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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). 

Over the past few months, as part of the ongoing work in the Amu Darya River and Zerafshan River Delta areas of the Central Asia, new data on the possibilities of using of non-conventional resources in these marginal areas of Karakalpakstan and Tajikistan were collected through community interviews and additional biophysical data were generated. Using a combination of modeling and laboratory analysis, the team developed new digital maps of land use, soil-salinity-matrix (SSM), landscape, hydrology, and groundwater (including overall water resources and irrigation infrastructure). These will form the basis for the analysis of the use and impacts of non-conventional water.

In the delta areas, farmers, households and agropastoralists are discovering the value of crop diversification, agroforestry, intercropping sorghum, quinoa, pearl millet, amaranthus and other nontraditional crops between rows of multi-purpose trees as a means to stabilize and enrich the soil. The perennial sorghum ‘Azamat’ yield values for this farming season showed great promise in these areas as a halophyte crop that endures salinity and drought conditions well. In the Karauzyak district 22 farmers and 14 animal herders planted perennial sorghum on abandoned high saline lands. The up-scaling of biosaline practices was estimated to increase farm productivity by >20%, 30% water efficiency for irrigation, and significant contributions to food security. The aim is to strengthen farmers’ capacity to produce high quality seed for national and commercial needs.

At a more regional level, a new partnership began with UNESCO Chair Holder in Water Management in Central Asia, Kazakh-German University and GIZ (Tashkent regional sub-office) and the recently established regional network “Women and Water in Central Asia and Afghanistan.” The PEER_UNCAWR team were requested to produced maps and time-series of climate projections (rainfall and temperature, land use practices, ground water mineralization; soil salinity and others parameters) for the upper and middle streams of the Amu Darya River sub-basins. In addition, a statistical model was developed for predicting yield reduction in quinoa based on salt tolerance traits in a germplasm from ICBA and from NARS partnering countries (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan). This will support the modeling and prognosis aspects of non-conventional crops under drought prone and saline environments and will predict the impacts on yields and food security in the region.

The next stage is to develop national marginal water management systems to undertake a vulnerability/impact assessment for each country. Work plans for this assessment were developed during the expert consultation meeting held in Vakhsh in June 18-20, 2017.

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