Estimating costs of environmental degradation in the mountains of Tajikistan

Date: 20.01.2020.

According to the available data, out of the total 14.12 million land area of Tajikistan, 11.6 million ha (82.3%) including 4.8 million ha of agricultural land (97.9%) is affected by some level of erosion, 88.7 percent of which is affected by high and medium levels of erosion. Moreover, the poor farm irrigation practices have caused salinization in nearly all of the country’s farmland.

Considering that the agriculture sector contributes 18 percent to the GDP, land degradation can adversely affect the country's economy, threatening the livelihoods of about two thirds of the population, living in rural areas.

Along with waterlogging and salinization, overgrazing and deforestation are identified as the major contributors to land degradation in Tajikistan. Planting trees can be a key to prevent and stop it, especially in the mountain areas of the country.

In order to address the issue, the first step should be taken to measure the real cost of the degradation of agricultural land. The full costs of land degradation are believed to be high and increasing but are also difficult to measure. The previous attempts on impacts of land degradation had been based on the cost-benefit analysis, using secondary data complemented with expert and individual estimates, to compare the total economic benefits of land restoration to the economic costs of restoring degraded land.

However, the accuracy of such analyses depend of the quality of data used as well as the assumptions made about forgone economic benefits. Most past economic valuations refer to a scenario with no-land degradation and implicitly assume that the land will be restored to 100 percent of its original state after the restoration interventions.

The large scale of the current agricultural lands which are degraded at varying levels, the reduction in yield potential in those lands represent a much more significant economic impact of degradation of agricultural lands than the forgone benefit from abandoned agricultural lands.

To provide a credible estimate of the impacts of land degradation, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) jointly with the national partners in Tajikistan will undertake a survey among farm households.  Wheat, a staple crop, cultivated in more than 40 percent of agricultural land in Tajikistan, has been selected as a particular crop under consideration. Six-hundred ninety households in wheat-producing districts in Tajikistan, representing the high, medium and low wheat production potential areas will be assessed to generate credible estimates on the cost of land degradation.

The data will also be collected from laboratory analyses of soil samples to determine the level of salinity, acidity, soil organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus contents, soil texture, etc., as well as the measurements of the slope and soil depth of the land.

These estimates will represent the annual per-unit area economic impacts of cumulative land degradation over the years. Such valuation will be useful as it will put the costs of land restoration (or costs of prevention of land degradation) in perspective as the reference figures are realistic and recommendations driven out of them will minimize inadvertent errors.

The project will use available secondary data to review existing literature for estimation of the economic impacts of deforestation, pastures, land degradation-induced natural disasters on infrastructure and health impacts of land degradation in the country.

Measuring the impacts of land degradation in wheat fields will have important policy implications given the overall importance of wheat and its contribution to food security in the country. The impact on wheat yield, net-returns and household consumption of wheat from own production would be of particular interest. Some simplifying assumptions such as in the absence of land degradation, degraded lands which have been abandoned would have otherwise been productively used as those with good soil quality, may also be used to estimate the economic losses on abandoned lands.

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