Helping to Shape the Farming Future of New Nations

The five newly-independent republics of Central Asia face heavy challenges as they adapt to a decentralized economy. In addition to its own regionally-oriented efforts, ICARDA is supporting the work of a CGIAR Task Force to explore the potential for CGIAR collaboration in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The initiative in Central Asia began with two workshops in Tashkent.

Assisting Central Asia's Agricultural Research Needs

There is some cause for optimism in Central Asia. The five newlyindependent republics don't lack energy and commitment to their future agricultural development. Uzbekistan has increased its wheat area by 25 percent in the last five years. A similar expansion of the wheat area is reported from Kazakstan. But there are also frightening problems: monocropping, salinity and rangeland degradation. To help the newly-independent republics address these and other problems, ICARDA and its partners from within and outside the CGIAR System, with assistance from German bilateral aid (BMZ/GTZ), held a major workshop in Tashkent in December 1995.

Central Asia's scientists can base themselves on long experience. The workshop participants visited institutions which had been active in research for 60 years and more. The problems they are facing are, in any case, not confined to Central Asia but they have been compounded by a major transition from one philosophy of economic and social organization to another which, among other things, has cut supply lines for essential inputs such as fertilizer.

The objective of the ICARDA delegation was to research needs and priorities, and help draft a plan of action. The workshop closed with the signing of an agreement for future cooperation in agricultural research and development.

The participating nations were Kazakstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; the Kyrgyz Republic was also involved. Also attending were representatives from the West Asian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia-from a different agroecological zone that has much in common with parts of Turkey and Iran where the Highland Regional Program of ICARDA is active. CIMMYT, ISNAR and the Aga Khan Foundation were represented.

The total surface of the five Central Asian Republics is 400 million hectares, of which some 8o percent is farm land, equal to 30 percent of the former USSR's total. Wheat and cotton are important crops, as are livestock. About 70 percent of the farm land is permanent pasture and 51 percent of the population is rural. The environment is familiar to ICARDA-low rainfall, extremes of temperature and a mixture of mountain, desert and steppe. It is a natural continuation of the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region.

Food production in the republics is no longer supplemented by food imports from elsewhere in the former USS, and this has spurred a drive for food security and a concentration on cereal production. Raising cereal output can be achieved either by intensification, the expansion of area sown, or both. Intensification has led to monoculture systems operating with a lack of fertilizer that has damaged soil fertility, while the latter has tended to reduce crop diversity. There are feed and fodder supply problems and livestock numbers are declining in places.

The seed sector is no always able to meet demand. Seed supply was thus the important focus of discussion. This is an area where ICARDA has done much work in collaboration with national programs in countries farther South, with significant cooperation from Germany and the Netherlands.

Problems specific to the seed sector that had earlier been identified include, antiquated processing and testing equipment, weak variety maintenance, lack of marketing and the need to better understand the complexity of a seed program in which the essential components are strongly interrelated. The governments, as a consequence of a state monopoly culture that prevailed in the sector, have yet to fully appreciate the leading role that the private sector could play in the seed sector in future. In order to broaden understanding of these last two issues it had been recommended to hold a regional workshop on the seed sector.

The Needs

Since 1991 ICARDA had conducted germplasm collection missions in both Central Asia and the Caucasus, and three scientists from CIS countries have made long-term visits to ICARDA, Aleppo, to do collaborative work on cereals. There have also been other contacts.

At the end of the Tashkent meeting, ICARDA and its collaborators signed an agreement with the five republics for a plan of action that envisages:

As a result of the workshop, a joint project proposal was drawn up by ICARDA in collaboration with CIMMYT, IPGRI, ISNAR and IFPRI so that funding could be sought for the activities. This was submitted to BMZ/GTZ.

In the meantime, international nurseries of wheat have been supplied from the Turkey/CIMMYT/ICARDA International Wheat Program based in Turkey; and of barley from ICARDA in Aleppo. ICARDA also organized a Wheat Rusts Workshop for West and Central Asia in Karaj, Iran, from May 19-31, 1996, in collaboration with the Iran national program and CIMMYT, to initiate activities on yellow rust in wheat for the countries of West and Central Asia. Scientists from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, where yellow rust is important, were invited to this workshop.

Scientists from the region obtained the opportunity for interaction, through visits by ICARDA scientists to the national programs during the crop season, and by inviting three key wheat scientists from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia to attend the Fifth International Wheat Conference held in Ankara from June 10-14, 1996. The Central Asian scientists have also received necessary assistance in attending other international conferences.

Livestock: a key to the future

The December workshop was followed in February 1996 by another meeting, also in Tashkent, on Central Asian animal production organized by ICARDA and USAID-the latter through its Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Program (SR-CRSP, University of California, Davis).

The objective of the ICARDA/USAID workshop was to identify constraints to sustainable animal production-with an eye to environmental and desertification issues. There is real concern about these problems; and ICARDA scientists travelling through the region noticed that some steppe had been planted to cereals. Such cultivation in low-rainfall areas can be disastrous because the crop will often fail and the land won't easily revert to its former state, either to provide grain or grazing.

Other issues raised in the meeting included:

ICARDA is participating in the work and deliberations of the Task Force on Central/Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. At the request of the task force, ICARDA is organizing a CGIAR/NARS workshop in Tashkent in September 1996. This workshop will build on the outcome of the ICARDA/GTZ-organized meeting held in December 1995.

Much work and funding will be involved in all this but ICARDA thinks the investment opportunities represent good value. At stake is a fresh start in agriculture for five nations totaling 51 million people and 400 million hectares of land. These dimensions have major implications for environmental protection and regional stability--all for the price of a secondhand jet fighter.


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