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Strengthening knowledge on Sustainable Land Management in Central Asia

Date: 01.07.2013.

Scientists, policymakers and practitioners are working on ways to make knowledge on sustainable land management more accessible for local populations and authorities for practical use and the shaping of better informed policies. Photo taken by Farhod Hamraev at the inception workshop of the new IFAD-funded project on knowledge management in CACILM.

A new project to streamline the use and creation of knowledge on sustainable land management (SLM) in Central Asia in the face of climate change has been recently launched during an inception workshop in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic. The initiative aims to improve knowledge on SLM practices in the region, and tailor this knowledge to the needs of local populations and authorities for practical use and the shaping of better informed policies. It lays the groundwork for the second phase of a larger multi-donor investment program called the Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management (CACILM), which was created to respond to risks posed by growing land degradation and climate variability to local communities, who are highly dependent on land resources for their livelihoods. In particular, CACILM supports Central Asian countries in the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. During the inception phase from 2006 to 2009, it delivered a set of regional and national land management projects.

Some 30 policymakers, researchers and practitioners attended the project inception workshop in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, between the 10th and 12th of June 2013. Participants discussed the project's objectives, expected outcomes and core activities, as well as establishing implementation arrangements and agreeing on a work plan. The event was co-organized by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ).

The meeting proved timely as there was general agreement about the urgent need for an efficient system to document knowledge on SLM, and disseminate appropriate practices, technologies and options among policymakers, researchers and land users in Central Asia. Although some efforts had been made before, their impacts on farmers' livelihoods, land productivity, and the mitigation of land degradation were not seen as satisfactory. An innovative approach is needed. Under the project, which is supported by a three-year grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and coordinated by ICARDA, a knowledge platform will be built to consolidate knowledge generated during the Inception Phase of CACILM. Another problem, the participants said, is that there is a considerable body of documented knowledge available through various platforms such as the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT). However, existing knowledge management systems lack effective means of reaching policymakers, farmers and land users in general. The Bishkek workshop gave a renewed impetus to the process of sharing useful approaches and best practices in SLM across the region.

Dr Jozef Turok, ICARDA Regional Coordinator for Central Asia and the Caucasus, said: "Our main objectives are to enhance CACILM knowledge management for facilitating the widespread dissemination of sustainable land management (SLM) practices, to make agricultural systems more productive and sustainable, and to promote climate change adaptation."

Yet, according to researchers, the main question is how to reach farmers and land users, and how to influence their decisions in a way that brings benefits and sustainability. They believe that this requires, among other things, raising the awareness of policymakers to encourage mainstreaming SLM in land use policies, training extension services, and distributing knowledge in a way that reaches land users. The initiative will also produce recommendations on how SLM interventions can be best scaled-up. Researchers will work with target groups, including policymaking units responsible for SLM in each country; non-governmental organizations and rural development agencies; extension agencies, farmers and farmer organizations; universities; and the international donor community active in Central Asia.

Finally, supportive policies need to be in place for these efforts to succeed. Policies should be designed in a way that promotes the use and adoption of SLM practices.

As Dr. Theib Oweis, Director of ICARDA's Water and Land Management Program, which spearheads the effort, explained: "Knowledge management is essential to understanding and disseminating innovative SLM approaches and technologies that have high potential for implementation in the different agro-ecosystems of Central Asia. The evaluation of how these technologies perform in farmers' fields is needed to tailor interventions to specific needs. And the choice of interventions needs to be accompanied by enabling policies and institutional arrangements for each agro-ecosystem."

It is expected that, through this project, knowledge on how to better adapt to climate change in agriculture and rural development will increase. A knowledge platform will be created that displays up-to-date information on SLM, monitors and assesses the rate of SLM adoption in the region, and provides support for evidence-based policy formulation. The project will target four main agro-ecosystems: rainfed cropland; irrigated agriculture; mountain ecosystems; and rangelands. ICARDA will work closely with the CACILM Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), a multi-donor partnership, which includes IFAD, GIZ, ICARDA and other organizations.

The inception workshop for this new IFAD-supported project concluded by making a strong commitment to harnessing best practices in SLM so that vulnerable populations in Central Asia are ready for, and better adapted to, climate change.

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