Since ancient times, water has been viewed as spring of life and the main factor for vitality. Likewise, it is impossible to imagine agricultural production without water. It is an integral part of the agricultural systems growing key crops such as cotton, wheat, rice and others in Central Asia. However, with today's market-driven economy, preservation and efficient management of water consumption have become one of the highest priority issues. Physical water scarcity and changes that have taken place in land and water management in recent years are among the multiple challenges for agricultural production.
Under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) conducts research activities around the world for sustainable use of water and land resources in agriculture and addresses water needs of developing countries. In particular, IWMI's objectives in Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC) focus on identifying best practices for water savings, improving irrigation performance, reversing trends in land degradation and salinity, and contributing to the development of effective water resource institutions.
Since 2013 IWMI-CAC office, in cooperation with ICARDA and other partners, have been implementing research and development projects in Karshi Steppe, Uzbekistan, aimed at developing more efficient water and energy consumption in the process of agricultural production. The region is among the leading in the country for cotton and wheat cultivation, spending around 4.5-5 billion m3 of irrigation water within a hydrological year. Seventy-five per cent of the required water is taken from Amudarya River on the territory of Turkmenistan, lifted by 132 m using the cascade of 7 pumping stations to Karshi main channel. Another 5% from Zarafshan and 20% from Kashkadarya river and its streams.
By the year 2015, IWMI and local partners introduced drip irrigation using well-lifted groundwater on 5 ha area for irrigation of cotton in one of the pilot farms of the Karshi district of Kashkadarya. Using the traditional irrigation methods, the fields would have to be prepared for a new season by arranging furrows, ‘ok-aryks’ and burying them after irrigation and periodically cultivating the soil about 8 times. Alternately, the engineering system of drip irrigation alleviated all these practices and contributed to saving the budget by high quality performance of planting, economizing fuel and lubricating materials, as well as mineral fertilizers. As a result, it served for improving yields by 1.3-1.5 t/ha, increasing mineral fertilizers efficiency up to 30% while using them in a solution during the irrigation, and reduced irrigation water applications more than two times.
Consequently, because of the saved water from the first harvest, the farmers now have a great opportunity to make additional benefits through a second crop cultivation, which is fully in accordance with the national policy expressed in the Presidential decree of 19 April 2013 "On improving the land conditions during the period of 2013-2017 and taking measures on rational use of water", as well as the decree of the Cabinet of the Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan of 21 June 2013 “On introducing drip irrigation systems in the places and water-efficient processes and effective financing”.
IWMI's research seeks to improve the effectiveness of water use through the combination of improved on-farm water management practices and the application of the principles of integrated water resources management. Accordingly, the advantages of water saving technologies and its benefits were discussed with the local heads of farms during training workshops, organized by international experts and the staff of Amu-Kashkadarya Basin Irrigation System Administraton. It is planned to continue scientific experiments on water use efficiency in the coming years.