Farmers in Central Asia and the Caucasus face considerable challenges - from severe soil degradation to the poor availability of new technologies and increasingly variable climate patterns. Efforts to tackle these constraints received recently a new impetus as researchers, development practitioners, and decision makers came together to fine-tune a series of planned regional activities under the auspices of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems (DS CRP).
Consistent with Intermediate Development Outcomes (IDOs), a series of objectives that guide the implementation of all CGIAR Research Programs, these activities aim to reduce vulnerability, mitigate risks and sustainably intensify production systems in several research areas throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus.
The planning sessions, which took place at the Target Region Implementation and Partnership (TRIP) workshop in Fergana, Uzbekistan, on 12-14 August 2013, outlined priority areas for taking the Program forward over the short to medium term, and beyond. These included efforts to ensure that women and children in vulnerable households had year-round access to a greater quantity and diversity of food sources - these demographic groups are often neglected in agricultural research for development initiatives.
On-farm adaptive trials will be established to identify and introduce stress-tolerant, high-yielding and improved quality varieties of various crops in pure and mixed plantations. Priorities for the different Action sites were identified - including winter wheat, potatoes, vegetables, food legumes, fodder and horticultural crops - and milestones were outlined to develop improved varieties, particularly those demonstrating resilience to drought, heat, and salinity. Plans for the establishment of a seed system platform that could more effectively supply farmers with high-quality seed and planting materials were also discussed at length.
Emphasis was also placed on establishing more integrated and connected service delivery institutions to improve the resilience of farming systems and intensify production. Moving forward, Program partners expressed their preference for extension systems that were self-financed, citing the example of Water User Associations using membership fees to pay for the services of agronomists and other advisors. To ensure that poorer farmers could also participate in similar schemes, local government subsidies were perceived as a potential means of extending participation to the most vulnerable.
Meeting participants discussed alternative land use options for improving land productivity and livelihoods through sustainable management of the marginal land resources. Research will be pursued in order to develop these options further. Potential policy options related to land tenure and property rights were also explored - including those related to pastoralist livelihoods, rangeland activities, and other forms of agricultural systems in the Aral Sea Region, one of the three Action Sites in Central Asia.
It was also acknowledged that a Strategic Innovation Platform (SIP) should be established to facilitate collective action for large-scale impact. Being identified as one of the key outcomes of DS CRP during the inception phase the Innovation platform should integrate four strategic elements: (i) perspectives, knowledge and actions of all DS CRP stakeholders; (ii) innovative partnership for implementing collective actions; (iii) analysis, identification and justification of actions and changes across the economic, social, environmental domains, as well as livelihoods and welfare of end users and consumers; and (iv) technology, institutional and policy options towards reducing vulnerability, improving productivity and setting in place innovations.
As the Program proceeds, these and other activities will be implemented in a series of research sites initially across Central Asia, and later also in the Caucasus countries. Already identified during the Program's inception phase, the geographic focus is on the Aral Sea Region, the Fergana Valley and the Rasht/Kyzyl-Suu Valley. In the Fergana Valley, activities will start in Sughd province in Tajikistan; Andijan and Fergana provinces in Uzbekistan; and parts of Kyrgyzstan. Once research activities are underway, efforts will be made to extend new technologies and practices to other dryland areas - throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus and beyond.