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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Use of non-conventional agricultural water resources to strengthen water and food security in transboundary watersheds of the Amu Darya River Basin (UNCAWR)

PI: Kristina Toderich (;, International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA)
U.S. Partner: Robert Nowak, University of Nevada, Reno
Project Dates: December 2015 - November 2018

Project Overview

This project is based on the hypothesis that marginal (low quality) water sources and marginal lands can be used for irrigation and production of non-conventional crops (NCC) as food for human consumption and/or forage for livestock while simultaneously conserving water quality and protecting economic benefits for households. Through practical and analytical experiments on selected sites within the Amu Darya River Basin, Dr. Toderich and her team will investigate economic and environmental impacts of using NCC on salt-affected lands and mineralized waters. These experiments, coupled with their previous results and experience studying various halophytes (salt-tolerant plants), will be integrated into biophysical models that will allow for broader-scale assessment of NCC capacity to improve marginal lands across the region. These experimental and modeled assessments of NCC support local decision-makers in efficient use of local resources, thus helping to improve agricultural productivity and food security of rural households in drylands, as well as helping rural populations adapt to climate change. The project will analyze current and future projected scenarios of water availability in the region, at the same time investigating possible options for reducing water and land stress. The researchers will assess current and future water policy in the region under impact of the utilization of NCC and use of mineralized waters in creating forage for cattle breeding. Such analysis can show the potential of marginal resources as an important link in creating a full cycle of environmentally friendly and economically beneficial scenarios of community development in arid and semi-arid regions.

The project applies an integrated approach to transboundary watershed management of the Amu Darya River Basin to address water resources availability, water quality deterioration, land degradation and ecosystem loss across three river sub-basins located upstream, midstream, and downstream along the Amu Darya River. In each sub-basin, a set of environmentally-friendly interventions will be tested for their ability to better manage water flow, salt accumulation, water quality, and NCC, and thus guide adoption of alternative ways of agriculture to ensure sustainable land and water use and ecosystem stabilization. Collaboration among researchers from different institutions and water and land users will facilitate extension of the implications of project results with other regions with similar environments. Through a participatory approach, water users, women farmers, and low-income families will be trained to cultivate and use NCC. The project will also create a freely-available analytical database to inform stakeholders about best practices and low-cost agriculture production and irrigation technologies. The project will also strengthen regional partnership networks and knowledge exchanges among experts in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.

Summary of Recent Activities

4-407 Saraygul Village Visit
Team members visited Saraygul Village in which is testing plots of  non-traditional crops as recommended by the project team (photo courtesy of Dr. Toderich). 

During the past quarter, the research team analyzed water, soils and plant samples collected during the Fall expedition mission across ADB and the dry bottom of Aral Sea. The PI also assessed and documented the changes in the natural and agro-landscapes affected by salinity and drought on the parts of the dried bottom of the Aral Sea, compared with those on soil-geobotanical studies of the 1980s and 1990s (done by Dr N. Novikova, Institute of Water Problems, Russia).

The team also established an Alley-cropping-livestock system with Atriplex (perennial forage shrub) to check: 1 - the suitability and efficiency of water use: shrubs having a deep rooting system would use moisture efficiently not available for annual crops; 2- that short-term vegetation of annual frost tolerant winter legumes and cereals will provide with additional high protein forages in early spring time; additionally, being planted in dense standing biomass these crops significantly decrease the water table level and evapotranspiration that simultaneously decrease the salinization of upper soil profile; 3- that salt bushes, being highly salt-drought and frost tolerant species, survive under harsh desert/semidesert climate conditions for many years and can serve a source of fire wood for rural poor communities.

Moving forward, scaling these packages throughout Uzbekistan and other countries in the region will demonstrate the benefits of cultivating salt-tolerant plants. The research findings also fully support the hypothesis that diverse, multiple-crop-livestock pasture (mixed crop-livestock) system are more effective than crop rotation with CA alone. Afforestation and agroforestry-based practices are additional means to counter balance of abandoning marginal lands. These practices do not only re-vegetate saline landscapes but they also have concurrently positive impacts, such as reducing soil erosion, maintaining/increasing soil fertility, water use efficiency, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration as shown for the region Moreover, such practices offer benefits to smallholder farmers by providing environmentally friendly fertilizers, food for human consumption, livestock fodder, timber, and fuelwood.

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