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News: October 2006


Germany's Center for Development Research is engaged in a project to improve the lives of thousands of people in the Uzbek district of Khorezm, next to the Aral Sea. The German team says the lessons being learned in Khorezm will be applicable to other regions that have suffered environmental degradation.

The Aral Sea in Central Asia was once the world's fourth-largest freshwater lake, but because so much water 'has been taken out of its river systems to irrigate crops, it has shrunk to 25 percent of its former size.

Aral Sea disaster

Scientists from Germany's Center for Development Research at Bonn University teamed up with Uzbek scientists in 2001 on a long-term project to develop ways to stop the damage.

Project coordinator Christopher Martius told RFE/RL that a lot of time has been spent getting to understand the problems involved.

"We found out that many of the things being said about the Aral Sea and the problems of the region are misinterpreted," he said. "You have to be really present in the region to get the problem statements right in the first place."

Improve upstream soil

Acceptance of the measures by the farmers is key, as it is they who must work to improve the soil and use less water. Soon the scientists should be able to provide the Uzbek government a functioning model based on proven concepts for combating ecological degradation, and thus rural poverty.

Martius outlines a package of measures which are not revolutionary, being mainly long-established recommendations for environmentally-sound farming. What is revolutionary, says Martius, is the way different ideas are being combined to create an integrated whole.

"We are trying to improve the water-use efficiency in the land-use systems, in the agricultural systems, which are at present dominated by cotton production, wheat production, and some rice - and we all know that rice is a very highly water-consuming crop, and so we try to improve the water use, but not only on the fields," he said.

The reforesting of the land by planting quick-growing trees is also an important element in the plan, as trees protect against wind erosion, return biological material to the soil, provide food for animals, and firewood.

Indigo - the less thirsty crop

"The other side is soil quality, which is degrading due to many, many years of monoculture," he said. "So by having a high diversity of crops in the region you can improve the soil, you can improve the water balance, and you can make farmers less dependent on one or two crops, less dependent on the world market prices for these crops, and hopefully provide them with prospects for a better income."

Another idea that will be suggested is the cultivation of the indigo plant. Indigo, a natural dye giving an intense blue color, is a high-value crop. In association with the United Nations, test patches of indigo are being grown, and thought is being given to how the dye can be extracted.

"It will be a ruche crop, it will not cover the whole area, but it will give farmers an opportunity to have - on a very small piece of land - a quite high income, so that they receive a very good contribution to the household economy," Martius said.

Contrary to cotton, which is a thirsty crop and which exhausts the soil, indigo can help improve the soil - not degrade it.

The joint German - Uzbek project is aimed primarily at improving the condition of the upstream irrigation systems - not at improving the overall condition of the Aral Sea.

By B. O'Rourke

Source: The Times of Central Asia, 3.10.2006


A new consignment of technical equipment manufactured by Caterpillar (USA) has been delivered to the Ministry of Water of Turkmenistan. The shipment includes 9 excavators, 5 bulldozers and two ditchers for the construction of the new water facility - the Turkmen lake, built in the center of the Karakum desert, and for works to expand irrigated agricultural lands on the virgin tracts.

It is the first consignment of machinery supplied towards a contract signed between the Ministry of Water and Zeppelin International AG Company, a Caterpillar dealer, based on a decree by the Turkmen President. The total value of the contract is $31 million.

In addition, Turkmen mechanical engineers have received 16 units of machinery from the Japanese Komatsu company, delivered to Turkmenistan according to the decree President Saparmurat Niyazov signed on September 26, 2005. According to a similar document signed by the head of state this summer, 89 Komatsu manufactured earth moving and construction machines, including 69 excavators and 20 bulldozers will be supplied to the country by July 2007 at a cost of $20 million.

Source: The Times of Central Asia, 3.10.2006