IWMI in Central Asia

Oyture Anarbekov

“IWMI opened a subregional office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2001. At the time, we were the only international institute conducting water research in Central Asia and we remain so today. Together with our many partners and stakeholders, we tackle the key water management issues facing the region. We provide knowledge, evidence-based solutions, technical advisory services and capacity building to support inclusive water reform processes in the region, including the development of integrated water resources management frameworks. IWMI identifies the best practices for improving irrigation performance, reversing land degradation, addressing interlinkages in the water-energy-food nexus, improving water and energyuse efficiency, promoting economics of water management, and enhancing transboundary water cooperation and governance in shared river basins. We conduct climate change projections in selected river basins, provide capacity building for water management professionals, and carry out impact assessments and on- and off-farm water accounting. Last but not least, we also provide policy analysis, recommendations and actively contribute to the water sector reforms. Our work uses innovative approaches, including digital atlases, water accounting and allocation tools, and hydrological models to support decision-making on water management. IWMI’s strategy is centered around three strategic programs – Water, Food and Ecosystems; Water, Climate Change and Resilience; and Water, Growth and Inclusion – each supported by high-quality science and digital innovation. Our goal in Central Asia is to empower national stakeholders and local people to solve their development challenges.Oyture Anarbekov, Country Manager, IWMI, Central Asia

  • Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
    Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
  • Rural Tajikistan
    Rural Tajikistan
  • Working on Dehkan farms in rural Tajikistan as part of water use associations (WUAs)
    Working on Dehkan farms in rural Tajikistan as part of water use associations (WUAs)
  • Working on Dehkan farms in rural Tajikistan as part of water use associations (WUAs)
    Working on Dehkan farms in rural Tajikistan as part of water use associations (WUAs)
  • Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
    Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
  • A kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
    A kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
  • Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
    Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
  • Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
    Farmer managing her kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
  • Farmer managing his kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
    Farmer managing his kitchen garden in rural Tajikistan.
  • Washing dishes in rural Tajikistan
    Washing dishes in rural Tajikistan
BackgroundWater, Food and EcosystemsWater, Climate Change and ResilienceWater, Growth and Inclusion
Central Asian countries face numerous challenges related to water resources management. Increasing competition for water for irrigated agriculture, energy and domestic use places significant pressure on the limited water resources available in shared transboundary rivers. Water scarcity and security presents one of the greatest challenges for the region. As its population grows, so does the need to create more jobs, and produce more food and more energy – yet water resources are limited. 

Irrigated agriculture consumes approximately 80% of all abstracted water in Central Asian countries. The region is well known for its history of mismanagement of water, energy and land resources that have had widely publicized negative effects on water availability throughout the region. The Aral Sea, a large inland lake, almost disappeared as a result of diverting large portions of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river flows to expand irrigated agriculture (due to inefficient irrigation and irrational cropping patterns). Balancing the sectoral needs for agricultural production and the generation of energy through hydropower is challenging, as the transboundary water flow is disrupted. Climate change and population increases will put additional stress on the region’s water resources with 10% to 30% less water available in the aforementioned rivers by 2050.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is investigating whether better irrigation management and the diversification of cropping patterns can improve livelihoods and reduce health challenges in Central Asia. An approach to irrigation that uses the return flow from drainage water in upstream countries, for example, could improve both agricultural productivity and health by decreasing water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It might also mitigate transboundary conflicts around the use of water and energy resources. Furthermore, IWMI’s research on improving water accounting and measurement at on- and off-farm levels provides a good entry point for improving water governance as well as incentivizing rational water use. IWMI’s research projects use and demonstrate innovative smart tools, technologies and approaches for water management in the region. Last but not least, research is carried out on the conjunctive use of water resources (surface water and groundwater as well as return flows) in the region by looking at water balances in the river basins.
IWMI supports sustainable and inclusive growth in rural areas in the face of climate change. In Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, for example, we are working to improve water-use efficiency at national, basin and farm levels using an approach that combines efforts to influence policy and water governance with capacity building and awareness raising. There is another project that aims to improve wateruse efficiency in the Aral Sea Basin. IWMI calculated the energy footprint of irrigated agriculture in the area and identified that upstream countries spend as much as 50% of their available energy on lift irrigation (extracting groundwater using, for example, petrol or diesel pumps). We developed a range of scenarios for better water management practices and assessed their implications for water and energy savings. This helped to convince governments that improving irrigation efficiency can lead to energy savings. Our findings were disseminated widely through policy dialogues and workshops, and in research publications. As a result, the Government of Uzbekistan has adopted a policy to heavily subsidize water-saving technologies, with Tajikistan gearing up to do the same.
Sustainable development in the Central Asian states requires effective transboundary governance of the region’s water supply. IWMI has built close links with the ministries responsible for water resources and the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination in Central Asia, which deals with the management of transboundary rivers in the region. A recent project established transboundary institutions on two small tributaries in the Fergana Valley. Another project is working to improve water- and energy-use efficiency in transboundary river basins that drained into the Aral Sea, where the competition for water results in reduced basin-wide productivity. For over a decade, IWMI has sought to strengthen WUAs throughout the region, by building their capacity for integrated water resources management, and introducing technologies, best practices and models to improve their effectiveness, as well as advising governments on policies and procedures to support their success. In Tajikistan, a five-year impact assessment conducted by IWMI highlighted the importance of closely involving all community members in designing and managing WUAs. These are important findings for the region as a whole.

IWMI brings specific knowledge, tools and institutional capacity to address and support gender equality in all its activities. This includes ensuring that the voices of both women and men are heard, the rights of women, youth and other vulnerable groups are recognized, and that they all benefit equally from project activities. We engage women and young professionals in all water management processes, with a specific emphasis on capacity development. IWMI has conducted extensive research on the links between gender and water in Tajikistan and in countries in the Fergana Valley.

Future directions

IWMI anticipates 10 areas for further development of its research portfolio in Central Asia:

  1. Water-saving technologies (irrigation technology, water productivity, groundwater, water quality – building on the current portfolio).
  2. Leading/facilitating river basin planning processes in the region – from small tributaries to major river basins.
  3. Digital innovation (geodatabases and mapping for planning and policy making, water accounting and potential for innovation).
  4. Climate change adaptation (data and information for adaptation planning and investment – building on current activities).
  5. Economics and policy analysis (impact assessment, analysis of policy options, potential for macroeconomic studies).
  6. Enhancing transboundary water cooperation and governance (evidence in support of dialogues, co-convening, facilitation of planning, inclusion, capacity building).
  7. Water-energy-food nexus studies, cost-benefit analysis and interlinkages.
  8. Acting as knowledge partners for policy dialogues on water sector reforms in the region.
  9. Institutional strengthening of water agencies, capacity building and impact assessment.
  10. Gender, youth and inclusion in water resources management.

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Economics and equity

At IWMI, researching underlying economic and social trends helps us understand why people migrate. They also explain the impact of remittances and loss of agricultural labor, as well as consequences of migration on gender roles and food and water security. For instance, communities with higher levels of income inequality, or relative deprivation, may experience greater levels of out-migration compared to consistently low-income communities. In addition, migration changes intra-household gender-labor composition, which can change the access of smallholders to water resources, affecting the functioning of community-based institutions and consequently household and local food security. IWMI also focuses on circular economy, a strategy to recover and reuse waste, to boost food security and understand how interventions can encourage refugee and host communities to retain scarce resources.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Urban & rural transformation

As agricultural opportunities fluctuate in rural areas, migration, particularly to urban areas, is an adaptation technique to secure incomes and alternative livelihoods. Income generated by migrants is often sent back to family as remittances to support communities at home. At IWMI, we assess linkages between rural and urban areas, as well as the role of agricultural knowledge systems and food and water security. We recognize there are complex push and pull factors such as individual aspirations, economic opportunity, social norms, climate variability and government policies which drive migration and affect rural communities, particularly youth. Our work follows a ‘positive migration’ philosophy, framing migration as an adaptation technique and socio-economic choice (in many cases) rather than a problem to be solved, and focuses on establishing safer, more regular migration by supporting changes to migration governance in sending regions.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Covid-19 disruption & adaptation

Covid-19 has caused a rupture in migration logistics and exposed inequities in the migration system, yet drivers of movement remain. Government lockdowns and closed borders due to the pandemic curtailed movement for migrants, posing complex problems for migrant hosting and origin countries. There have been significant economic shocks, with a sharp decline in unemployment for migrants and an inability to send money home through remittances to support family. Some migrants face social stigma for returning home without an income, particularly if families relied on loans to support their journeys. Consequences have been severe for informal migrants who lack government protection in their host countries. Migrants, particularly those living in crowded, lower-income neighborhoods, have been experiencing stigmatization related to the spread of Covid-19. We look at the impacts of Covid-19 on migration governance and rural areas across seven countries, development planning in Ghana, migration challenges in Southeast Asia, and community-based disaster management and resilience building in South Africa.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Water, climate change and agrarian stress

Migration, water and climate stress are inextricably linked to rural development. Water stress and climate variability can act as a driver of fragility, intensifying pre-existing political, social, economic and environmental challenges. Initiatives designed to address migration-related challenges must tackle inequalities and the exclusion of women, youth and marginalized groups; governance opportunities to better manage water and natural resources and technology and innovations to help communities escape socio-ecological precarity and thrive despite climate challenges. IWMI intends to build climate resilience by implementing projects which tackle gender-power inequalities in the face of dynamic, economic-social-ecological challenges. Our work brings together affected communities, institutional stakeholders and social actors to manage water in response to climate variability and agrarian stress, striving to address complex physical and social variables.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender, intersectionality and social inclusion

It is critical to center gender and intersectional identities when unpacking migration phenomena. Gender as a social construct guides social norms and relations, including the decision-making processes and mechanisms leading to migration. We recognize that the intersections between race, age, class, sex, caste and region shape the migrant experience.

IWMI strives to offer transformative approaches and solutions for women, youth and marginalized groups, regarding them as equal partners in our work rather than passive end-users.  For example, within communities that experience male out migration, socio-political systems are restructured to make women, youth and other groups active agents in their own agri-food transformation. Migration patterns contribute to the feminization of agriculture, and women may experience a greater burden of responsibility coupled with an increased ability to access and control resources and policies to build sustainable livelihoods. Acknowledging social complexities helps researchers and communities understand migration trends and address structural power imbalances to build a more equitable world.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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