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Kazakhstan’s local farmers adapt to climate aridity in the Akmola Oblast

Akmola Oblast is the nation’s agricultural center, but its fragile steppe ecosystem is subject to harsh weather conditions exacerbated by climate change and threatening local economy.
Drip irrigation; water-saving technology


In Northern Kazakhstan, the CBA project Adaptation of farmers’ agricultural practices in response to intensified climate aridity in Akmola Oblast” is located in the Arnasay settlement, 50 kilometers away from the country’s capital of Astana. The project site is the nation’s agricultural center, with a steppe ecosystem turned fragile from the harsh weather conditions it is subjected (e.g. long winters with heavy winds and hot summers with droughts and heavy rains). The harsh climate conditions increases water evaporation, soil erosion and land degradation, resulting in damage to the local economy and reducing farmers’ agricultural production and incomes. Having observed the negative impacts of climate change upon farming productivity, the residents of Arnasay village approached UNDP and the GEF Small Grants Programme for support in implementing adaptation measures to decrease their vulnerabilty to the climate change impacts and its variability. The project was prepared through a participatory process carried out by Akbota Public Foundation, a local NGO.

Long-term climate change projections for Kazakhstan forecast rising temperatures and declining average rainfall. Overall, temperatures are expected to increase 1.4°C by 2030 and 2.7°C by 2050. All seasons will be warmer, but winter months will likely see the greatest temperature increases. Rainfall patterns are also projected to change. The arid climate, traditionally in south of the country, is expected to expand northward into historically wetter areas.

The cumulative effect of these factors will be increased aridity across Kazakhstan. The project area is threatened by increased summer evaporation and drying winds that weaken already fragile soils and diminish water resources. Winter snows are melting faster, posing an additional risk when accompanied by strong winds that dry out soils and cause erosion. It will become increasingly difficult for farmers to preserve winter moisture for agricultural use and they will be less able to rely on the nearby Astana Reservoir as its reserves are shrinking. The combination of greater precipitation with warmer winters, earlier snow melting, and spring night-frosts will impact traditional farming practices and calendars. Changes in planting practices and timing will be necessary to adapt and maintain agricultural activity in the region.

Adaptation Options

Having paid a serious consideration to current village problems and taking future projections of climate change impacts, the project developed the climate change adaptation interventions focusing on two areas: rational land resources management and use of water resources.

For land resource management , the project introduced a new agricultural system using a combination of the summer grain crops and winter wheat production, and planting drought-resistant crops of winter wheat based on topography. In places where natural snow accumulation melts in 10-12 days, a relief is used to retain water and to prevent runoff. These practices reduced topsoil losses and soil erosion. Additionally, this approach avails natural water from snowmelt, reducing the dependency of local farmers on other water sources.

For water resource management, the project introduced drip irrigation, a technology transfer intervention which upgraded the irrigation system of the district. 15 irrigation machineries (i.e. 90% of all irrigation machineries of rural district’s large-scale farms) were upgraded with spraying nozzles for near-surface irrigation (1.5 -2 meters above ground). This allowed irrigating 1200 hectares of plough-land. The sprinklers installed have contributed to the reduction of water loss, soil erosion as well as alleviation of diseases and pest impact. Water and electricity consumption have reduced two times and the crop yield (e. g. potato) has increased by 30%.

The drip irrigation system ensured proper irrigation of the fields without intensive labor input. The specific feature of the rural initiative was that the drip irrigation technology was first tested by the young people, while the elders have learned the new knowledge and skills from their children. Children and adults, working together, have not only proven their successful work but also ensured the project sustainability and efficiency.

Enabling Factors

Community mobilization, awareness-raising and capacity-building workshops using the participatory and social inclusion approaches, several community consultations using the VRA methdology (to gauge the level of vulnerability and assess the contributing factors to the vulnerablity) were very important factors that led to the success of the project.

In the beginning of the project, the 2100 Arnasay villagers (220 households) did not know what the concept of “adaptation” was and as such, were passive actors. Building on their traditional knowledge, expanding their knowledge on climate change and on coping mechanisms and truly understanding the contributing factors to each member’s vulnerability regardless of age, gender, physical/mental abilities were critical factors that guided the awareness-raising workshops and “hands-on” training. By mid-project, the community members have transformed into active actors of change as the positive results from the adaptation practices emerged.

Effective water management activities increased the total irrigated area to approximately 7,000 hectares. Drip irrigation systems demonstrated by the project have been replicated the other local members who installed the systems themselves in their homes and/or farms, using the knowledge received from the project. A 30% increase in income has been achieved from the increased agricultural production, a result of land restoration and water security.

Outcomes and Impacts

Installation of the drip irrigation system and water management use have restored approximately 7,000 hectares. The community members have installed drip irrigation systems in their homes and/or farms, resulting to yield production increasing twice, while simultaneously leading to water consumption decreasing twice. The farms and backyards are also used as demonstration plots for neighboring communities and government officials to see the project’s results. Additionally, wheat production has increased by 15% using the technology of winter crop cultivation. All these sustainable adaptation practices have increased the producers’ incomes by 30% (as compared to their income level in 2008, pre-project).

The outreach activities dedicated to the new technologies have actively involved the young people aged 12-24, the students of The Young Farmer School. The young people were involved on a volunteer basis, actively disseminating information and knowledge among the local inhabitants and gaining valuable experience on the project design, farming and village activities. The number of community members involved in the project has grown yearly. The Akbota initiative group, originally composed of 25 members in one village, has grown into the community covering the inhabitants of five villages who are actively developing the project ideas and disseminating the experience within the expanded territories. To date, three towns and the delegation of non-governmental organizations in other Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan) have replicated the experience. This is a good example of the projects impacts within a very short time of implementation.

Replication in neighboring communities has occurred. The successful experience was demonstrated at the workshops, field days, and special meetings and during the discussions. The inhabitants from the neighboring village visited the project site to see the crops. The experience gained by the small initiative was so successful that, to date, there are 262 households living in five neighboring villages that have installed and are using the drip irrigation system funded by the other sources.

Lessons Learnt

  1. Transformation begins with new perceptions and attitudes, before new behaviors and systems can take hold. It is about moving beyond current practices and realizing new possibilities.
  2. When local inhabitants are shown how to implement new adaptation technologies and they are able to obtain new knowledge and successful experiences, they face their future with confidence with regard to crucial and vulnerable resources in the district such as water.
  3. Drip irrigation while slightly costly, it is simple and easy to administer and implement even by communities. It is a very effective system as it increases crop yields with less water and decreased manual labor.
  4. Demonstration plots of successful experiences are very important learning grounds. Other communities have replicated the sustainable practices of the CBA grantees which gives others a chance to embrace sustainable development.

Methods and Tools

Using the participatory and social inclusion approaches, the project ensured that each community member was engaged in the decision-making processes and project activities regardless of gender, age and physical/mental abilities.

The Vulnerability Reduction Assessment (VRA) methodology was used to gauge the extent of the communities’ vulnerability, the contributing factors to their vulnerability and the different needs of the various groups/individuals within the communities. Various community consultations, VRA workshops and multi-stakeholder meetings (national and local) were held preceding the project formulation to identify the challenges such as lack of awareness and capacities, as well as gaps in policies and processes. The VRA scores were measured 3x throughout the project: baseline assessment at the beginning of the project, mid-term assessment during mid-project and the final assessment towards or at the end of the project.

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