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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 - December 2019

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.

Overall Project Summary

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). 

The PEER project has been tremendous success story. The team succeeded focusing the attention of policy makers and governments on the utilization of marginal agricultural resources. Adaptation measures and preparedness scenarios were developed for rural communities in order to address severe land degradation (mostly affected by salinity) and inconsistent water availability. By bringing public attention to the current situation in the Aral Sea Delta, the team was able to make an essential contribution to the developing of the long-term strategy (2020-2030) of agriculture development in CA countries. The main focus was to expand the distribution and application of the findings in the Central Asian countries and to invite leading institutions from all over the world to cooperate. Nowadays under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Government of Uzbekistan is making significant efforts to address the challenges of the Aral Sea region and improve socio-economic and cultural aspects of local communities. A long-term ‘State Program on Implementation of Strategy of Actions for the period of 2020-2030” was initiated by highlighting the significance of innovations, international partnerships and investments in the development of agrarian sector.

Main achievements:

  • More than 80 events with over 4900 participants we organized, including international conferences, forums, symposiums, workshops and technical presentations to bring attention to the issues of marginal resources and provide new solutions and innovations for development in the Delta of the Aral Sea.
  • More than 60 peer reviewed publications in international journals, including books and book chapters were published.
  • 11 patents were approved in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
  • 6 education courses in National University of Uzbekistan, Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization Engineers and Tottori University, Japan were prepared and started
  • 12 field trips to the upper -and middle and down reaches of the Amu Darya River Basin (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan) were organized to collect samples and investigate water quality conditions, as well as to understand the cause of primary soil salinity and high mineralization of some tributaries that lead to land degradation.
  • A research program with the International Platform for Dryland Research and Education, Tottori University on studies of commercial value and market based approach for NNC was established.
  • Guidelines on best practices and mechanisms for practical dissemination and application of more resilient land use were developed and shared. Biosaline practices (5 technologies developed by ICBA) were up scaled on more than 600 ha.
  • The project outputs include description of 48 species of halophytes and 22 salt tolerant cultivars/crops, which continue to be tested in three watershed sub-basins of the Amu Darya River.
  • Team findings fully supported the hypothesis that diverse, multiple-crop-livestock pasture (mixed crop-livestock) as well as afforestation and agroforestry-based practices are additional means to counter the abandoning of marginal lands.
  • The nutritional value of 66 species of halophytes was analyzed in comparison with traditional crops like alfalfa and corn to provide information for the forage and forage mix production in the region
  • Policy briefs on the agricultural economy cost of saline lands and technologies was developed. 8 project briefs were disseminated online
  • Two vocational and academic training curricula were developed at professional colleges, lyceums, and universities to enhance national capacity and to sustain the application of sound land use management under saline environments. These activities were jointly done with UNDP/GEF-5/ICBA within the framework the FAO-GEF project.
  • Two monographs on desert fruit morphology and pasture improvement was published. A collaborative monograph on ‘Drylands Salinity, Halophytes and Landscape Restoration” was produced by ICBA in collaboration with the International Platform for Drylands Research and Education (IPPDRE), Tottori University, Japan. The book represents an overview of the drylands and salinity issue in a global context. This book is a first edition based mostly on PEER/UNCAWR project materials and will provide a valuable resource and tool for livestock owners, managers, ecologists, and decision makers developing a strategy for the sustainable management of marginal lands (mostly saline), and improving food security and nutrition of rural communities over the world.

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