The Aral Sea Action Site (ASAS) is located in the lowest part of Amudarya and Syrdarya, the two main Central Asian rivers (43° 2.048'N; 60° 0.803'E). ASAS stretches from southern Kazakhstan to central Karakalpakstan in the west of Uzbekistan and northern Turkmenistan. Integrated research activities under the CRP Dryland Systems are being implemented in several research sites such as the Sorok let Karakalpakstana cooperative, including rural communities in Karauzyak district and Karabuga village in Karakalpakstan (Uzbekistan); Akdepeetrap, Dashauz province in Turkmenistan and clusters of villages in Kazalinsk in Kazakhstan. All of these sites are part of a much larger watershed at the borderline (a transition zone between irrigated agriculture and sandy desert) with a population of at least 1.6 million people living mostly in the remote rural areas. In the long run, out-scaling of agricultural innovations and technologies can be increased to an area of about 23,794 square km with a total population of more than 5.7 million people, representing 9% of the population of the Aral Sea Basin (Central Asia). Climate variability (an index of aridity is 0.065-0.18) and low annual rainfall (90-150 mm) result in droughts and temperature extremes and exacerbate already degrading arable lands as well as rangelands. The site area is faced with challenges associated with rising saline water table and loss of rangeland productivity and biodiversity, which mean insecure food supplies and low income for poor people. Dryland salinity and associated low quantity and quality of water supply are among the most severe natural resource degradation problems in this marginal belt. Salt-affected irrigated lands in the lowest part of Amudarya (Karakalpakstan and Khorezm region in Uzbekistan) increased from 1.16m ha in 1990 to 4.43m ha in 2012. Access to irrigation water in this region has drastically decreased in the past years, which has caused additional obstacles to rangeland productivity and agricultural production. For the last 10 years, a steady decrease in cotton and wheat yields has been observed (for example, cotton yield does not exceed 1.6 t/ha). Loss of rice yield due to insufficient water supply ranges from 40 up to 50 t/ha per year, depending on district. Increasing deterioration in water and soil conditions exacerbates the poverty levels and induces out-migration, which in turn means loss of local traditional knowledge and experience of land and water use. Livestock numbers are decreasing due to lack of good quality forage and low grazing capacity of desert pastures, thus negatively affecting incomes of local people, despite there being good access to local markets. Unemployment and low capacity to regulate and monitor sustainable use, limited access to decision-making are negatively affecting the livelihoods of rural poor throughout the Action Site.
ASAS activities are being planned with a view to reducing vulnerability in agro-ecosystems most affected by the degradation of natural resources. They focus on crop/livestock diversification and sustainable management of marginal lands through the scaling up and dissemination of high-yielding crop production technologies that are better adapted to the saline and marginal environmental conditions. The activities are targeted at progressive farmers within borderlines of three target countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) to enhance their capacity in efficient on-farm seed production and delivery systems of selected stress-tolerant cereals, food legumes, vegetables, fruits and forages, and to apply efficient packages of crop production and utilization technologies.
International centers acting as a consortium for sustainable agricultural development in Central Asia and the Caucasus work closely together with national partners to boost resilience and productivity of the farming and pastoral communities in the Aral Sea Action Site at the community level through more integrated mobilization of existing resources and innovative approaches for the better livelihoods of remote rural communities.
Figure 1. Aral Sea Action Site Map