World Bank Helps Identify Agricultural Risks for Kazakhstan

June 3, 2015

Improving wheat productivity, diversifying agricultural production, and improving livestock productivity

ASTANA, June 3, 2015 – The World Bank’s "Agricultural Risks Study on Kazakhstan and Central Asia" was discussed today in Astana. 

The study finds that agricultural production in Kazakhstan varies by about 27 percent from one year to the next, mainly due to fluctuations in weather. Rising temperatures associated with climate change are projected to amplify this annual variability, with increasing vulnerability to drought, pests and diseases, particularly in the case of wheat - the country's leading crop. In the northern steppe and forest steppe, where crop production is generally rain fed, grain production experiences a serious drought two out of every five years. 

The concentration of crop production into wheat has grown since the Soviet period, and today accounts for some 85 percent of the total area planted with cereals. This specialization has come at the expense of forage crops, and more generally at the expense of the kind of crop diversification that is associated with adaptation capacity and climate smart agriculture. 

Responding to a request by the governments of Central Asia, the World Bank carried out the National Agriculture Sector Risk Assessments for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan.

“In Kazakhstan, the study focused on the north, where wheat is the most important crop to the region as a whole,” said Ludmilla Butenko, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan. “The study also stressed shorter and medium term risk management and sustainability issues. These entail the development of expertise and institutional capacity for managing agricultural risk, and the formulation of an integrated operational approach to agricultural resource management, which in turn relies on networking and systematic knowledge sharing between different stakeholders and practitioners whose concerns up to now have tended to be compartmentalized.” 

According to the Risk Assessment Team led by Sandra Broka, World Bank Senior Rural Finance Specialist and Asa Giertz, World Bank Agriculture Specialist, the study identifies, analyses, and prioritizes systemic risks affecting production, markets, the investment climate (or enabling environment), public sector support to agriculture and other related issues.

The study examines how risk affects the agriculture sector and identifies instruments to manage these risks in order to minimize losses. The analysis highlights not only the agriculture sector’s vulnerability to drought, particularly for crop production, but also the extent to which exposure to risk has been accentuated by the sector’s growing reliance on wheat production and exports. Although the risks to livestock production are less prominent, it is an important vehicle for diversification in the sector. 

Based on the analysis in the study, the World Bank has developed a series of general recommendations that begin with the need to broaden and strengthen the use of conservation agriculture for crop production on medium and large-scale crop farms in northern Kazakhstan, as the basis for more sustainable management of drought risk.

The Ministry of Agriculture is encouraged to increase support for applied and adaptive research into ways to increase crop diversification in North Kazakhstan. Research, extension, and financial services are also needed to improve livestock feed conservation techniques and expand access to seasonal finance for peasant farms and small-scale household farms as a means to reduce their vulnerability to droughts and severe winters, and associated price hikes for animal feed. 

The study also focuses on solutions and strategies, and on the instruments which will be most effective in reducing risks, including technical assistance, investments by public institutions and development agencies - and how these instruments can be best scaled up. 

Today’s discussion in Astana was complemented by presentations on successful practices for the following solution areas: improving wheat productivity, diversifying agricultural production, and improving livestock productivity. According to CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), measures to improve wheat productivity include diversifying the wheat crop itself into specific varieties which are well-suited for local agro-ecological conditions, and to a lesser degree diversifying out of wheat into other crops like winter rye, triticale, barley, and oats.

A presentation by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on diversification of agriculture in North Kazakhstan highlighted the need to use more climate-resilient production techniques such as no-till and minimal tillage to improve soil nutrients and moisture, and to more purposefully manage weeds, pests, and diseases. 

The presentations were followed by a discussion with participants including staff of government organizations related to agriculture, scientific institutions, hydro meteorological service, and international development agencies. Once finalized, the report will be available on the World Bank website.

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