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Central Asia faces land degradation head on in upcoming regional report

Group photo of participants at the ELD Central Asia Regional Report writeshop, Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo:Dryland Systems.

Land degradation is a serious issue with far-reaching implications threatening the food security and economic growth of Central Asia.

Despite being an extremely large area with varied geography; from highlands and mountains to valleys and vast deserts, Central Asian countries face many similar environmental and agricultural challenges. Yet, until recently, very few collaborative initiatives aimed at addressing and overcoming those common challenges existed.

In 2015, the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative launched the trans-national research project “An assessment of the Economics of Land Degradation for Improved Land Management in Central Asia”. The project includes countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and aims to uncover the costs and benefits of sustainable land management practices and opportunities for scaling these up. This information will serve as the basis for drafting relevant and robust evidence-based policy recommendations for national governments and key decision makers in the private and public sectors.

More light needs to be shed on the serious environmental issues facing Central Asia. This is why clear policy recommendations coming out of this ELD project are needed to mitigate land degradation and restore degraded land in the region,” said Dr. Richard Thomas, Scientific Coordinator of the ELD Initiative and Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.

Detailed  studies were undertaken in each of the five countries, which reflected the national development priorities and opportunities in each area. The findings of these studies will be summarized into conclusions for viable sustainable land management options by an umbrella study supported by CAREC. In addition to the regional report, five country reports with specific policy recommendations will be produced.

57 years of studying forest degradation in Kazakhstan informed us that 5.5 thousand hectares of green forests are lost each year due to degradation and fire – equivalent to USD1.5 million. We need to improve land management and conservation practices to protect our forests and livelihoods,” said Sabit Baizakov, team leader of the Kazakhstan report.

Writeshop to put heads together on common challenges

The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, acting as the scientific coordinator of the ELD Initiative, was commissioned along with the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) to organize and facilitate a writeshop that brought together the authors and researchers of the individual country reports. The writeshop was held from 17 – 18 October in Tbilisi, Georgia. Two days were devoted to sharing knowledge and lessons learned on best practices and successful examples of sustainable land management, as well to identifying common regional challenges and success factors that determine the scalability of these practices across Central Asia.

The writeshop took off with individual countries presenting a brief overview of their case studies, research findings and outstanding challenges. This was followed by group discussions on alternative options for sustainable land management, considering both country-specific and regional needs and challenges. The interactive atmosphere and facilitation created a dynamic knowledge and experience sharing platform, through which individual countries could fill any knowledge or research gaps.

Turkmenistan has 38 million hectares of desert pastures, but 50% of these are degraded, decreasing fodder yields. This is caused by a discrepancy in land ownership and livestock ownership, and uncontrolled grazing. The NPV of the ecosystem services of these pastures has decreased from USD40 to USD30. An organized pasture management structure is needed to ensure equitable and sustainable use of land which does not exceed the carrying capacity of the pastures,” said Elmar Mamedov, team leader of the Turkmenistan report.

The second day focused on writing policy recommendations that are clear, practical and evidence-based. The participating country authors and researchers agreed that the policy recommendations should provide persuasive arguments to overcome the lack of initiative from governments and key investors and decision makers. These recommendations should also align with national and regional development agendas and models. The scope of the analysis covered governance options, education, legal frameworks, livelihoods, capacity building and international cooperation.

The final regional report and policy briefs will be presented to various stakeholders and national and regional policy makers at the end of November in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It is hoped that the evidence and policy recommendations put forward by the Central Asia team of ELD researchers will help trigger action at national and regional levels to combat and reverse land degradation, and also to promote sustainable economic development in Central Asia.

Watch this space for more news and developments on this important regional initiative!

About the author

Marthe Wens is the GIS Intern at the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.