How technology is contributing to reduce water scarcity across Uzbekistan
Water resources across Central Asia are becoming scarcer, yet agriculture still plays a significant role in Uzbekistan’s economy. Agriculture consumes around 90% of water in the country. Without a good supply of water, food security and health are impacted. IWMI projects have been looking at how to address water security, and by association nutrition, food security and health, across the region.
Scientists from IWMI worked with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to build the national policy framework for water management, which is part of the bigger program ‘Water Governance in Uzbekistan’.
Climate change has increased temperatures and reduced the amount of water that flows through the country’s two main rivers. Farmers must carve up the available water to irrigate their land, and many of the water user associations (WUAs) that support the management of water struggle to allocate it appropriately. Farmers complain about fees for water being ‘unfair’ and poor water delivery can impact profits and livelihoods.
IWMI has come up with a solution that could help solve the issue of water scarcity across the region, while reducing the need to over-pump or over-drain available water. The work has led to significant improvements with a more equitable distribution of water, as well as water and energy savings across the pilot regions where IWMI and partners deployed the technology.
Working with three WUAs, serving around 500 farmers, IWMI tested new electronic tools known as ‘Smartsticks’. These are electronic devices which automatically measure how much water is being delivered to different farmers. Placed in water, the Smartstick determines and displays the water depth in real time. It is a stand-alone, fully automatic device with a long battery life, and is perfect for monitoring water levels in small rivers and irrigation canals.
The Smartsticks were implemented by IWMI scientists across plots of farmland. The device can determine how much water flows from irrigation canals into farmers’ plots. The sticks are placed at the boundary between the plot and the canals, and then an electronic reading shows how much water the farmer has received, especially in farms where water is pumped.
Using the Smartsticks can help to charge fair irrigation service fees, because each farmer’s fee is based precisely on how much water is delivered to the plot. Also, this helped to resolve water conflicts and disputes, and encouraged farmers to pay irrigation fees on time. Smartsticks have enabled farmers to regulate their water flow, leading to better irrigation, and more reliable and successful crop production. Over-irrigation and water wastage decreased. These are vital improvements in a country as arid and water-scarce as Uzbekistan. The implementation of Smartsticks and mini-gauging stations in irrigation schemes across the country by IWMI, as part of the ‘Water Governance in Uzbekistan’ program, was made a priority in the Agriculture Development Strategy of Uzbekistan for 2020-2030 and its road map.