Water is essential for livelihoods. In the arid areas of Almaty region, Kazakhstan, water is even more important. Harvest, employment and living standards of the local population, water and food security, socio-economic development and the environmental well-being in this region all depend directly or indirectly on water.
However, due to the irrational use of water resources, inept and ineffective management of water reservoirs, the farmers of the Baiterek rural district of Almaty region have been experiencing problems with irrigation for many years.
In 2018, with the financial support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a project to restore two water collectors and two irrigation pipelines in the Alga and Baiterek villages of Almaty region. The project goal is to restore degraded arable land through sustainable water resource management in local passages and ponds.
“Thanks to the project, for the first time in the past 20 years, we have managed to renovate two ponds. The reconstruction of reservoirs enabled us to accumulate additional water that is used for irrigation purposes in the hot summer seasons,” says Vladimir Levin, Director of the Public Fund for the Support of Peasant Farms ‘Farmer of Kazakhstan’.
Earlier the farmers used to collect water without considering the irrigation norms and the needs of other farmers, which led to a water deficit during the hot summer season (July-August), he says. This caused losses, declines in the harvest and conflicts among farmers.
The reconstruction of ponds and the application of water-saving technologies enabled farmers to use water resources more rationally. More than 300 farmers now have access to an uninterrupted water supply even during the peak irrigation season in summer, when water shortages occur annually. Farmers also received an opportunity to save time and efforts on irrigation practices thanks to a new equipment that automated the water flow.
Furthermore, the accumulated additional water enabled farmers to save up to 20 percent on water purchases. It is worth noting that for two years the farmers attended workshops on water conservation practices and irrigated farming technologies, organized by UNDP. The application of water-saving technologies helped them to abandon wasteful irrigation methods and create a sustainable irrigation system for agriculture.
One of the key objectives of the project was to restore the abandoned land. “We managed to put into circulation over 1,400 hectares of land that had lost its irrigation capacity. This is a very large area. In the south, the land involves hundreds of hectares, and three villages have 1,400 hectares. Now these lands are used by farmers for agricultural purposes,” says Vladimir.
Resource-saving technologies, coupled with efficient water management, have enabled farmers to diversify the crops and focus on those types most in demand. “Rice and cotton are common types of crops in this region. Once the farmers became able to regulate the water supply, they started diversifying their crops, depending on the market demands. Some even took up gardening. During the project implementation, the residents witnessed the emergence of agriculture fairs, which operate until late autumn,” notes Zvoida Orazbakova, a farmer and chairman of the Margulan Rural Consumer Cooperative.
In addition to improving the agricultural practices in the region that have enhanced the economic well-being of local communities, the UNDP project also contributed to disaster risk reduction. “The water and snow that accumulated in the passages and ponds was the main reason for periodic floods and mudflows in the nearby areas. Major structural repairs of damaged dams and removing waste from the bottom of the pond allowed the reduction of the emergency risks. Water no longer spills over the sides and does not wash away everything around,” Zvoida notes.
Another positive impact of the project was the ecotourism revival. With the reconstruction of the reservoirs, the number of fish in the ponds have increased significantly, which attracted tourists to this area. “Ecotourism has become more organized with a developed infrastructure – there are huts, tents, barbecue houses for recreation,” says Vladimir.
Development of local communities, the social and economic well-being of vulnerable groups, managing land degradation and the negative impact of climate change, and reduction of the risk natural disasters are just a few UNDP’s priorities in Kazakhstan, and the UNDP-GEF project on the restoration of abandoned lands in Almaty region managed to achieve them all.