton. For comparison: his neighbors received 15-21 hundredweight per hectare from the same area. In addition, Abdulvohid used three times less water, 50 percent less mineral fertilizers, and 58-60 liters per hectare less fuel for agricultural machinery.
Today, Abdulvohid provides services for the manufacturing and installation of drip irrigation systems "on a turn-key basis." He has his own production enterprise under the farm "Jamoliddin Sardor Hamkor." But not everyone can afford drip irrigation.

The average cost of installing this system around the world ranges $1,200-3,000 USD per 1 hectare of land. So, for example, according to the pricelist of Abdulvohid's production enterprise, installation of drip irrigation for wheat will cost farmers 91,6 million UZS (about $25,000 USD) per 10 hectares; for cotton, 88,4 million UZS (about $24,000 USD). The most economical is the drip irrigation system for gardens – 50,4 million UZS (about $14,000 USD). This will allow a total savings of 26,890,709 UZS (more than $7,000 USD), 21,450,729 (about $6,000 USD) and 30,104,813 UZS (more than $8,000 USD), respectively, compared to traditional irrigation.

As noted in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Management of Uzbekistan, drip irrigation allows saving 65% of the consumed water in growing cotton and up to 54% in horticulture and growing vegetables and increases yields significantly.
Electricity - 499,000 UZS
Water – 111,760 m³
Fertilizers - 114,000 UZS
Electricity - 317,000 UZS
Water - 6,600 m³
Fertilizers - 37,000 UZS
Electricity - 320,000 UZS
Water - 11,455 m
Water usage issues are given a high level of importance in Uzbekistan and are considered part of the national security of the country. The current system of measures allows reducing water intake throughout the country by 21 percent compared to 1990. Water withdrawal has decreased from 62 to 51 billion m³ per year. Specific water intake decreased from 18,000 m³ to 10,500 thousand m³ per hectare of irrigated land (decrease by 42%).
The legislative framework for reforming the country's water economy was set in motion by two resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers:

• No. 290 "On improving activities of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Management of the Republic of Uzbekistan" (June 21, 2003)

• No. 320 "On improving water management organization" (July 21, 2003)

This was a signal for a transition from administrative water resource management to a market one. In addition, administrative management by regions was replaced by a more progressive basin based one. The Association of Water Users of Uzbekistan was also established.

More than 80 legislative acts currently deal with water resource use in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Special Fund
In 2007, the Special Fund for Irrigated Land Reclamation was established.

The 2008-2012 state program for irrigated lands reclamation was developed and implemented with much funding from the state. More than $500 million USD were spent as part of this program and a special company, Uzmeliomash Leasing, was established for its implementation. The program has been successful and more than $1,2 billion USD was allocated in the budget for the next state program entitled, "Improving Irrigated Lands Reclamation Status and Rational Use of Water Resources for 2013-2017."

The Fund provides preferential credit lines for farmers who use drip irrigation. Loans are provided to agricultural producers and residents of the Republic of Uzbekistan, but only to finance the projects included in the state program. Usually, the provided loans do not exceed 1,000 of minimum wage in Uzbekistan for at least three years. For obtaining a loan, borrowers shall have one or more types of collateral.
Farms introducing drip irrigation and other water saving technologies are exempt from payment of land and other types of taxes for five years.
International cooperation
The Drainage Project of Uzbekistan, worth $74,55 million USD, was completed with the support of the World Bank

Rehabilitation of the Kuyumazar pumping station supported by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was worth $12 million USD.

Rehabilitation of the Karakul pumping station supported by Chinese investors was worth $14 million USD.

The first two phases of the "Water Initiative of Germany for Central Asia" project were successfully implemented.

The projects "Rehabilitation of the main irrigation canals of the Tashsaka system in the Khorezm region" are underway involving the Islamic Development Bank and will cost around $144,2 million USD.

The program "Rehabilitation of the pumping stations Navoi and Uchkara," worth $38,26 million USD, will be launched jointly with France.

The Asian Development Bank, in turn, provided $284,46 million USD for rehabilitation of the Amu-Bukhara irrigation system.

The following are planned projects: "Improving Water Resource Management in Southern Karakalpakstan" (funded by the World Bank) and "Improving Water Resources Management in Surkhandarya Region" (funded by Islamic Development Bank)

Usmonkul Norkulov
associate professor of the Tashkent State Agrarian University
The water management problem is one of the main issues in the country. At the same time, it unites the entire region. Uzbekistan owns only 20% of the total water, while the remaining 80% comes to Uzbekistan from neighboring countries. In some years, we observed about 15-20% of the water deficit, but these percentages can increase.

In my opinion, the problem can be resolved as follows: introduction of drip irrigation system; use of polyethylene film, which ensures water saving, on average, by 50-60%; replacement of temporary irrigators with polyethylene pipelines, which will reduce water filtration deep into the soil.

Yusup Kamalov
ecologist, chairman of the Union for Aral Sea and Amu-Darya Protection
Up to 80% of water in agriculture is wasted. There is no deficiency in water supply. The is an issue of irrational use of water. Any technology would be unprofitable as long as farmers are not free and poor. Farmers don't have freedom to make decisions, their initiative is generally suppressed. All this doesn't allow them to work more efficiently. We maintain the model of the Soviet economy in our agricultural sector. Ministers are unable (as well as unwilling) to support farmers, all they want is to rule them. Following the old authoritarian setup, our state and economy work in tandem, while in fact the economy should be separated from the state. If the farmers were to manage the economy (including water use), we would make a better progress.

There are a number of ways to use water effectively apart from the drip irrigation. For example, during the Soviet time the Karakalpak branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan developed a method of cotton «hardening». Using this method, farmers cultivated cotton that would sent its roots to the depth of up to six-seven meters. Growing cotton this way only required flush-watering in autumn and water-charging in spring. There was no need for watering during the whole vegetation period. The development of this method has since ceased. Surely, there are still examples of little-known technologies throughout Central Asia that can be re-discovered and implemented. But again, there is no interest and incentive for the main actors, i.e. farmers.

People involved in this project: (Uzbekistan): Dariya Osmanova, Romina Tulyakova, Saida Sulaimanova
Tiroz (Tajikistan): Hurshed Ulmasov, Sultondzhon Usmanov, Natalia Dorofeeva
Yntymak (Kyrgyzstan): Asanbek Karakozuev, Alisher Isamov, Kubanych Zhusanov, Zhanybek Derkenbaev, Adina Dosumbetova, Aleksandr Shabalin