Drought and Salt Damage in Uzbekistan

JIRCAS International Symposium Proceedings
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The Republic of Uzbekistan located in the centre of Central Asia and occupies 447.4 thousand km2. The
population is about 29 million, 51% of whom are urban residents, 49% of Uzbekistan’s population lives in
rural areas. The territory of Uzbekistan is a combination of flat and mountain terrain. More than 2/3 of the
territory is covered by plains (Turan plain, Fergana Valley, Valley of the rivers Amudarya, Syrdarya and
Zarafshan rivers and their tributaries), and 1/3 made up of mountains and foothills (spurs of Tyan-Shan,
Gissar-Alay). The highest point of Uzbekistan’s mountains is 4,643 meters asl, the lowest point, in Aral
Sea area, is 53 m. The climate of Uzbekistan is sharply continental. The growing of agricultural crops is
impossible, without artificial irrigation since the ratio of precipitation to potential evaporation is around
0.1-0.3 and less.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MAWR) irrigated land occupies 4,200
thousand hectares. According to the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on statistics, in 2012,
the total cropped land in Uzbekistan amounted to 3583.9 thousand hectares (include 44.8% under grain
crops, 36.5% under cotton and 17% ?potato, vegetables, melons and fodder crops) (as for July 1, 2012)1.
Irrigated lands of the Republic of Uzbekistan are mostly prone to salinization. This is interlinked to the
aridity of climate, geological and hydrogeological conditions of the irrigated territories. Salinization is one
of the factors, which reduce soil fertility and productivity of irrigated lands significantly. Depending on
the degree of soil salinity, crop losses could be from 15 to 80%. According to the land reclamation
monitoring service of the MAWR saline soil represents more than 50% of the total irrigated land, including
32% of slightly saline, 15% of medium saline, 3.5% of saline.
The main crops grown in Uzbekistan (cotton and wheat) are resistant to salt. Nevertheless, soil
salinization is not a crucial factor for reducing yield of winter wheat considering relatively moist soil due
to precipitation in winter. However, cotton, which is sown in spring, needs good soil moisture with a
minimum of its salinity for ensuring of good growth and development of young plants. Therefore important
agricultural approaches for cotton fields are increasing moisture reserves due to special irrigation as well
as leaching salts from the land before planting.
Uzbekistan’s soil is also very diverse due to differences in genetic, geological, hydrological and
anthropogenically-historical nature. Mostly genetically fertile are foothill land and land of ancient
irrigation. Depending on the zonal location, soils have different quality and uniformity of texture and
fertility. There is also the notion of limitation of irrigation. In the arid climate of Uzbekistan are irrigated
soils poor in humus and have high anthropogenic load. Such soil is prone to salinization, wind and
irrigation erosion. According to the Committee on Land Resources of the Republic of Uzbekistan, 24% of
irrigated land in Uzbekistan has low productivity.
Main part of Uzbekistan’s water resources (80-90%) is use for irrigated agriculture’s needs. Therefore
main problems of rational use of water resources in Uzbekistan are connected with the efficiency of
irrigation systems and water use in the fields.
Periodically, Uzbekistan is in conditions of water scarcity, as in recent years water availability on major
rivers-Amudarya and Syrdarya- does not exceed 70% of the average annual norm. This situation creates
difficulties in securing the necessary volume of water for irrigation. Technology of crop irrigation by
furrows, prevailing at current, leads to filtering water into groundwater and, as a consequence, waterlogging
and salinization. Irrigation of land situated in automorphic conditions ordinarily lead to a flooding of
downstream-located land. Irrigated water lost from the canals by filtering is partially used on fields,
partially irretrievably lost for evaporation (from bands of exclusion along the canals and fields). In addition,
these water losses create an artificial pressure of groundwater what contributes to the development of waterlogging and salinity processes (“pushing” brines from deep aquifers to surface soils);
To encourage farmers to water and resource saving, introduction of methods of reducing water
consumption in agriculture, including advanced irrigation technologies (drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation,
which has so far not developed widely) is needed. Local conditions should be considered within the
framework of the strategy in the water sector and in the implementation of investment projects on
reconstruction of irrigation systems. Apart of this, implementation of above-mentioned advanced irrigation
technologies is required.
An implementation of these technologies only on “very high” and “low” permeable lands occupying ~
25% of irrigated lands would allow to: release of approximately 30-40% of all water resources used for
irrigation in Uzbekistan; reduce the cost of energy at 15%; increase yields of agricultural crops by 30-
50%; solve land reclamation problems on irrigation land as well as on 10% of land closed to irrigation
land; increase almost in two times water productivity; switch to energy-saving land use technologies
(minimal and zero tillage. which are unacceptable in furrow irrigation technology).
The Government of the Republic pays great attention to the problems of streamlining of water
distribution, rehabilitation of irrigation and drainage systems in irrigated lands. There are a number of
laws and presidential decrees and orders of Cabinet of Ministers successfully implemented by the MAWR.
These are a law “On water and water use”, regulation “On limited water use”, a number of decisions on
restructuring of agricultural sector such as e.g. establishment of farms, organization of water management
based on basin principle, establishment of water user associations. A special role is played by the
Government in the reclamation work by creating the special Reclamation Fund for an improvement of
reclamation condition of irrigated lands through reconstruction and repair of large and small drainage
systems. Already this year about 77 million US Dollar were spent on land reclamation of more than 1, 2
thousand hectares of cropland.
Partnership for international cooperation allows to bring new ideas and experiences from other countries,
to raise qualitatively level of scientific research through exchange.
An example of successful project implementation and fruitful cooperation with scientific institutions in
Uzbekistan is a project on “Measures against farmland damage from salinization in Uzbekistan”
implemented by the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS). The results
of the project implemented in the Syrdarya region aimed at adaptation of farmers to more efficient use of
water in their fields by known (simple) methods of land reclamation by high-precision land leveling, small
repairs of drainage on the field and others. Due to project activities farmers’ awareness was raised on
major resource-saving agricultural technics. Exactly this is the first step towards sustainable management
of natural resources.
The project is one of the attempts to undertake measures against natural and man-made adverse
conditions which aggravate efficient agricultural farming activates. The further following areas for
cooperation in the field of use of water and land resources within the framework of joint scientific research
projects may be noted:
・ Development of strategies and methods on effective improvement of water and land management;
・ Search and introduction of resource-saving water and soil protective technologies;
・ Search of methods for soil water-salt regime regulation under conditions of shallow groundwater
level, reducing water consumption and harmful effects of salts.

Date of issued
Creator Yulia Shirokova

Irrigated land use


water efficiency

technology of irrigation


Publisher Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences
Issue 2012
spage 110
epage 122
Rights Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences
Language eng