Expected Long-Term Benefits of Land Rehabilitation Outweigh the Costs

Date: 30.09.2015.

Gullies from water and wind erosion in mountainous areas of Tashkent province. Photo by Nariman Nishonov.

Recent research on “Economics of Land Degradation in Uzbekistan”, jointly conducted by the Center for Development Research (University of Bonn, Germany) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), has projected an estimated return of about 4 USD over the next 30 years for each dollar invested in land rehabilitation, including major benefits to the environment.

Land degradation remains one of the major issues with adverse implications for food security in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. It has a negative impact on agricultural production, as well as on rural incomes and livelihoods.

Processes of land degradation in Uzbekistan include Secondary salinization (up to 53% of irrigated lands), Soil erosion (as high as 80 tons per ha of irrigated croplands) and Overgrazing (10 million ha or 43% of land cover). Given that sustainable land management efforts require investments and adoption of new technologies, the research that was sponsored by The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), aimed at estimating the costs of inactive vs. active measures taken in order to mitigate the future risks of land degradation in Uzbekistan.

First of all, using the Total Economic Value (TEV) framework, it was found that 0.85 billion USD were lost per year between 2001 and 2009 due to land use and land cover changes, which was equivalent to about 4% of Uzbekistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2007. In this regard, Kashkadarya, Bukhara, Samarkand, Surkhandarya, Fergana and Sirdarya were among the most affected provinces, with Karakalpakstan bearing the highest financial burden of land degradation – mainly because of the continued drying up of the Aral Sea.

On the other hand, if sustainable land management practices were applied, it is projected that within a 30-year time horizon each dollar spent on restoring lands would yield about 4.3 USD in return. Thus, the costs of action would amount around 11 billion USD over the next 30 years, whereas, if this is not the case, the resulting losses may equal almost 50 billion USD.

Complementing the steps taken by the Uzbekistan Government in improving irrigation and drainage infrastructure, costing around 2000 USD per ha, there are effective and low-cost interventions that can be undertaken by farmers, including cul­tivation of halophytic plants in salinized areas (e.g. licorice see here), rotation of crops such as alfalfa, mung bean and other legume crops (see here). The latter are nitrogen-fixing crops, which can also help to save costs of fertilizers. For more information on the findings from the research, please download Economics of Land Degradation in Uzbekistan.

Degradation of agricultural lands is a severe economic and environmental challenge not only for Uzbekistan and the Central Asian region, but the whole world. As stated in the recently published article by CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems (full article here), land degradation is also one of the causes of global warming, agriculture and land use changes representing the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

It is worth noting that "Economics of Land Degradation" (ELD) research initiatives in Central Asia continue, with future advancements ahead. Launched in August 2014, the ELD Central Asia Initiative received high political support, namely at the ministerial meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD) and the regional meeting of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Currently implementation is going on, facilitated by ICARDA in close cooperation and with support from the UNCCD and the ELD Secretariats and the regional GIZ FLERMONECA project.

The research aims at providing economically sound approaches and solutions for the progressing problem of land degradation in the target study agro-ecosystems. Economic research data are being collected, analyzed in each of the partner countries and interpolated at regional level. Kazakhstan has taken initiative for the analysis of forests; Kyrgyzstan for highland pastures; Tajikistan for foothills and low mountains; Turkmenistan for lowland pastures; and Uzbekistan for irrigated agriculture. The analysis includes current status of ecosystem services, cost-benefit of land degradation and potential options for improvement towards sustainable land management. First results of the analysis will be known by end of the year 2015.

See also