Placing a Value on Nature – Evaluating Biodiversity in Turkmenistan

Bird watching (Photo: UNDP Turkmenistan)

The rapid economic and industrial development of Turkmenistan in recent decades has placed enormous strain on the country’s natural resources, leading to a reduction in biodiversity and degradation of the environment.

The increase in the country’s population, for example, combined with rising income levels, has led to a significant increase in demand for meat products. This growth in demand has led to an expansion and intensification of livestock breeding and farming in Turkmenistan, with a consequent increase in the amount of land and water being used by local farmers and a rapid depletion of these resources. 

“Good pastoral land with enough grass and water is rare in Turkmenistan because more than 83% of the country is covered by desert pastures,” explains UNDP’s Rovshen Nurmuhamedov, “due to deteriorating infrastructure and other social factors, farmers increasingly tend to stay in one place for several consecutive seasons, with the result that their small cattle eat all of the grass and the land doesn’t have enough time to recover. Facilitated by the “drying” climate, this kind of intensive farming is ultimately unsustainable because it reduces the pastures to desert.”

One of the main factors of such unsustainable farming practices in Turkmenistan has been identified as a lack of local awareness and knowledge of the importance and value of preserving the country’s biodiversity and the harmful consequences of damaging the country’s fragile ecosystem.

Highlights

  • UNDP programme of support on “Planning of national biodiversity in support of the Convention on the biodiversity. The Strategic Plan of Turkmenistan for 2011-2020” (BSAP) launched in 2013 is funded through the Global Environmental Fund.
  • The project is implemented by relevant ministries under the general coordination by the Ministry of Nature Protection of Turkmenistan.
  • The project ensures a participatory stocktaking exercise on biodiversity planning to develop national biodiversity targets, to integrate new aspects of the CBD into the national Strategic Action Plan and establish new national framework for resource mobilization, reporting and other aspects of CBD national implementation.

Since 2013, UNDP has undertaken an initiative to address this lack of awareness. Working closely with the country’s Ministry of Nature Protection, UNDP’s efforts have been focused on the particular project aimed at increasing the knowledge of decision-makers and local population of the economic value of Turkmenistan’s biodiversity and the urgent need to restore and preserve the health of its ecosystems.  Developing the economic argument for conservation of the biodiversity is also the obligation of the country under the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

One of the first and most important of the steps of the project was to generate the national capacity though the provision of training on economic valuation of ecosystem services for national stakeholders, including representatives from national ministries and agencies, specialized non-commercial organizations and academic circles. Through the series of theoretical and practical workshops, this 10-day training generated the capacity of more than 20 participants to integrate the needs of the ecosystems in their policy- and decision-making, while at the same time providing them with an effective methodology and useful skills for communicating the value of biodiversity to other stakeholders.  

During the workshops, UNDP consultants first helped to demonstrate the methodology of assigning economic values to natural resources before setting the participants the task of applying this methodology to the evaluation of Turkmenistan’s natural resources. Then the national working group for economic valuation was created to consult with local administrative authorities and conduct fieldwork in different regions of the country, assessing the value of local services provided by ecosystems and gathering data necessary for economic analysis.

As a direct outcome of this training and hands-on experience, experts in Turkmenistan were able to place economic values on local natural resources for the first time in the nation’s history.  Moreover, this methodology provided the rapid assessment of the most important natural ecosystems of the country and submitted the data and the information on what is the contribution of services these ecosystems provide for the economy and development.

This valuation included assessment of the ecosystem status of the country’s pastoral and agricultural lands, forestry, fishery and drinking water. Assigning such values has enabled these government specialists to distribute knowledge about the importance of biodiversity and to promote more sustainable use of the country’s available resources.

Using the knowledge obtained through their training, the working group has produced a national study report entitled “Nature and Economics: the Results of an Economic Valuation of Ecosystem Services in Turkmenistan”. This technical report has set a precedent for the economic evaluation of ecosystem services in the whole region of Central Asia.

“The report produced as a result of developing and putting the unique methodology of evaluation into practice is a great example of how awareness of the importance of biodiversity can be raised in countries undergoing rapid economic development and how more sustainable policies can be promoted,” says UNDP’s Jacinta Barrins. “The analysis addresses the topics of biodiversity, ecosystem services and their importance for Turkmenistan’s economic development. It is an excellent model for reduplication.”

The results of the report have now been communicated to the government of Turkmenistan, substantially increasing and improving the quality of data available to policy-makers when designing measures aimed at promoting more environmentally-friendly farming practices and more sustainable development.

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