Water is scarce and unaccounted for
Today, agriculture consumes more than 90% of Uzbekistan’s water, and water demands – from agriculture, municipal and industrial consumers – are set to increase. At the same time, water resources are becoming scarcer.
Uzbekistan, already arid and dominated by large desert plains, is particularly susceptible to climate change impacts. The water flowing through the Syr Darya and Amu Darya Rivers, which feed into the Aral Sea and provide much of the country’s water supply, is expected to decrease up to 15% by 2050. Climate change induced increased temperatures, more frequent and extreme droughts, decreased rainfall and changes in weather patterns that shift the growing season represent major threats to the country’s agriculture and economy.
Historically,irrigation canals and drainage facilities were constructed to fulfil the water needs of large-scale, state-owned cooperatives, but as a result of extensive, post-independence land reforms most Uzbek farmers now cultivate smaller plots (35 to 40 ha on average).
Local water consumer associations were established to meet the individualized water needs of these newly independent farmers. Many associations have struggled to ensure the timely delivery of sufficient water to farmers, who, in turn, are reluctant to pay their irrigation service fees. These challenges reinforce each other.
While associations are not accounting how much water exactly has been delivered to whom, conflicts between farmers and water consumer associations are common. Farmers complain of unfair charges, and, what is even more important, this inaccurate accounting for water delivery undermines whatever financial incentive farmers might have to restrict their water use.
Finding a solution to manage water-accounting
The EU financed project on “National policy framework for water management” (part of the bigger programme “Water Governance in Uzbekistan”), implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH together with the scientists from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), has completed research trials that brought considerable improvements in water accounting.
We worked with three water consumer associations, serving about 500 farmers, to test new, electronic tools that enable the associations to automatically account for how much water has been delivered to which farmers.
Oyture Anarbekov, Researcher, IWMI
So-called smartsticks, which are electronic water-accounting devices, can quickly help to determine the volume of water flowing from the on-farm irrigation canal and into farmers’ individual plots. In combination with mini-gauging stations, placed at the boundary between a farmer’s plot and the central canals, the smartsticks produce an electronic reading of how much water is discharged to the farmer.
This information is used to fairly price the association fee; each farmer’s fee is based on the exact volume of water delivered. This accurate, transparent and easy accounting for water delivered resolved conflicts related to water distribution and incentivized the farmers to pay irrigation fees in full and on time, thus securing the schemes’ long-term maintenance and operation.
The pilot yielded very promising results: over-irrigation was considerably reduced, and water was used more efficiently. Conflicts between farmers and water consumer associations decreased, and farmers paid their irrigation fees.
A priority in Uzbekistan – and beyond?
Since early 2019, the project team regularly met with Uzbek policy-makers, reporting on the emerging outcomes from the trials. As a result, implementing smartsticks and mini-gauging stations in irrigation schemes across the country was made a priority in the 2020-2030 National Agricultural Development Strategy and its roadmap. The tools are to be put into use to facilitate effective water delivery and payment for water services nation-wide, helping to alleviate water scarcity.
The Government of Uzbekistan is actively searching for new practices and technologies that can ensure effective and rational water usage.
Akhmadjonov Vokhidjon, Vice-minister of water resources
With checks and balances in place and farmers using just the right amount of water, agriculture will continue to underpin food security and economic development in Uzbekistan, and beyond.