In the Kyrgyz Republic: Water for a Dry Land
On-Farm Irrigation Project
March 6, 2014
In the fall, the land rolls parched and brown into the foothills. But in the valleys, bright green fields cover the flat land, filled with fruit and vegetables ready for harvest. 94 percent of the Kyrgyz Republic is mountainous and not fit for farming. So the remaining land, and the water that feeds it, are crucial to the country’s food supply. And the Kyrgyz economy relies on it; agriculture accounts for about a fourth of the country’s GDP and about a third of its employment.
Collapse and Rebirth
After the fall of the Soviet Union, and the breakup of the huge collective farms, the Kyrgyz Republic’s irrigation systems began to physically deteriorate. And the money and social fabric that kept the systems working began to fray as well. The concrete decayed, while small private farmers sometimes fought over access to water.
To ensure water availability, with support from the World Bank, farmers began forming Water Users’ Associations to regulate and maintain the water supply. “The main change is that farmers get enough water when they need it. In the past, farmers would fight over water, to whose fields it went; that doesn’t happen anymore,” explains Tilekbek Matraimov, who runs the Kara Suu Regional Administration.
People on their own weren’t able to properly irrigate their fields. Now they’re together, people can maintain their fields, and they are farming more and earning more.
Water Users’ Associations make decisions collectively. They are the custodians of the system, responsible for the long-term care of new irrigation troughs. They agree to re-pay 25 percent of the cost of construction, and set water usage fee levels to ensure that the system is sustainable. “People on their own weren’t able to properly irrigate their fields,” says Abdilla Nurmatov, who is part of the Mongu Suu Water Users’ Association. “Now they’re together, people can maintain their fields, and they are farming more and earning more.”
Nurmatov’s neighbor, Mamiev Abdilamit, has been growing cotton since 1992, before Water Users’ Associations (WUAs) existed in the Kyrgyz Republic. He says things are better now. “The yields are much higher than before we had the WUAs. I get 1.5 times more out of a hectare; I used to get 2 tons, now I get 3.”
Down the road, farmer Uulkan Orozova says her WUA means more income, more crops, and more spending money for everyone. “The more corn I grow, the higher the yields, and the more I can feed my animals. The fatter they get, the more money I make, and the better off my family is.” She made enough money, she says, to send her husband on the hajj to Mecca.
Water Users’ Associations now cover over 70 percent of the irrigated land in the Kyrgyz Republic---the aim is to help more WUAs rehabilitate and maintain their systems.