Broadening land management options for improved economic sustainability across Central Asia: A synthesis of national studies | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
November 2016
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Land degradation is a pressing concern that reaches
across all republics of Central Asia and is increasingly
affecting the economy and quality of life in each.
The resulting loss of arable land particularly affects
the rural poor, who depend directly on what
the land can provide for their very survival and
livelihoods. The breakup of the Soviet Union led to
mass de-collectivisation of agricultural frameworks
across Central Asia, with formerly centralised land
management regimes dissolved. The reorganisation
of boundaries and priorities quickly led to a
conversion of natural landscapes and traditional
fallows to agricultural and industrial landscapes
dominated by monocrops, water mismanagement,
and a net rise in livestock that now graze in the
same pastures year-round, rather than traditional
nomadic pastoralism on seasonal pastures. Induced
by the establishment of land management planning
that understandably focused on economic growth
but lacked long-term, sustainable strategies, the
land is now becoming dangerously impoverished
under ever-growing demands.
Of the nearly 400 million hectares in the region,
two-thirds are drylands with extreme biophysical
constraints of arid and continental climates,
vulnerable to even the slightest pressures beyond
their capacity and which in turn affect local
populations significantly. Each country faces
unique challenges related to their landscape and
agricultural demands, but across the board there
are widespread losses of fertile topsoil and nutrients
necessary for growth, declining productivity of
crops and pastures, losses of biodiversity and
habitats, increasing salinisation and deforestation,
and increasing weed infestation in rangelands.
Estimates are imprecise due to a lack of research to
date, but degradation is observed to be extensive,
ranging from 4-10 per cent of cropped land, 27-68
per cent of pasture land and 1-8 per cent of forested
land, in total representing 40-100 per cent of land
degraded in each country. In Kazakhstan, 48 million
hectares of land are now degraded due to land
conversions, and in Kyrgyzstan over 30 per cent of
all highland pastures are degraded. Tajikistan saw
an estimated loss in GDP of 7.8 per cent (USD 5.6
billion) in 2010 as a direct result of land degradation.
In Turkmenistan, 70 per cent of all pasture lands
are degraded and in Uzbekistan, over half of the
irrigated landscapes suffer from salinisation due to
improper management.
This is a growing issue in need of addressing,
with immediate action at governmental levels to
establish long-term sustainable land management
strategies for the well-being of their economy and
people. Part of these strategies necessarily includes
understanding the biophysical aspect – the science
– behind land use changes. However, for decisionmakers,
there is also a need to understand the
economic outcomes of land management planning,
in order to make choices that optimally reflect the
most beneficial scenario both economically and
environmentally. It is on this basis that in 2015, the
Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative
supported the development of a regional Central
Asia study, with case studies in each country in
identified ecosystems. National-level researchers
from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were supported in
the undertaking of cost-benefit analyses for current
land management scenarios, as well as feasible
alternative scenarios that integrated sustainable
land management, to determine economically viable
choices for sustainable land management planning.
Specific ecosystems were selected to cover a range of
landscapes across the region, so that the countries
could engage in knowledge exchange and sharing
of best practices, including high mountain pastures
(Kyrgyzstan), foothill pastures (Tajikistan), forests
(Kazakhstan), lowland pastures (Turkmenistan), and
irrigated agriculture (Uzbekistan).
These analyses moved beyond the market value
for crops that normally act as an indicator for land
value. They included a range of ecosystem services
benefits, from carbon storage and sequestration to
nutrient provision and cycling, which fall into four
categories as part of an attempt to measure total
economic value of land. While not valued directly
in market prices, these values (and the loss of them)
do eventually factor into future economic losses or
benefits, depending on their maintenance and use.
For example, in Kyrgyzstan, there are net benefits
when carbon value is considered explicitly, but the
current economic incentives for land managers
do not encourage this. In Tajikistan, increasing
agricultural productivity leads to improved
livelihoods, while incurring only minor economic
losses from managing pasture lands in a way that
prevents emergency situations.
Total economic valuation is becoming increasingly
used in international arenas to enhance
understandings of the benefits of land and landbased
ecosystems. They factor into international
agreements and binding UN conventions, and
can help countries meet targets such as those
outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals,
ratified in New York in 2015, particularly Goal 15:
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of
terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests,
combat desertification, and halt and reverse land
degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
These cost-benefit analyses also help identify how
to share benefits so that land users like farmers and
herders who can directly support sustainable land
management and thus create economic benefits,
can reap rewards that are otherwise distributed
throughout the rest of society. For instance, efforts
to reduce deforestation can contribute directly
to carbon sequestration and thus play a role in
mitigating climate change – benefits which do
not necessarily accrue directly to farmers, and
of which other members of society benefit from.
Rewarding sustainable land management practices
through the provision of these economic incentives
is a powerful tool in establishing sustainable land
management, which is sorely needed in light of the
severe degradation and subsequent economic and
environmental losses faced across the Central Asian
This regional report presents the findings of all
five country-level research reports, following the
outline of the ELD Initiative’s 6+1 step approach.
Unique characteristics and findings from each
country, alongside shared challenges and concerns
uncovered throughout the project are put forward.
Finally, the report concludes with a summary of
recommendations borne out of the research, and
intended to support policy-/decision-makers in
developing informed policies for sustainable land
Beyond understanding the economic drivers of
sustainable land management, these decisions
will also need to address the lack of data, research
support, and institutional capacity, lack of intersectoral
coordination and regional cooperation at
the political level, as well as the need to empower
the ministries responsible for land use management,
which currently lack the necessary power and
influence. In doing so, the Central Asian republics
can root their future in the sustainable productivity
of their shared landscapes, stabilise food, water, and
energy security, and move towards an enhanced
future for the health of their people, economy, and

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Quillerou, Emmanuelle
Thomas, Richard
Guchgeldiyeg, Oleg
Ettling, Stefanie
Etter, Hannes
Stewart, Naomi

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