The Regional Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus (CGIAR), led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Regions (ICARDA) since 1998, jointly with national research institutes, is developing and promoting crops resistant to drought, heat, pests and disease, water-saving technologies and methods of sustainable management of natural resources for the goal of improving the livelihoods of rural communities.
Within the framework of this program, ICARDA is searching for solutions for climate change adaptation in the countries of Central Asia. Disappearing glaciers, the desiccation of the Aral Sea, frequent droughts and severe dust storms pose a serious threat to food and nutritional security in the region of 70 million people, with a half living in rural areas.
Strengthening regional cooperation and partnerships for climate change mitigation can become a key factor in addressing environmental issues. This conclusion was the consensus of experts, politicians and representatives of international organizations who participated in the Second Central Asian Climate Change Conference in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) on April 3-4, 2019.
In his remarks, ICARDA Regional Coordinator for Central Asia and the Caucasus, Dr. Ram Sharma, presented ICARDA's joint work on climate-resilient technologies for enhancing the productivity of land and water resources in Central Asia. As Ram Sharma noted, since 2009 the region experienced seven epidemics of yellow rust of cereals, which led to a decrease in yields by 30% in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Together with national partners, ICARDA developed winter wheat varieties such as Gozgon, Bunyodkor, Chimboy and Amudarya that resist the changing climate, yellow rust and drought.
“In 2009-2010, we spent US $ 40-50 million on this program in the region. These are not just costs, but investments that will pay off in the future, despite dry periods or floods,” the scientist argues.
Ram Sharma especially emphasized the advantages and low cost of growing legumes in conditions of low grain yield. For example, winter chickpea varieties resistant to sudden fluctuations in temperatures and uneven precipitation proved higher crop yields (50% more) and frost resistance (down to -15 degrees Celsius in rainfed areas). In addition, growing chickpea in rotation with other crops improves soil fertility. A survey conducted to study chickpea production patterns among farmers in rainfed areas in southern Uzbekistan showed that farmers had managed to save from USD 5 to USD 22 per hectare due to growing chickpea in reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizers.
The chickpea, known as pea, nohut or nohat in our areas, is not a new agricultural crop for the region. It has long been grown and used in traditional dishes in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, however, it is not as widespread as wheat, for example. At the same time, we should note that chickpea is one of the most ancient legumes popular in the Middle East, serving as the basis for making such famous dishes as hummus and falafel. According to scientific research, chickpeas began to grow in the Middle East over 7 thousand years ago: in the upper interfluve of the Tigris and Euphrates, in the territory of south-eastern Turkey and northeastern Syria, where the wild ancestor of this plant grows. During the period 2800-1300 BC chickpeas had been also grown in Pakistan and India, from which it probably came to us.
Considering the condition of the lands in the region, Ram Sharma noted that a huge problem in Turkmenistan today has been a high degree of salinity and soil mineralization, which makes it necessary to carefully choose wheat varieties and observe crop rotation, in particular, alternate planting of legumes and chickpeas with wheat. In many parts of the region, there is still little experience with growing legumes, but farmers have already determined for themselves that planting legumes and chickpeas significantly reduces water use saving it for other needs. Ram Sharma also recalled the importance of using the “raised beds” method to optimize water supply, save seeds and increase the number of seedlings. He added that it is time to change the old watering methods, which waste up to 35-40 percent of water, and switch to new technologies.
Climate change adaptation is impossible without paying attention to the pasture lands of Central Asia, which are subject to serious degradation in recent decades due to uncontrolled growth of cattle and small ruminants. Tajikistan, for example, is already experiencing an acute shortage of fodder and pastures. In this case, by-products of crops, also called dual-purpose crops, can become alternative sources of food for livestock. Straw and chickpea green mass also goes for feeding sheep and is beneficial, since the stems and leaves of this plant contain significant amounts of oxalic and malic acids.
“We should also pay attention to cacti capable of growing in the most arid lands, which could also serve as food for small and large cattle. Now cacti are becoming very popular as cattle feed due to nutritional qualities. Moreover, you know that in Mexico they even make tequila from agave”, Dr. Ram Sharma shared a rather revolutionary proposal.
As part of the Regional Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus (CGIAR), they plan to continue informing the people of the region about the impacts of climate change, new technologies and methods of farming, as well as provide educational and technical support to rural communities.